The Sweetness of the Name of Mary
during Life and at Death.
by St. Alphonsus de Ligouri
The great name of Mary, which was given to the divine Mother, did not come to her from her parents, nor was it given to her by the mind or will of man, as is the case with all other names that are imposed in this world; but it came from heaven, and was given her by a divine ordinance. This is attested by St. Jerome (De Nat. M. V.), St. Epiphanius (Or. de Praes. Deip.), St. Antoninus (Hist. p. 1, t. 4, c. 6, #10), and others. “The name of Mary came from the treasury of the divinity” (“De thesauro Divinitatis, Mariae nomen evolvitur”–S. de Annunt.), says St. Peter Damian. Ah, yes, O Mary, it was from that treasury that thy high and admirable name came forth; for the most Blessed Trinity, says Richard of St. Laurence, bestowed on thee a name above every other name after that of thy Son, and ennobled it with such majesty and power, that he willed that all heaven, earth, and hell, on only hearing it, should fall down and venerate it; but I will give the author’s own words: “The whole Trinity, O Mary, gave thee a name after that of thy Son above every other name, that in thy name every knee should bow, of things in heaven, on earth, and under the earth” (“Dedit tibi, Maria, tota Trinitas nomen quod est super omne nomen, post nomen Filii sui, ut in nominee ejus omne genu flectatur coelestium, terrestrium, et infernorum”–De Laud. B. M. l. 1, c. 2). But amongst the other privileges of the name of Mary, and which were given to it by God, we will now examine that of the peculiar sweetness found in it by the servants of this most holy Lady during life and in death.
We gather from the sacred canticles, that on the Assumption of our Blessed Lady, the angels asked her name three times. Who is she that goeth up by the desert as a pillar of smoke? (“Quae est ista, quae ascendit per desertum, sicut virgula fumi?”–Cant. iii. 6) again, Who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising? (“Quae est ista, quae progreditur quasi aurora consurgens?”–Ib. vi. 9) and again, Who is this that cometh up from the desert, flowing with delights? (“Quae est ista, quae ascendit de deserto, deliciis affluens?”–Ib. viii. 5) “And why,” says Richard of St. Laurence, “do the angels so often ask the name of their Queen?” He answers, “That it was so sweet even to the angels to hear it pronounced, that they desired to hear that sweet name in reply” (“Forsitan quia dulce nomen sibi desiderant responderi”–De Laud. V. M. l. 1, c. 2).
But here I do not intend to speak of that sensible sweetness, for it is not granted to all; I speak of that salutary sweetness of consolation, of love, of joy, of confidence, of strength, which the name of Mary ordinarily brings to those who pronounce it with devotion.
The Abbot Francone, speaking on this subject, says, “there is no other name after that of the Son, in heaven or on earth, whence pious minds derive so much grace, hope, and sweetness” (“Neque enim, post Filii sui nomen, aliud nomen coelum aut terra nominat, unde tantum gratiae, tantum spei, tantum suavitatis, piae mentes concipiant”). After the most sacred name of Jesus, the name of Mary is so rich in every good thing, that on earth and in heaven there is no other from which devout souls receive so much grace, hope, and sweetness. “For,” he continues, “there is something so admirable, sweet, and divine in this name of Mary, that when it meets with friendly hearts it breathes into them an odor of delightful sweetness.” And he adds, in conclusion, “that the wonder of this great name is, that if heard by the lovers of Mary a thousand times, it is always heard again with renewed pleasure, for they always experience the same sweetness each time it is pronounced” (“Nomen namque Mariae, mirum quid, suave, ac divinum, in se continent, ut, cum sonuerit amicis cordibus, amicae suavitatis odorem spiret. Et mirum illud est de nominee Mariae, ut, millies auditum, simper audiatur quasi novem”–De Grat. D. l. 6).
