The Name of Mary

"And the virgin's name was Mary." (Luke 1:27) There can be no doubt that this name meant something in particular to the author of the third gospel. Notice how he dwells upon it; notice how he breaks his former sentence to give it a sentence by itself; notice how in its own sentence it holds by far the most emphatic place. It is not so with Joseph's name. That comes in its natural order: "A man, whose name was Joseph," and it would have been more natural for Saint Luke to say: "A virgin, whose name was Mary," especially as she is mentioned before her spouse. Yet no; he has mentioned her first, but her name he keeps to the end.

Now, I do not know whether in this matter we are very different from anybody else, but I do know that we English people are great name-worshippers. We are fond of great names; by means of names we write our history and help our memories; often enough, sometimes without warrant, a simple name will stir all our enthusiasm. Recall, for example, the name of Queen Victoria. Most of us never saw her; she has been dead these many years; yet the mere mention of her name still suggests one whom all the nation reveres - we may say, as a treasured friend that has been lost. Remember, again, those of us who are old enough to recollect the almost magic influence the name of Baden-Powell had upon us during a phase of the last war. Remember the name of Gordon, of Florence Nightingale, and the reverence they involve. And go backward - Nelson, Wellington; Burke, Pitt; Milton, Shakespeare; William the Conqueror, Alfred the Great: it is by names such as these that we English people recall the past; each one of them has its special value to us, each its own distinctive knot of recollections.

The same is true in ordinary life. The merest mention of her child's name is enough to make many a fond mother's heart beat more quickly. When friends are separated, the name and no more suffices to keep each other's memories alive. And in general it may be said the more men and women really are to one another, the more real is their affection for each other, so much the more are their names cherished by one another, as if in them were contained everything they wished to remember. They need the name and nothing more to recall in all its fullness one another's recollection.

What, then, should the name of Mary mean to us, as Catholics, as English Catholics, as Catholics who are proud to belong to her dowry, to claim her special friendship, and more? It sums up all she is to us, and all we are to her. It contains all that is meant by devotion; that is devotedness - to her, and in our hearts we know what that implies. The name of Mary brings her up before us, her figure, her features, her expression; we recognize her, her placid countenance, her quiet eyes, her lips around which the shadow of a smile for ever lingers, her unruffled brow, her whole demeanour under control, as if we had time and again met her face to face. The name of Mary tells us all she has been and is to us; and the recollection fills us full of gratitude and fire. The name of Mary reminds us of what we are to her; and surely there is nothing that gives us a stronger sense of hope. "Sweet is thy name, Mary, to the poor exile's heart," says the hymn, and it is true of each one of us, no matter who we may be - strong men who are not given much to sentiment, or weak women, who are sated with its excess; great sinners, whose consciousness of guilt, or whose reckless use of life, has all but stifled all they had of affection, or innocent souls, still open to deep feeling; rich or poor, young or old - for all of us the name of Mary is one that makes us raise our eyes. "In the name of Jesus every knee shall bow;" in the name of Mary every head shall be lifted up.

Have we ever, in our prayers or at other times, tried to picture to ourselves what kind of a woman Our Lady must have been? If she were living in our world today, in our own generation, in our own streets among us, where should we be most likely to meet her? And when we did meet with her, what kind of woman should we find her? Should we come across her in hallowed surroundings, seated apart, as the Italian artists painted her, or in some way marked as royal, as she was portrayed by the early Greek Christian? We often think and speak of virtue as if in this wicked world it were a thing impossible. It cannot be expected, we assume, that men and women in ordinary surroundings should be holy above the common. Holiness, if it is to be preserved and fostered, must be put away, in some convent, or monastery, or institute, that will shield it from the contamination of the world. And so perhaps, we suppose it would have been with our Lady. Were she living now we should expect to find her in some convent, possibly in some hospital, but not in the humdrum, weary, toiling world in which we live ourselves.

What is more, wherever we found her we feel sure we should recognize her sanctity. Such holiness, we tell ourselves, could never be hidden. It would be seen in her face; it would betray itself in every action. We assume it is so in a Saint; how much more in the Queen of Saints? There would be something in her manner, something in her speech, something in her great devotion and piety, that would set her apart from all others, and would compel us to say, as soon as we saw her, that now we had found her and could not be mistaken.

It is possible we may be right. If our Lady were living now, she might, indeed, have been found in some convent cell, and we might have been able to distinguish her from others by reason of her special holiness. Still, if we are to judge from the picture given of her by the Gospels, it does not seem very likely. The Mary that is there described is no specially secluded soul; she is just a village maiden, and no more. She is not set apart in some particularly holy place; the village where she lived was on one of the high roads of the country. She came into the world, not at a specially holy time, nor among a specially holy people; the Jews of her day were not what they had been. They had passed through trouble, and oppression, and sin, and had been singed and scarred in the process. Nor, again, when we find her in her home at Nazareth, do we find a maiden marked among her companions for holiness, or held in veneration by the women of the place. She is described as just "a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph," and no more; the only other thing the Evangelist has to say is that "the virgin's name was Mary," and on that, as we have said, he seems to linger. Indeed, so much is she like any other woman of her village that at a late time, when our Lord made His appeal to His own people, it was cast in his teeth that He came of so ordinary a mother, and that therefore He could not be the Prophet or Messiah. '"Is not this the carpenter,' they said, 'the son of Mary?'. And they were scandalized in regard of Him." (Mark 6:3)

Sometimes it is our good fortune to come across, and get to know, some simple and quiet soul, whose only possession seems to be its innocence, whom all the world passes by as being too ordinary and of no account. Such a soul, has it not some resemblance to our Lady? Sometimes we have met a child of Adam, always contented with its lot, whether it were one of joy or one of sorrow, whether it were full or empty, always faithful to its duty, whether it were easy or difficult, always at peace with those around it, patiently seeking not its own, looking for no return, and for the most receiving none, taken for granted by its companions and therefore for the most part ignored. Such a soul - may it not be like our Lady? Sometimes we have seen inside a heart, perhaps of a mother, perhaps of a friend, that has seemed to others cold and colourless, reserved and of little feeling, but to us has shown itself overflowing with scalding love and affection. Such a heart - is it very unlike that of our Lady?

Mary, the simple maid of Nazareth, yet declared "Blessed among women"; Mary, the outcast Mother of an outcast child, and yet the very Mother of God; Mary, the silent wonderer, who spoke but little, and passed through life little noticed, who "understood not" all her Son said and did, but kept it and pondered it in her heart, while the rest of men forgot it; Mary, the secluded looker-on, while her Son went out to save mankind; Mary, the faithful companion, who stood there while her Son was hanged before her; Mary, triumphant now in Heaven, but with her mother's nature unchanged - this is the Mary of the Gospels, the Mary whom we know, the Mary whom God and men delight to honour. Never have men been more dearly shown that notoriety is not greatness; nowhere does hiddenness more clearly appear as identical with heroism; in no other case is sanctity, perfection, seen more emphatically to consist in truth of life whose very evenness is its concealment.