Titles of Our Lady from the Litany of Loreto

Morning Star

Stella Matutina

There is no title in all the Litany more descriptive of Mary's loving office to men than "Morning Star." Every star, indeed, is an image of Her. Her most popular figure is "Star of the Sea," due no doubt to the loveliest of Her hymns—the Ave Maris Stella, which goes back at least to the ninth century, and to the Alma Redemptoris Mater, of the eleventh century.

Mary had much to do with stars. The Star of Bethlehem was the only lamp for the cave. "We have seen His star in the East," said the Magi, and they found it again reflected in the eyes of Mary.

There is a lovely legend about an old well in the Holy Land, called "Mary’s well." The story is that once when the Holy Family was going from Bethlehem to Jerusalem they rested by that well and drank of its waters. When the Wise Men were on their way to Bethlehem, they lost the star for a while, but they found it again shining in the waters of Mary's well.

The "Morning Star" has always had a special application to Mary. The Church interprets the verse in the Canticle of Canticles (vi, 9) as descriptive of Her. "Who is She that cometh forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun?" Every church today, as in ages past, has its altar of the Blessed Virgin. In the old Cathedrals, the Lady Chapel was situated behind the choir and the high altar, and to the extreme east, as the symbol of Her as the Morning Star. We read in an old book of the 16th century: "Like as the morning cometh before the sun rising, and divideth the night from the day, so the Virgin Mary rose as the morning before the Sun of Justice, and divided the state of grace from the state of sin, the children of God from the children of darkness. Whereupon the Church singeth to Her praise that Her glorious life gave light to the world and illumined all the Church and congregations of faithful people." So a Solemn Mass was sung every day at early dawn in Her honor, and the bell for rising was called "Saint Mary's bell." St. Bridget of Sweden calls Her "the star preceding the sun."

The Hymn for the Feast of Our Lady's Apparition at Lourdes, has this stanza: "O dawn that goeth before the sun, joyous herald of our salvation, thy people, O Virgin, suppliantly invoke Thee amid the shades of night." Dante must have been thinking of Her when he wrote, as coming out of the Inferno: "Thence issuing we again beheld the stars;" and surely of Her when he wrote: "Of tremulous luster like the Matin star," and "Pure and made apt for mounting to the stars." To him the Inferno was "the air pierced by no star." St. John in the Apocalypse tells of the Woman Clothed with the Sun: "On Her head was a crown of twelve stars." So in art Our Lady is often picture as the Madonna of the Star. Stars are embroidered on Her veil or on the right shoulder of Her blue mantle. Art glorifies Her as the Morning Star, the Star of the Sea, the Star of Jacob, the Fixed Star.

The very thought of Light brings up the vision of Mary, so much had She to do with the Light of the world. Her arms were the candlestick for that Light. Candlemas, the Feast of Lights, is Her Feast, as She holds up to a darkened world the true Light. So, St. Epiphanius († 403) called Her "Mother of Eternal Light." In the Hymn for the Feast of the Guardian Angels She is also called "Mother of Light," and in the Hymn for the Feast of the Most Holy Rosary: "Twelve stars now crown the brow of the glorious Mother; near the throne of Her Son She reigns over all created things."

Our Lady of PontmainAn old woman who saw the Little Flower when she was dead, said that her feet looked "as if they had walked on light." A convert in India who had a vision of Our Lady was asked what She looked like. He answered, "She was composed of light, She was all light." Even when little Bernadette had her visions of Our Lady and went into ecstasy at the sight, the onlookers said they could never forget the child's face, it was so full of beauty and light, as if it were the reflection from the light of the Mother of God. Our Lady of Hope appeared to some children at Pontmain, France. They described Her as surrounded by stars. "Oh, there are so many stars the Blessed Virgin will soon be gilt all over."

Yes, as the Hymn Quem terra sings—She is the "refulgent hall of Light." She is also called "Light of the Despairing," "Daughter of the Light Unapproachable," "Our Light," "Bright Moon of Purity," "Brilliant Star of Purity," "Rising Moon of Purity," "Sun without a Stain," "Living Light of Holiness."

"Our Lady of Light" was an old title of Hers in the Middle Ages. It is said that She Herself suggested that title to St. Thomas of Canterbury. There was a Confraternity of Our Lady of Light, and St. Francis Xavier and his companions were enrolled in it before they set out for the Indies. The Confraternity of Our Lady of Light, Spouse of the Holy Ghost was founded in England, in 1824. Pope Leo XIII indulgenced this prayer: "Our Lady of Light, Spouse of the Holy Ghost, I give Thee my whole self, soul and body, all I have or may have, to keep for Jesus that I may be His forever more. Our Lady of Light, Spouse of the Holy Ghost, pray for me."