The Blessed Henry Suso (Dial. c. 16), also speaking of this sweetness, says, “that when he named Mary, he felt himself so excited to confidence, and inflamed with such love and joy with which he pronounced the beloved name, he desired that his heart might leave his breast; for he declared that this most sweet name was like a honeycomb dissolving in the inmost recess of the soul;” and then he would exclaim: “O most sweet name! O Mary, what must thou thyself be, since thy name alone is thus amiable and gracious!”
The enamoured St. Bernard, raising his heart to his good Mother, says with tenderness, “O great! O pious! O thou who art worthy of all praise! O most Holy Virgin Mary! Thy name is so sweet and amiable, that it cannot be pronounced without inflaming those who do so with love towards thee and God. It only need occur to the thought of thy lovers to move them to love thee more, and to console them.” “Thou canst not be named without inflaming; thou canst not be thought of by those who love thee without filling their minds with joy” (“O magna, O pia, O multum amabilis Mari! tu nec nominari potes, quin accendas, nec cogitari, quin recrees affectus diligentium te”–Depr. Gl. V). “And if riches comfort the poor, because they relieve them in their distress, O how much more does thy name, O Mary,” says Richard of St. Laurence, “comfort us than any earthly riches! It comforts us in the anguishes of this life.” “Thy name, O Mary, is far better than riches, because it can better relieve poverty” (“Mariae nomen longe melius quam divitiae, quia melius angustiam relevant”–De Laud. B. M. l. 1, c. 2).
In fine, “thy name, O Mother of God, is filled with divine graces and blessings” (“Tuum, Dei genitrix, nomen divinis benedictionibus et gratis ex omni parte refertum”–De Sim. et Anna), as St. Methodius says. So much so, that St. Bonaventure declares, “that thy name, O Mary, cannot be pronounced without bringing some grace to him who does so devoutly” (“Nomen tuum devote nominari non potest sine nominantis utilitate”–Spec. B. V. lect. 9). The Blessed Raymond Jordano says, “that however hardened and diffident a heart may be, the name of this most Blessed Virgin has such efficacy, that if it is only pronounced, that heart will be wonderfully softened.” I will, however, give his own words. “The power of thy most holy name, O ever-blessed Virgin Mary, is such that it softens the hardness of the human heart in a wonderful manner.” He then tells us that it is she who leads sinners to the hope of pardon and grace: “By thee does the sinner recover the hope of forgiveness and grace” (“Tanta est virtus tui sacratissimi nominis, O simper benedicta Virgo Maria! quod mirabiliter emollit duritiam cordis humani; peccator per te respirat in spe veniae ei gratiae”–Cont. de V. M. c. 5).
Thy most sweet name, O Mary, according to St. Ambrose, “is a precious ointment, which breathes forth the odor of divine grace.” The saint then prays to the divine Mother, saying: “Let this ointment of salvation enter the inmost recesses of our souls” (“Unguentum, nomen tuum; descendat istud unguentum in animae praecordia. Sancta Maria, quod divina gratiae spiramenta redolet”–Instit. Virg. c. 13): that is, grant, O Lady, that we may often remember to name thee with love and confidence; for this practice either shows the possession of divine grace, or else is a pledge that we shall soon recover it. “And truly it is so, O Mary; for the remembrance of thy name comforts the afflicted, recalls those who have erred to the way of salvation, and encourages sinners, that they may not abandon themselves to despair.” It is thus that Ludolph of Saxony addresses her (“O Mariae! Tui recordation nominis, moestos laetificat, errantes ad viam salutis revocat et peccatores, ne desperent, confortat”–Vita Chr. p. 2, c. 86).
Father Pelbart says, “that as Jesus Christ by his five wounds gave a remedy for the evils of the world, so also does Mary, by her most holy name which is composed of five letters, daily bring pardon to sinners” (“Sic Maria, suo sanctissimo nominee, quod quinque litteris constat, confert quotidie veniam peccatoribus”–Stell. l. 6, p. 1, a. 2).
