The Catholic Church traditionally celebrates the feast of Mary Stella Maris or Mary, Star of the Sea, on September 27. Seafarers have invoked her for centuries, but did you know this title originally arose due to a transcription error? Here are 5 facts about the Stella Maris you may not have known.
1. This title for Mary arose in the 5th Century
St. Jerome was doing a bit of translating (as he was oft to do) and translated Mary’s Hebrew name Miryam, which means drop of the sea, in the Latin Stilla Maris. Either due to a peasant dialect or a transcription error, Stilla became Stella and Mary went from a drop in the ocean to the star of the sea. This speaks highly to God’s power in exalting the humble!
2. Mary Stella Maris isn’t just for seafarers
Mary has often been invoked as Stella Maris by those who make their livelihoods on the seas. She has been called the “calmer of storms” and other similar things. But what about those of us who don’t make our livelihoods on the water?
We can ask Mary to calm the storms in our own lives. St. Bernard of Clairvoux wrote of her: “If the winds of temptation arise; If you are driven upon the rocks of tribulation look to the star, call on Mary; If you are tossed upon the waves of pride, of ambition, of envy, of rivalry, look to the star, call on Mary. Should anger, or avarice, or fleshly desire violently assail the frail vessel of your soul, look at the star, call upon Mary.”
3. Stella Maris refers to Mary leading us to Christ
St. Paschasius Radbertus in the 9th century allegorically explained the name, writing that Mary is the “Star of the Sea” to be followed on the way to Christ, “lest we capsize amid the storm-tossed waves of the sea.”
Likewise, Pope Pius XII in his encyclical, Doctor Mellifluus, also quoted St. Bernard of Clairvaux, saying: “Mary … is interpreted to mean ‘Star of the Sea.’ This admirably befits the Virgin Mother…as the ray does not diminish the brightness of the star, so neither did the Child born of her tarnish the beauty of Mary’s virginity.”
The name Stella Maris was also given to the star Polaris (North Star) because of its role as guidepost, just like Mary.
4. Occasionally, this title is also used to describe Christ
St. Robert Bellarmine preferred to call Christ the Morning Star, the brightest star of all. This allegory makes sense with who Christ and Mary are– Mary leads us to Christ and He is our everything.
5. There are many hymns and prayers to the Stella Maris
Here’s a prayer to Our Lady, Star of the Sea attributed to St. Venantius Fortunatus that St. Louis de Montfort uses in his consecration to Jesus through Mary:
Hail, bright star of ocean
God’s own Mother blest
Ever sinless Virgin
Gate of heavenly rest
Taking that sweet Ave
Which from Gabriel came
Peace confirm within us
Changing Eva’s name
Break the captives’ fetters
Light on blindness pour
All our ills expelling
Every bliss implore
Show thyself a Mother
May the Word Divine
Born for us thy Infant
Hear our prayers through thine
Virgin all excelling
Mildest of the mild
Freed from guilt, preserve us
Pure and undefiled
Keep our life all spotless
Make our way secure
Till we find in Jesus
Through the highest heaven
To the Almighty Three
Father, Son, and Spirit
One same glory be. Amen.