First Article on the hidden meanings of Our Lady’s titles in the litany of the
This is the first of two articles on the hidden meanings of Our Lady’s titles in the litany of the Blessed Virgin. The word litany is derived from the Latin word litania, meaning prayer of invocation or intercession. Among the Litanies which the Catholic Church has approved for official use are the Litany of the Saints, probably the oldest, the Litany of the Holy Name of Jesus (1886), the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus (1899), the Litany of Saint Joseph (1909), the Litany of the Precious Blood (1960) and the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Litany of Loreto).
The Litany of the Blessed Virgin was originally approved in 1587 by Pope Sixtus V. It is also known as the Litany of Loreto from the famous Italian Shrine where its use is attested in the year 1558 (but its existence far antedates this year). There seems little doubt that the Litany dates from between 1150 and 1200 and was probably of Parisian origin, or its environs.
The 1587 version of the Litany of the Blessed Virgin was subsequently enriched with new invocations. Thus, in 1675, “Queen of the most Holy Rosary” was added for the Confraternities of the Holy Rosary. In 1883, “Queen Conceived without Original Sin” was added by Pope Leo XIII. In 1950, Pope Pius XII added “Queen Assumed into Heaven”. In 1980, the Congregation for Sacraments and Divine Worship directed that the invocation “Mother of the Church” be inserted, while, more recently Pope John Paul II added “Queen of Families” in 1995.
In these articles, the 13 symbolic titles of Our Lady in the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary will be explained as most Catholics are probably not fully aware of their hidden meanings when they recite the Litany. The 13 titles are as follows:
Mirror of Justice; Seat of Wisdom; Cause of Our Joy; Spiritual Vessel; Vessel of Honor; Singular Vessel of Devotion; Mystical Rose; Tower of David; Tower of Ivory; House of Gold; Ark of the Covenant; Gate of Heaven, and Morning Star.
Mirror of Justice: As explained in a book entitled Our Lady in Catholic Life, by Lawrence G. Lovasik (The MacMillan Company), in biblical language justice is the perfect observance of God’s commandments. Mary was perfectly responsive to the will of God; thus, she is the reflection (mirror) of God’s own holiness. She mirrors the holiness of God. She is the “mirror of justice”. When our Lady is called the “Mirror of Justice”, it is meant to say that she is the Mirror of sanctity, holiness and supernatural goodness.
Seat of Wisdom: Mary is called the “Seat of Wisdom” because wisdom became incarnate in her Son Jesus whom she carried in her womb. And she herself possessed and practiced true wisdom in the highest degree.
Mary has this title in her Litany because the Son of God, called in Scripture the Word and Wisdom of God, once dwelt in her, and then, after His birth, He was carried in her arms and seated in her lap during His first years. Thus, being as it were, the human throne of Him who reigns in heaven, she is called the “Seat of Wisdom”.
Cause of Our Joy: The moment Mary’s greeting sounded in Elizabeth’s ear, the baby leapt in her womb for joy (Luke 1:44). Mary is cause of our joy because, under God, she gives us Jesus, the Source of all joy. Mary is also cause of our ever increasing joy, because she always unites us —if we pray her Rosary—to the Heart of Jesus.
Spiritual Vessel: The noun “vessel” as used in this title imperfectly expresses the intended meaning of this invocation. The Latin “vas” (vessel) is used to translate the Greek term “skeuos” which does not only mean vessel but also instrument or tool. Thus, the expression “spiritual vessel” should be rendered as “instrument of the Holy Spirit”. Mary is both the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit and dwelling place of Jesus Christ in the Incarnation. Mary received this title because she is the perfect vessel of the Holy Spirit, who dwelt in her by the fullness of His grace.
Vessel of Honor: This title was given to Mary because she, more than any other human person, deserves to be honored as the one who conceived and gave birth to the Son of God. The meaning of the title can be best understood from the following excerpt from Cardinal Newman’s praise of Mary:
“MARY, we praise thee as the Vessel of Honor because thou art the Mother of God. If everything in any way connected with Christ our Savior is venerable, what an object of honor thou must be to us! As Mother of Christ thou standest in closer relationship to Him than any other creature in heaven or on earth. Thou art a living tabernacle of God, in whom the only-begotten Son of God dwelt for nine months. He rested in thy arms and received nourishment from thy hands.
“But Jesus not only dwelt in thee; He even assumed human flesh of thee, thou art His Mother. Thou art more worthy of honor than any creature because thou art the Mother of Him who created and governs the world and who is thy Creator. Thou hast nourished Him by whom all living creatures are sustained.
“All the angels and saints of heaven pay thee homage because of thy exalted dignity and unsurpassed glory; all Christians place their confidence in thee; and the souls in purgatory look to thee for help. Thou art the brightest adornment of the heavenly kingdom, the delight of the faithful, the honor of mankind. Thy prophecy is truly fulfilled: “Henceforth all generations shall call me blessed” (Luke 1:48).”
The next article will look at further titles of Our Lady in the Litany of Loreto and their hidden meanings.
Prof Michael Ogunu is the National President of the World Apostolate of Fatima in Nigeria.
Copyright © Professor Michael Ogunu 2015