For this reason is the holy name of Mary likened in the sacred canticles to oil: Thy name is as oil poured out (“Oleum effusum, nomen tuum”–Off. B. V. resp. 6). On these words blessed Alan says that the glory of her name is compared to oil poured out; because oil heals the sick, sends out a sweet odor, and nourishes flames (“Gloria nominis ejus oleo effuso comparator; oleum aegrotantem sanat, odorem parit, flammam nutrit”–In Cant. i). Thus also does the name of Mary heal sinners, rejoice hearts, and inflame them with divine love. Hence Richard of St. Laurence “encourages sinners to have recourse to this great name,” because it alone will suffice to cure them of all their evils; and “there is so disorder, however malignant, that does not immediately yield to the power of the name of Mary” (“Peccator es, ad Mariae nomen confugias. Ipsum solum sufficit ad medendum: nam pestis tam efficax nulla sic haeret, quae ad nomen Mariae non cedat continuo–De Laud. Virg. lib. i. cap. 2).
On the other hand, Thomas a Kempis affirms “that the devils fear the Queen of heaven to such a degree, that only on hearing her great name pronounced, they fly from him who does so as from a burning fire” (“Expavescunt coeli Reginam spiritus maligni, et diffugiunt, audito nominee ejus, velut ab igne”–Ad Nov. s. 23). The Blessed Virgin herself revealed to St. Bridget “that there is not on earth a sinner, however devoid he may be of the love of God, from whom the devil is not obliged immediately to fly, if he invokes her holy name with a determination to repent” (“Nullus tam frigidus ab amore Dei est, nisi sit damnatus, si invocaverit hoc nomen, hac intentione, ut nunquam reverti velit ad opus solitum, quod non discedat ab eo statim diabolus”). On another occasion she repeated the same thing to the saint, saying, “that all the devils venerate and fear her name to such a degree, that on hearing it they immediately loosen the claws with which they hold the soul captive” (“Omnes daemons verentur hoc nomen et timent; qui audientes hoc nomen, Maria, statim relinquunt animam de unguibus, quibus tenebant eam”). Our Blessed Lady also told St. Bridget, “that is the same way as the rebel angels fly from sinners who invoke the name of Mary, so also do the good angels approach nearer to just souls who pronounce her name with devotion” (“Angeli boni, audito hoc nominee, statim appropinquant magis justis”–Rev. l. 1, c. 9).
St. Germanus declares, “that as breathing is a sign of life, so also is the frequent pronunciation of the name of Mary a sign either of the life of divine grace, or that it will soon come; for this powerful name has in it the virtue of obtaining help and life for him who invokes it devoutly.” Addressing the Blessed Virgin, he says,, “As breathing is a sign of life in the body, so is the frequent repetition of thy most holy name, O Virgin, by thy servants, not only a sign of life and of strength, but also it procures and conciliates both” (“Quomodo corpus vitalis signum operationis habet respirationem, ita etiam sanctissimum nomen tuum, O Virgo! quod in ore servorum tuorum versatur assidue, vitae et auxilii non solum signum est, sed etiam ea procurat et conciliat”–De Zona Deip).
In fine, “This admirable name of our Sovereign Lady,” says Richard of St. Laurence, “is like a fortified tower, in which, if a sinner takes refuge, he will be delivered from death; for it depends and saves even the most abandoned” (“Turris fortissimo, nomen Dominae: ad ipsam fugiet peccator et liberabitur; haec defendit quosilibet et quantumlibet peccatores”). But it is a tower of strength, which not only delivers sinners from chastisement, but also defends the just from the assaults of hell. Thus the same Richard says, “that after the name of Jesus, there is no other in which men find so powerful assistance and salvation as in the great name of Mary” (“Non est in aliquot alio nominee tam potens adjutorium, nec est aliquod nomen datum hominibus, post dulce nomen Jesu, ex quo tanta salus refundatur hominibus”–De Laud. B. M. l. 11). He says, “there is not such powerful help in any name, nor is there any other name given to men, after that of Jesus, from which so much salvation is poured forth upon men as from the name of Mary.” Moreover, it is well known, and is daily experienced by the clients of Mary, that her powerful name gives the particular strength necessary to overcome temptations against purity. The same author in his commentary on the words of St. Luke, and the Virgin’s name was Mary (“Et nomen Virginis Maria”–Luke i. 27), remarks that these two words, Mary and Virgin, are joined together by the Evangelist, to denote that the name of this most pure Virgin should always be coupled with the virtue of chastity” (“Nomini Mariae virginitas et sanctitas inseparabiliter sunt adjuncta”–Loco cit.). Hence St. Peter Chrysologus says, “that the name of Mary is an indication of chastity” (“Nomen hoc, indicium castitatis”–Serm. 146), meaning, that when we doubt as to whether we have consented to thoughts against this virtue, if we remember having invoked the name of Mary, we have a certain proof that we have not sinned.
