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Probably the most common Catholic title for Mary, mother of Jesus, is "The Blessed Virgin" or "The Blessed Virgin Mary". But "Blessed", in Catholic hagiology, is typically used to denote people who are not saints yet:

Blessed is the title for someone who has been beatified. ... an earlier step in the process toward sainthood.

(US Conference of Catholic Bishops, How To Cover The Catholic Church)

Catholics consider Mary the holiest of all human beings:

By her complete adherence to the Father’s will, to his Son’s redemptive work, and to every prompting of the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary is the Church’s model of faith and charity. Thus she is a "preeminent and... wholly unique member of the Church"; indeed, she is the "exemplary realization" (typus) of the Church.

(Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 967, quoting the dogmatic constitution Lumen Gentium, paragraphs 53 and 63)

This being the case, why is it that Mary is not—or at least not usually—given the (apparently highly appropriate) title "St. Mary"?

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    I would say the most common Catholic title, at least in England & Wales, is "Our Lady" but it is true that it's Anglican churches which are dedicated to "Saint Mary the Virgin" rather than Catholic ones. They tend to be "Our Lady of Ransom; Our Lady Star of the Sea; Our Lady Help of Christians" etc. – Andrew Leach Jun 29 '15 at 21:16
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    She is often referred to as Saint Mary. The Blessed Virgin and The Blessed Lady are titles that distinguish her from other virgins and ladies. It's Saint Virgin or Saint Lady because it sounds weird! – svidgen Jun 29 '15 at 21:19
  • The Catholic hospital in the town where I live is "St. Mary's" and there's a lot of Churches called "St. Mary's" in my diocese (but most of them have some extra stuff). But this is a good question nonetheless. – Peter Turner Jun 29 '15 at 22:06
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    In the Catholic liturgy (Mass, Liturgy of the Hours), it is common to address the saints as “blessed.” It is not exactly a title, but a term of respect that recognizes their condition of beatitude in Heaven. For example, the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I) says, “In communion with those whose memory we venerate, especially the glorious ever-Virgin Mary, [...] blessed Joseph, her Spouse, your blessed Apostles and Martyrs [...].” It is similar with the Blessed Virgin Mary. – AthanasiusOfAlex Jul 2 '15 at 17:38
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To add to the other answers given here, in the Catholic liturgy (Mass, Liturgy of the Hours), it is common to address the saints as “blessed.” It is not exactly a title, but a term of respect that recognizes their condition of beatitude in Heaven.

For example, the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer I) says two paragraphs before the epiclesis (the invocation of the Holy Spirit), “In communion with those whose memory we venerate, especially the glorious ever-Virgin Mary, [...] blessed Joseph, her Spouse, your blessed Apostles and Martyrs [...].” It is similar with the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Similarly, on memorials and feast days of saints, whenever the saint is referred to in a prayer, he is addressed as “blessed” (beatus or beata). Here, for example, is the collect for today’s feast (July 3), the feast of St. Thomas the Apostole:

Grant, almighty God, that we may glory in the Feast of the blessed Apostle Thomas, so that we may always be sustained by his intercession and, believing, may have life in the name of Jesus Christ your Son, whom Thomas acknowledged as the Lord. Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

That is probably the most direct reason that in English we have tended to use the term “Blessed Virgin Mary” rather than “Saint Mary.” As Raphael Rosch pointed out, in many other languages (especialy Romance languages), the etymologically equivalent word for “saint” simply means “holy,” and so it is more commont to hear expressions such as “Sainte Marie” or “Santa Maria.”

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Luke 1:42 (here NIV):

41 When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the baby leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 In a loud voice she exclaimed: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!

If the title 'blessed virgin' has its origin here, the word 'blessed' means 'favoured' rather than 'on its way to saint'.

Why would the title be so much used? One possible cause could be that Lk 1:42 is in the widely used Ave Maria:

Ave Maria, ... Benedicta tu in mulieribus ...

  • True; however, this uses "benedicta" rather than "beata" which seems to be at issue. Thanks! – Matt Gutting Jun 30 '15 at 20:26
  • @MattGutting both can be translated to 'blessed' - who is to say what 'blessed' in 'the blessed virgin' is translated from? – Keelan Jun 30 '15 at 20:28
  • See Geremia's answer. – Matt Gutting Jun 30 '15 at 20:39
  • @CamilStaps There probably are quite a few people who could say. – Mr. Bultitude Jun 30 '15 at 20:40
  • @MattGutting Hmm, good point. Although still it could be possible (sometimes etymology gets mixed up), this makes it a lot less likely. – Keelan Jun 30 '15 at 20:41
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Spanish speaking Catholics do use that title for her. In Spanish, the prayer that Roman Catholics offer up to Mary starts with the words

"Santa Maria.."

literally "Holy Mary" or "Saint Mary". The same word ("Santa") is used for both meanings.

  • I don't know if it does ... – fredsbend Jun 30 '15 at 20:34
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    This is really more of a comment, not an answer. – Mr. Bultitude Jun 30 '15 at 20:37
  • The question as stated is "This being the case, why is it that Mary is not—or at least not usually—given the (apparently highly appropriate) title "St. Mary"?" Spanish speaking Catholics do use that title for her. Don't understand the downvote. – Raphael Rosch Jul 1 '15 at 10:10
  • Edited to clarify by adding the pertinent point from your comment. Just a recommendation, but it's better to try to put complete answers that spell things out explicitly to avoid confusion. – David Stratton Jul 1 '15 at 15:11
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Like many words, "blessed" has several distinct (though related) meanings. One is as a title for people who have been beatified but not canonized (so it's between "venerable" and "saint"). Another refers to having received some unusual benefit, so that we might say someone was blessed with great intelligence, or with wealth, or with a loving family, etc. In this second sense, "blessed" is a great description of Mary, in view of the extraordinary gifts God gave her (starting with her immaculate conception).

Similar situations arise with other words. For example, if I knew that you lead an exceptionally holy life, I might ask you for advice on how to emulate your holiness, even though "Your Holiness" is also the standard way to address the pope (and you're not the pope).

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The reason is probably because, according to Luke 1:48b, Mary states

for behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. (RSV)

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