Mary's Many Titles: Their Origins and Implications, Part 3
For centuries the Litany of Loreto has been a welcome, fondly enduring meditation for private and public veneration of the Blessed Mother. This week we complete our exploration of the now 55 titles in that magnificent compendium honoring the Lady Mary and imploring her aid.
In 1675, to prevent unorthodox titles from popping up, the Congregation of Rites announced it would strictly regulate additions to all the Church’s public litanies. The first new Marian designation capped a most dramatic event.
Mention was made in my latest column of Pope Pius VII proclaiming the feast of Our Lady, Help of Christians, already one of the Loreto titles, to commemorate the end of his exile from Rome. The circumstances were left unexplained.
In 1796, General Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Italy. Two years later, now First Consul and wishing to annex the Papal States, Napoleon allowed troops to kidnap Pope Pius VI, who refused to grant any concessions. To break his resolve, for a year and a half Pius was made to traverse France, never staying long in any one place. The ordeal killed the 81-year-old pontiff in August 1799.
A six-month-long interregnum ended with the election of Pius VII; the conclave held at a Benedictine monastery in Venice. Now emperor, Napoleon still wanted to dominate the Church in France, so the new pope’s amicable efforts came to nothing. In 1809 Pius VII followed his predecessor into exile. At Fontainebleau, Pope Pius VII, relentlessly browbeaten by the emperor for nearly five years, prayed unceasingly to Jesus and the Holy Virgin for deliverance.
Suffering severe military reverses, Napoleon freed the pope in January 1814. While the pope regained his health, the emperor of the French was defeated, allowing Pius to make a triumphal return to Rome. With great solemnity, the grateful pontiff paused at Loreto to place golden crowns on the statue of Our Lady holding the Child Jesus. Designating May 13 as the feast of Mary, Queen of All Saints, Pius placed the title at the conclusion of the litany.
The Rosary has long been associated with St. Dominic. His friars have fostered devotion to this chaplet of prayer throughout the world. In 1664, as a special privilege, Pope Alexander VII allowed members of the Dominican Order to insert the title “Queen of the Most Holy Rosary” into their recitation of the Litany of Loreto. Pope Leo XIII, himself greatly devoted to the Rosary, extended this privilege to the entire Church on Christmas Eve, 1883.
The bishops of the United States influenced the next addition. In May 1846, they placed the nation under the patronage of “the Blessed Virgin conceived without original sin.” The Holy See approved their decision in February 1847. Granting the bishops’ request a year earlier, Blessed Pius IX, permitted the title “Queen Conceived without Original Sin” be placed into the litany. Pius would define this immemorial belief as dogmatic truth in 1854.
The Blessed Mary’s title “Mother of Good Counsel” reflects her sound advice at Cana: “Do whatever He tells you.” There is no better guidance.
On the Feast of St. Mark, April 25, 1467, a phenomenon occurred in the church of Our Lady of Good Counsel in Genazzano, a town 25 miles southeast of Rome. An icon of the Virgin and Child suddenly appeared, suspended in air. It was painted on a thin layer of wall plaster the thickness of a business card.
Papal commissions investigated. The church, dating to the 500s, had been in the care of Augustinian friars since 1356. It was determined that the picture came from a church in Scutari, Albania. The general supposition was that, to save it from profanation by the Turks controlling the country, God whisked it to a church whose parishioners were strong in faith.
In 1903, Pope Leo XIII included the title in the Litany of Loreto. Venerable Pope Pius XII, elected in 1939, dedicated his pontificate to the Mother of Good Counsel, commemorated liturgically each year on April 26. The Augustinians still promote her devotion, while Albanians and Armenians regard the picture with much reverence and affection.
Seething national jealousies erupted in 1914, plunging Europe into war. Asked to bless the armies of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Pope St. Pius X resolutely refused. “I bless peace, not war!” Ongoing reports of the brutal carnage broke the Holy Father’s gentle heart. Within weeks after the start of the Great War he was dead.
Hundreds of thousands of soldiers died in the months following. On December 7, Pius’ horrified successor, Benedict XV, ardently appealed the belligerents to call a truce for Christmas Eve, “that the guns might fall silent at least on the night the angels sang.” Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II was amenable; British Prime Minister David Lloyd George merely sneered.
Benedict organized a bureau of war refugees while tirelessly begging the nations cease hostilities. On May 5, 1917, the Pope of Peace added the invocation “Queen of Peace” to the Litany of Loreto. Eight days later, the Virgin made the first of a series of appearances to three shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal. The war ended on November 11, 1918.
With the midcentury approaching, Pope Pius XII proclaimed a Holy Year for 1950. The Jubilee’s high point occurred when Pius defined as revealed truth the ancient truth that the Blessed Virgin was assumed, body and soul, into heaven, marking the event by adding the invocation “Queen assumed into Heaven” to the litany. As a further tribute to the Mother of God assumed into heaven, Pius proclaimed 1954 an extraordinary jubilee as a “Marian Year.”
In 1980, Pope St. John Paul II directed that Mary’s age-old title “Mother of the Church,” employed by St. Ambrose and Pope St. Leo the Great, be added to the litany, in recognition of Jesus entrusting Mary to us from the cross, making His Mother our Mother. The title reminds us that, as Mary gave birth to Jesus in Bethlehem, she likewise was present at Pentecost. Again, the Holy Spirit descended at the birth of the Church, the Mystical Body of her Son, beginning the mission of bringing Jesus’ life-giving grace to all the world.
In memory of St. John Paul II’s devotion, in 2019, Pope Francis proclaimed a new obligatory memorial in honor of the Virgin. Mary, Mother of the Church (Mater Ecclesiae), is now celebrated on the Monday following Pentecost.
On December 31, 1995, St. John Paul II further enhanced the litany with the invocation to
Mary as “Queen of Families,” that she bless, guide, and protect each Christian family. In this way the saintly pontiff recognized the importance of “the family church” as the means by which grows the entire Church in love for Jesus our Savior.
On June 20, 2020, the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, Robert Cardinal Sarah, prefect of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments, announced that Pope Francis desired three more invocations be added to the Litany of Loreto.
“Mother of Mercy,” again honored his predecessor, the pope who instituted the Sunday of Divine Mercy. This title is a sign also recognizing Pope Francis’ own devotion to “the quality of mercy” bestowed on us by God.
As “Mother of Hope,” Mary guides us to persevere in hope our life’s goal of attaining the heavenly goal of joining her and Jesus, her Son, the source of all goodness. In section 1817, the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains: “hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises, relying not on our own strength but on the help of the Holy Spirit.”
Mary’s designation as “Solace of Migrants” bids us to reflect on the flight into Egypt, when a needy family, fleeing persecution and death at the hands of a bitter, vengeful tyrant in their homeland, sought refuge in a nearby country. Pope Francis has championed migrants and refugees since his election in 2013.
Hold on — we’re not yet done! More of Mary’s numerous titles, well-known and obscure, will be discussed in our next installment.
Sean M. Wright, an Emmy-nominated television writer, is a Master Catechist in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles and an instructor within his parish’s RCIA team. He answers comments sent him at .