Let us, therefore, always take advantage of the beautiful advice given us by St. Bernard, in these words: “In dangers, in perplexities, in doubtful cases, think of Mary, call on Mary; let her not leave thy lips; let her not depart from thy heart” (“In periculis, in angustiis, in rebus dubriis, Mariam cogita, Mariam invoca; non recedat ab ore, non recedat a corde”–De Laud. V. M. hom. 2). In every danger of forfeiting divine grace, we should think of Mary, and invoke her name, together with that of Jesus; for these two names always go together. O, then, never let us permit these two most sweet names to leave our hearts, or be off our lips; for they will give us strength not only not to yield, but to conquer all our temptations.
Consoling indeed are the promises of help made by Jesus Christ to those who have devotion to the name of Mary; for one day in the hearing of St. Bridget, he promised his most holy Mother that he would grant three special graces to those who invoke that holy name with confidence: first, that he would grant them perfect sorrow for their sins; secondly, that their crimes should be atoned for; and, thirdly, that he would give them strength to attain perfection, and at length the glory of paradise. And then our divine Savior added: “For thy words, O my Mother, are so sweet and agreeable to me, that I cannot deny what thou askest” (“Habitatores mundi indigent tribus: contritione pro peccatis, satisfactione, fortitudine ad faciendum bona. Quicumque invocaverit nomen tuum, et spem habet in te, cum proposito emendandi commissa, ista tria dabuntur ei, insuper et regnum coeleste. Tanta enim est mihi dulcedo in verbis tuis, ut non possim negare quae petis”–Rev. l. 1, c. 50).
St. Ephrem goes so far as to say, “that the name of Mary is the key of the gates of heaven” (“Nomen Mariae est reseratorium portae coeli”–De Laud. Dei Gen.), in the hands of those who devoutly invoke it. And thus it is not without reason that St. Bonaventure says “that Mary is the salvation of all who call upon her:” for he addresses her, saying: “O salvation of all who invoke thee!” (“O Salus te invocantium!”) meaning, that to obtain eternal salvation and invoke her name are synonyumous; and Richard of St. Laurence affirms, “that the devout invocation of this sweet and holy name leads to the acquisition of superabundant graces in this life, and a very high degree of glory in the next” (“Devota invocation nominis ejus ducit ad virorem gratiae in praesenti, ad virorem gloriae in futuro”–De Laud B. M. l. 1, c. 2). “If then, O brethren,” concludes Thomas a Kempis, “you desire consolation in every labor, have recourse to Mary; invoke the name of Mary, honor Mary, recommend yourselves to Mary, rejoice with Mary, weep with Mary, pray with Mary, walk with Mary, seek Jesus with Mary; in fine, desire to live and die with Jesus and Mary. By acting thus you will always advance in the ways of God, for Mary will most willingly pray for you, and the Son will most certainly grant all that his Mother asks” (“Si consolari in omni tribulatione quaeritis, accedite ad Mariam. Mariam invocate, Mariam honorate, Mariae vos commendate; cum Maria gaudete, cum Maria dolete, cum Maria orate, cum Maria ambulate, cum Maria Jesum quaerite, cum Maria et Jesu vivere et mori desiderate. Fratres, si ista exercetis, proficietis; Maria libenter pro vobis orabit, et Jesus libenter Matrem suam exaudiet”–Ad Nov. s. 21).