But the most common "Star" figure, which all the spiritual writers have used, is "Star of the Sea," the guide to man who is sailing on the sea of life. St. Bernard, as many others, interpreted Miriam (Hebrew for "Mary") as meaning Star of the Sea, and thus explains it: "Because without loss of its own integrity, a star sends forth its rays—and so Mary brought forth Jesus. She is, therefore, that noble star risen out of Jacob, whose ray illuminates the whole earth, whose splendor both shines above and pierces the nether darkness, enlightening the earth and giving heat rather to souls than to bodies, nourishing virtues, expelling vices. Mary is the excellent, bright and wonderful Star lifted up necessarily above this great and wide ocean, shining with merits, illuminating with example. Behold the Star!"

It is a strange thing, but almost all the figures of speech in Scripture about the sea refer to its power and its dangers. All dreaded the unknown sea. Having no compass in those days, many ships were lost in the great traffic on the Mediterranean. The sea has always had its dangers. The sailors knew that better than anyone else. A strange name the Eastern sailors gave Her—Mother of Tears, evidently because the sea made so many mothers weep for their lost sailor boys. But the Catholic sailor was devoted to the Star of the Sea. He needed Her protection in his dangerous calling, so he called his boat after one of Her titles, paid his homage to Her shrines along the coast, made vows of pilgrimage and of offering to Her. One of the most famous shrines of France is that of Our Lady of Mariners, at Marseilles. At the end of the 12th century a fisherman of Marseilles was overtaken in his boat by a violent storm. He raised his eyes to the rock of the Garde. He beheld a figure there. He sang the Ave Maris Stella. Somehow he got to land. Many sailors saw that same apparition on the rock. A chapel was erected and a statue was placed there, called "Our Lady of Help" or "Help of Mariners." Since then She is honored as the Protectress of Marseilles. Many stories are told of sailors in distress seeing Our Lady at the wheel guiding their boat through the storm. She was, indeed, "the Star above the storms."

From our childhood many of us have been familiar with the idea of the Star of the Sea protecting us in our voyage of life. We sang Fr. Faber’s hymn—"Sweet Star of the Sea."

Deep night hath come down on us, Mother, deep night,
And we need more than ever the guide of Thy light;
For the darker the night is, the brighter should be
Thy beautiful shining, sweet Star of the Sea.

St. Bonaventure compares life to a tempestuous sea into which sinners have fallen from the ship of Divine Grace. "O poor lost sinners," he makes Our Lady say, "despair not; raise up your eyes and cast them on this beautiful star; breathe again with confidence, for it will save you from this tempest and will guide you into the port of salvation."

And St. Ephraim calls Her "the safe harbor of all sailing on the sea of the world," the same expression being used by Pope Leo XIII—"Safe Harbor of travelers." St. Thomas draw his lesson from it—"She is blessed among women because She alone has removed the curse of Adam, brought blessings to mankind, and opened the gates of Paradise. Hence She is called Mary, which name signifies Star of the Sea, for as sailors steer their ship to port by watching the stars, so Christians are brought to glory by the intercession of Mary." The Irish of old had a beautiful expression—"O Mary, meet me at the port." St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi had a vision in which She saw a vessel in which were all the clients of Mary, and Mary Herself steering the ship into port. This is Dante's thought: "If thou follow but thy star, thou canst not miss at last a glorious haven."

Mary is compared to the merchant's ship, "She bringeth Her bread from afar" (Prov. 31: 14). So do we look up to Her—we who "have walked in the waves of the sea" (Eccli. 24: 8). Thus St. Gertrude the Great prayed, "O Jesus, my only hope, my Savior and my God, send to me, at my last hour Thy tender Mother Mary, that soft-shining Star of the Sea, that She may stand by me as my sure defense. Her face, fair as the bright dawn of morning will make me feel and know that Thou, too, O Divine Sun of Justice, art drawing near to my soul in all Thy splendor."

How can we ever meditate on the Star of the Sea without reading St. Bernard's classic: "O Thou who feelest thyself tossed by the tempests in the midst of the shoals of this world, turn not away thine eyes from the Star of the Sea, if thou wouldst avoid shipwreck. If the winds of temptation blow, if tribulations rise up like rocks before thee—look at the Star, send a sigh towards Mary! If the waves of pride, ambition, calumny, or jealousy seek to swallow up thy soul—look at the Star, send a prayer to Mary! If anger, avarice, or love of pleasure toss thy fragile bark—seek the eyes of Mary. If horror of thy sins, trouble of conscience, or dread of the judgments of God begin to plunge thee into the gulf of sadness, the abyss of despair—attach thy heart to Mary. In dangers, in sufferings, in doubt—think of Mary and invoke Her aid. Let Mary be always in your heart and often upon your lips. To obtain Her help in death, follow Her example in life. In following Her, you will not go astray; by praying to Her, you will not despair; if you cling to Her, you will not go wrong. With Her support, you fall not; under Her protection you have no fear; under Her guidance you do not grow weary; if She is gracious to you, you will reach the port. Thus you will experience how rightly it is said: 'And the Virgin's name was Mary'."

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