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The feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary

The feast of the Most Holy Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary originated in Spain and was approved in 1513. In 1683, Pope Innocent XI extended the celebration of the feast day to the universal church, to be celebrated Sept. 12, four days after the feast of the Birth of the Blessed Mother. Although removed in 1970 from the universal calendar, Pope John Paul II reinstituted the celebration as an “optional memorial” in the Roman Missal in 2003.


The name Mary is rooted in ancient Semitic languages: in Hebrew Myriam and in Aramaic Maryam.  Philological studies suggest that Mary means “lady, beautiful one, or well-beloved,” or more descriptively, “high, lofty, exalted or august.” These root meanings reflect well Archangel Gabriel’s greeting: “Hail, Mary, full of grace (or Rejoice, O highly favored daughter). The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women” (Lk 1:28).


Of course the name “Mary,” being the name of the Blessed Mother, deserves special respect and devotion. St. Louis de Montfort (d. 1716) said, “The whole world is filled with her glory, and this is especially true of Christian peoples, who have chosen her as guardian and protectress of kingdoms, provinces, dioceses, and towns. Many cathedrals are consecrated to God in her name. There is no church without an altar dedicated to her, no country or region without at least one of her miraculous images where all kinds of afflictions are cured and all sorts of benefits received. Many are the confraternities and associations honoring her as patron; many are the orders under her name and protection. … There is not a child who does not praise her by lisping a ‘Hail Mary.’ There is scarcely a sinner, however hardened, who does not possess some spark of confidence in her. The very devils in hell, while fearing her, show her respect.”


Finally, the feast date of Sept. 12 also has special significance. In 1683, the Muslim Turks, under the leadership of Sultan Mohammed IV, once again began their jihad against Christian Europe. An army of Muslim Turks numbering 300,000 marched through Hungary, ravaging as they proceeded.   


Moving onward to Austria in July 1683, the Grand Vizier Kara Mustapha laid siege to Vienna, defended by an army of only 15,000 Christians. The papal nuncio and Emperor Leopold begged King Jan Sobieski of Poland, who had earlier defeated the Muslim Turks at their borders and had earned the title “Unvanquished Northern Lion,” to come to their aid. 


Sobieski did not hesitate. In August, as he and his troops passed the Shrine to Our Lady of Czestochowa, they begged the Blessed Mother’s blessing and intercession. At the beginning of September, they crossed the Danube and joined the defenders. Sept. 11, Sobieski, leading an army of about 76,000 men, attacked. The hussars lured the Muslim Turks into thinking they were on retreat, and then struck with reinforcements. The Muslim Turks retreated, with Sobieski’s cavalry in pursuit. The vanquished Muslim Turks fled Austria (but only after slaughtering hundreds of hostages). Vienna and Christian Europe were saved. Sobieski then delivered the Muslim standard proclaiming, “Death to the Infidel” to Pope Innocent XI. 


Worshiping at a Mass of Thanksgiving, Sobieski fell prostrate and with outstretched arms declared, “Veni, vidi, Deus vicit,” meaning, “I came, I saw, God conquered.” Sept. 12, Sobieski triumphantly entered Vienna. Pope Innocent XI thereupon declared Sept. 12 as a date to honor Mary, whose maternal intercession had saved Christendom just as it had more than 100 years earlier at the Battle of Lepanto. As for Kara Mustapha, Mohammed IV had him strangled for being defeated by the Christians.


Pause for a moment to consider the connection between Sept. 11, 1683, and the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Osama bin Laden chose the date for vengeful reasons. 


As we celebrate this feast day, may our Blessed Mother continue to protect us, especially those Christians suffering under Islamic persecution this very day. 


Fr. Saunders is pastor of Our Lady of Hope Church in Potomac Falls and episcopal vicar for faith formation and director of the Office of Catechetics.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2019