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What’s in a Name?

Our family has a penchant for nicknames. Everyone has at least a couple.  Some have more.  I have 7 that I can count off the top of my head.  Each of my own nicknames has a specific story of origin and says something about who I am or something I’ve done.  I think that’s how most people get their nicknames, isn’t it?

One of my sons just recently was given the nickname “Yogurt” by his cross country teammates—that’ll be a fun story.  One day.

The Church, being a family, is no different.  And Mary, being the Mama, is no different.  In fact, she’s got a whole litany of names that exists today as one of only 6 litanies approved by the Church for public liturgy.  That’s kind of big deal.

A litany is a special prayer in the church that is formed after the model of Psalm 136. . .

Praise the LORD, for he is good;

For his mercy endures forever.

Praise the God of gods,

For his mercy endures forever.

Praise the Lord of lords,

For his mercy endures forever.

Who alone has done great wonders,

For his mercy endures forever.

Who skillfully made the heavens,

For his mercy endures forever.

And it doesn’t stop there!  The Psalmist has quite a bit more to say about Our God and His goodness.  In response to the LORD’s unmatched glory and creative generosity, the Psalmist puts on our lips a continual recounting of God’s eternal mercy toward us, His people.  In His mercy, God is our creator, our provider, our protector, and so on and so on.

We say these things out loud (over and over again) not to remind God of Who He is, but to remind ourselves of God’s goodness.  We aren’t so much naming Him as we are calling out to Him in recollection of His story.  We use the litany of the Psalmist as our prayer to jog our quickly forgetful minds and to make a habit of recognizing that everything—the whole world, our very existence—is because of His mercy.

Back to Mary.  . .

She also has a litany.  It is called the The Litany of Loreto.  In it, we identify her with lots of nicknames or, more formally, titles.  We call her Mother of God, Virgin of virgins, Mother of Christ, Mother of the Church, Vessel of honor, Ark of the Covenant, Help of Christians, Queen of All Saints. . .and so on and so on.

In the intimacy of the communion of saints, we call out to her and our simple plea each time is: “Pray for us.”

Like the litany of the Psalmist, we call her these things to tell her story.  To remind ourselves that God, in his infinite love for humankind, (as crazy as it sounds!) became Incarnate of the Virgin and entered into our humanity as the Only Begotten Son of God and the tiny, soft, cuddly, precious baby of Mother Mary.

We need to recall her story because she is important, a blessing for all ages, and an example of what it means to be a Christian—to truly bear Christ to the world and to help each other along the way to Him.

At the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D, the universal Christian Church dogmatically proclaimed what had already been understood for the first few hundred years of Christianity.  That is: Jesus Christ is God.  Mary is his Mother.  Therefore, Mary can rightly be called Mother of God (Theotokos).  As his Mother, she gave him his flesh—his Body.  And, as we are formed into the Body of Christ, we, too, receive her as our Mother.

Her story matters to us, the rest of her children (Revelation 12:17).

Her story matters to us, because everything we say about her is really about who her Son is.  Each nickname we give her points us to the One who made her His Mother and ours.

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Franchelle Jaeger

Franchelle writes from Nashville, TN.

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