Thus we see that the most holy name of Mary is sweet indeed to her clients during life, on account of the very great graces that she obtains for them. But sweeter still will it be to them in death, on account of the tranquil and holy end that it will insure them.
Father Sertorius Caputo, of the Society of Jesus, exhorted all who assist the dying frequently to pronounce the name of Mary; for this name of life and hope, when repeated at the hour of death, suffices to put the devils to flight, and to comfort such persons in their sufferings.
“The invocation of the sacred names of Jesus and Mary,” says Thomas a Kempis, “is a short prayer which is as sweet to the mind, and as powerful to protect those who use it against the enemies of their salvation, as it is easy to remember” (“Haec sancta oratio: ‘Jesus et Maria,’ brevis est ad legendum, facilis ad tenendum, dulcis ad cogitandum, fortis ad protegendum”–Vall. Lil. c. 13).
“Blessed is the man who loves thy name, O Mary” (“Beatus vir qui diligit nomen tuum, Maria”), exclaims St. Bonaventure. “Yes, truly blessed is he who loves thy sweet name, O Mother of God! for,” he continues, “thy name is so glorious and admirable, that no one who remembers it has any fears at the hour of death” (“Gloriosum et admirabile est nomen tuum; qui illud retinent, non expavescent in puncto mortis”–Psalt. B. V. ps. i. 110). Such is its power, that none of those who invoke it at the hour of death fear the assaults of their enemies.
Oh, that we may end our lives as did the Capuchin Father, Fulgentius of Ascoli, who expired singing, “O Mary, O Mary, the most beautiful of creatures! Let us depart together;” or according to the annals of the Order, like Blessed Henry the Cistercian, who expired in the very moment that he was pronouncing the most sweet name of Mary (“Inter ipsam dulcissimi nominis articulationem!”)
Let us then, O devout reader, beg God to grant us, that at death the name of Mary may be the last word on our lips. This was the prayer of St. Germanus: “May the last movement of my tongue be to pronounce the name of the Mother of God” (“Dei Matris nomen sit mihi ultimus linguae loquentis motus”–In Deip. Ann.); O sweet, O safe is that death which is accompanied and protected by so saving a name; for God only grants the grace of invoking it to those whom he is about to save. O my sweet Lady and Mother, I love thee much, and because I love thee I also love thy holy name. I purpose and hope, with thy assistance, always to invoke it during life and at death. And to conclude with the tender prayer of St. Bonaventure: “I ask thee, O Mary, for the glory of thy name, to come and meet my soul when it is departing from this world, and to take it in thine arms” (“In exitu animae meae de hoc mundo, occurred illi, Domina, et suscipe eam”). “Disdain not, O Mary,” the saint continues, “to come then and comfort me with thy presence. Be thyself my soul’s ladder and way to heaven. Do thou thyself obtain for it the grace of forgiveness and eternal repose” (“Consolare eam vultu sancto tuo; esto illi scala et iter ad paradisum Dei; impetra ei indulgentiam pacis, et sedem lucis”). He then concludes saying, “O Mary, our advocate, it is for thee to defend thy clients, and to undertake their cause before the tribunal of Jesus Christ” (“Sustine devotos ante tribunal Christi; suscipe causam eorum in minibus tuis”–Psalt. B. V. ps. 113).
St. Camillus de Lellis urged the members of his community to remind the dying often to utter the holy names of Jesus and Mary. Such was his custom when assisting people in their last hour. When he himself came to die he gave an edifying example of confidence in the holy names. His biographer relates that when death was approaching, the saint invoked the sweet names of Jesus and Mary with such tender devotion that all present were inflamed with love for the sacred names. With his eyes fixed on the images of Jesus and Mary, and his arms crossed on his breast, an expression of heavenly peace rested on his face when his soul took its flight. His last words were the sacred names of Jesus and Mary.