Star of the Sea

April 23 2015 | by

THE YEAR is 2015. Jerry Smith wants to travel from Sweden to Italy, so he plugs in his global positioning system (GPS), sets his destination, and starts driving. The voiceover begins by saying, “Please drive the highlighted route.”

The year is 1915. Justin Smith wants to travel about 500 miles across the South American continent, so he takes out a large foldout map and begins to mark out his route. He starts out, following the route he has marked.

The year is 1815. Joseph Smith wants to travel into the wilderness to stake out a homestead in developing western United States. He hires a guide to lead him. Joseph trustingly follows the guide to his destination.

The year is 1215. Captain Jeremy Smith wants to travel from the British Isles to Iceland. He studies the stars, making special note of the North Star which remains constant in the sky. By using a complex series of calculations based on the constellations, he is able to guide the ship safely to port in Iceland.

Both the world and the sea have been compared to life’s spiritual journey. In order to navigate our way safely through life, we need a guide. The guide is not the point of destination, but a vital means of getting there because the guide knows more about the route than we do. How foolish it would be to start out on our own and ignore the guide’s direction!


Stella Maris


The Blessed Virgin Mary has been considered to be a spiritual guide from the earliest times. The Evangelist John portrayed Mary as a guide at the wedding feast of Cana when, the wine having run out, she brings the servants to Jesus and instructs them to do whatever he tells them. By the year 250 Coptic Orthodox Christians were singing a Christmas hymn to the Blessed Mother which showed her as a compassionate guide who rescues us from dangers and trouble.

Beneath your compassion,

We take refuge, O Mother of God:

do not despise our petitions in time of trouble:

but rescue us from dangers,

only pure, only blessed one.

The name of the Blessed Mother in Hebrew is Miryam which means ‘drop of the sea.’ St. Jerome, in his Latin translation of the Onomasticon by Eusebius of Caesarea, translated the name as Stilla Maris (Drop of the Sea). A later copyist miscopied the translation as Stella Maris (Star of the Sea) and the error persisted probably because Stella Maris is another name for Polaris or the North Star, which has been used for celestial navigation at sea since the earliest times. This star, which sits almost directly above the North Pole, is located at the end of the handle of the Little Dipper Constellation. Stella Maris (Polaris, the North Star) is a reliable gauge of North if you find yourself lost on a clear night without a compass. The constellation of the Big Dipper lies below the constellation of the Little Dipper. The two stars at the end of the Big Dipper’s ladle point to the North Star. Both the Big Dipper and the Little Dipper remain in the sky all night, rotating in relation to the Earth’s axis. Stella Maris, the North Star, is therefore always visible to guide the way north.


Sign of hope


It is easy to see how Mary, the mother of Jesus, was seen as a sign of hope and a guiding star for Christians, and especially by the Gentiles. Old Testament Israelites metaphorically referred to the Gentiles as ‘the sea’ (anyone beyond the coasts of Israel). Mary, as Star of the Sea, leads all, including the Gentiles, to Jesus.

St. Anthony frequently used Star of the Sea as a title for the Blessed Mother. One of his most beautiful prayers addresses the Blessed Mother with this title: “We pray you then, our Lady, star of the sea, that you shine upon us when we are buffeted by the raging of the sea. Guide us to harbor, defend our going out with your watchful presence. So may we be found fit to go out safely from this prison, and come joyfully to unending joy. May he grant this, whom you bore in your blessed womb and suckled with your most holy breasts. To him be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (Sermons for Sundays and Festivals, volume I, p. 178, Edizoni Messaggero Padova).


Christ as charity


Anthony follows a Biblical progression in determining why Mary is called the Star of the Sea. He begins with a quote from Proverbs, “The rich and poor have met together: the Lord is the maker of them both. [Prov. 22:2]” He applies this to Jesus who, in his heavenly glory, had all riches, but who gave them up to become poor in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. Anthony writes, “Note that Jesus Christ has two ways… the first way was from his Father to his mother, and this way is called charity… the second way was from his mother into the world, and this is called humility, of which the Psalm says, ‘Thy way is in the sea’ [Ps 76.20], as if to say: O Christ, you were made the way of humility in Mary. Her name resembles ‘marine,’ and she is called ‘star of the sea’” (Sermons II, pp. 209-210). How beautiful that St. Anthony recognizes love (charity) as the means by which the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity became incarnate in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. This charity, who is Christ, was born into the world in humility. The Blessed Mother, being the vehicle for Christ’s entry into the world, is like a beacon that shows us the way. Christ said that he was the way (Jn 14:6).

Anthony likens the star to humility. He marvels at the Blessed Virgin who taught humility to her son because she possessed it herself. He writes, “… regarding humility, [consider] Mary, ‘star of the sea’. O humility! Radiant star that enlightens the night and guides us to harbor, ‘like a glittering flame that shows forth God the King of Kings,’ who says: Learn of me, for I am meek and humble of heart. [Mt 11.29] Whoever lacks this star is groping blindly [2Pt 1.9]. His ship is wrecked by the storm, and he himself sinks beneath the waves.” (Sermons III, p. 294) Humility, to Anthony, must be the guide to bring us to spiritual life. And who better to teach us humility than Blessed Mother Mary.


Poverty and St. Joseph


Anthony then compares St. Joseph to poverty. “Behold the brother and sister, Joseph and Mary, bridegroom and bride, poverty and humility. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom [Jn 3.29]. Blessed is that poverty which weds humility as its bride.” (Sermons III, p. 296) Poverty, in the person of St. Joseph, lovingly cares for humility, in the person of the Blessed Virgin, who gives birth to the One who incarnates poverty and humility in his person. We can take this one level deeper by understanding that poverty of spirit and humility of soul must unite in ourselves if we are to give birth to Christ in our words and actions.

May is the month dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. May is also a pet form of the name Mary. A good meditation for this month might be, “And the virgin’s name was Mary. Name of sweetness and name of delight, name comforting the sinner and of blessed hope. What is Mary but ‘star of the sea,’ lighting the way to harbour for those tossing on the bitter waters? A name beloved of the angels, terrible to the demons, health to sinners and sweet to the just.” (Sermons IV, p. 161).

Updated on October 06 2016