The most ancient title for the Blessed Virgin Mary is simply that of “mother.” It was the name Jesus used and is the name Christians have been using ever since. The name “mother” describes Mary’s role in our lives as a spiritual mother who watches over us and takes care of us in our need.
However, throughout the centuries saints, bishops, and popes in the Church have given her a whole litany of names, as can be seen in the traditional Litany of Loreto. These names are typically self-explanatory and generally make sense. Then there are other titles given to the Blessed Virgin that you wouldn’t expect. For example, why is Mary being compared to a tower? Or a fleece?
Here are five such titles, along with a brief explanation, that will hopefully shed some light on these lesser known names of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Tower of David
The first mention of this title comes from the Song of Solomon, where God is depicted as a lover who is describing the beauty of his beloved. In it we find,”Your neck is like the tower of David, built for an arsenal, whereon hang a thousand bucklers, all of them shields of warriors.” (Song of Solomon 4:4). Mary is often seen as a symbol of the Church, the bride of Christ, and so the title first points to this spiritual aspect of Mary’s role in salvation history. Secondly, King David built a tower in the city of Jerusalem to protect the people from the assaults of the enemy. Mary is a protective mother and she will do anything she has to to defend her spiritual children. She is a strong fortification, a place of refuge during the war for our soul. The title encourages us to draw close to her for protection and to see in her the image of the perfect bride of Christ.
Tower of ivory
Another tower, but this time the tower is “ivory.” Again, this title appears first in the Song of Solomon in a similar scenario. God speaks again to his beloved, “Your neck is like an ivory tower.” (Song of Solomon 7:4) Ivory is white in color and relates to Mary’s identification as the “Immaculate Conception.” She is the one preserved free from every stain of sin and is the pure bride of Christ. This title reminds us of Mary’s purity and urges us to imitate her complete faithfulness to God.
The morning star is known as the last star in the sky before the sun rises. Cardinal John Henry Newman explains, “it is Mary’s prerogative to be the Morning Star, which heralds in the sun. She does not shine for herself, or from herself, but she is the reflection of her and our Redeemer, and she glorifies Him. When she appears in the darkness, we know that He is close at hand. He is Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Behold He comes quickly, and His reward is with Him, to render to everyone according to his works. ‘Surely I come quickly. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.'” This teaches us that we too are called to be heralds of the light of Christ and to always point to the Sun which never sets.
Destroyer of heresy
According to Father Paul Scalia, “In [his encyclical letter] Pascendi dominici gregis, Pope Pius X invokes the Blessed Virgin Mary by the title Destroyer of all heresies. He took this curious appellation for the gentle, sweet maiden of Nazareth from the Mass of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The title had particular meaning in Pascendi, which was written in 1911 against modernism, the ‘synthesis of all heresies.’ Faced with that crisis, it was proper to appeal to the Destroyer of all heresies.” From the book of Genesis many have interpreted Mary as the one foretold who will crush the head of the serpent, the devil, and since heresy (or anything false) comes straight from the mouth of Satan, Mary is seen as the one who can destroy heresy. We are then reminded that Mary is our protector from heresy and leads us to the truth.
Fleece of heavenly rain
In a commentary on the Psalms, John Mason Neale writes, “Rightly, I say, is Mary compared to a fleece, since from her fruit the garments of salvation are woven for the peoples. Mary is truly a fleece, since from her soft bosom the Lamb came forth, Who Himself wearing His Mother’s wool, that is, the flesh, covers the wounds of all nations with soft fleece. For the wound of every sin is bandaged with Christ’s wool, is fomented with Christ’s Blood; and, that it may recover health, is covered with Christ’s raiment.”Additionally, Mary is seen as a pure fleece that Jesus descended upon at the Annunciation, “the Psalmist says, ‘He shall come down like the rain into a fleece’ [Psalm 72:6] —that is, gently and imperceptibly He will come down into the Virgin, because He shall come with all lowliness and meekness.” This title again brings to mind Mary’s purity and recalls the gentleness of the Annunciation and how God came to dwell among us.