Sunday, March 29, 2015

Everyday Prayers: The Hail Mary, Part 2

Let's return to our reflections on the Hail Mary. We'll begin with prayer:

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

1. The prayer's second sentence comes directly from Scripture except for the last word of it. In Luke 1:39, Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, exclaims these words to Mary in welcome. In doing so, she recognizes Mary's special role in salvation history, even going so far, in the next verse, as to call her visitor “the mother of my Lord.” Elizabeth then informs her guest that even her own unborn child has recognized the singularity of the situation: “For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leaped for joy.” Elizabeth completes her greeting with another blessing: “And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.” Mary is blessed both because of what has happened to her and because of her response to God's plan in her life.

2. Blessed art thou among women – Mary holds a unique place among all women who ever lived, who live now, and who ever will live. She is the Mother of God, the one specifically chosen to bear the Incarnate Second Person of the Blessed Trinity. Elizabeth may not understand this completely, but her heart tells her that Mary is no ordinary guest. We, too, recognize Mary's special blessing and extraordinary role when we join Elizabeth in proclaiming these words.

3. and blessed is the fruit of thy womb – How could Elizabeth have known that Mary was pregnant? Mary hadn't even said one word to her yet. The Holy Spirit has clearly filled Elizabeth's mind with knowledge and her heart with joy. She sings out a blessing on the Child Who would be her Lord and Savior, and we join our voices to hers in prayer and love.

4. Jesus – We, however, know something that Elizabeth didn't when she was speaking to Mary that day. We know the name of our Lord and Savior: Jesus Christ. We can call our God by name, for He has reached out to us in love, becoming like us in everything except sin.

5. Holy Mary – Mary is indeed holy. From the very instant of her conception, she was set apart for God. Conceived without original sin and therefore enjoying the intimacy of the divine indwelling, Mary remained sinless her entire life. Today she stands beside her Son in the bliss of Heaven.

6. Mother of God – Jesus is God. Mary is the Mother of Jesus. Therefore, Mary is the Mother of God. These three simple sentences form what has long been called the “Ephesus syllogism.” They express the faith of the Catholic Church, which was clearly defined at the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD. Of course, the Church believed this about Mary since the very beginning, but as often happens, the doctrine was explicitly stated after it was challenged by heretical claims. The Church always makes sure that her children receive the full truth about the faith.

7. pray for us sinners – We can be certain that Mary prays for all of her children all the time. She wants us to be with God and with her in Heaven forever, and she will do all she can to make sure that happens. Mary also brings our prayers to her divine Son, adding the strength and reverence of her own prayers to ours. We sinners (and we are all sinners) can always rely on the powerful prayers of our sinless Mother.

8. now and at the hour of our death – When we ask for Mary's prayers, she always gives them. We are constantly on her mind and in her heart. We especially need Mary's prayers at the hour of our death when we prepare to meet God face to face and when the enemy tempts us to despair. Then our Mother comes to comfort and strengthen us and presents her prayers on our behalf to her divine Son.

9. Amen – With this one little word, we say a firm “Yes” to everything we have just prayed. We once again recognize who Mary is, acknowledge her blessedness and grace, and reiterate our request for her prayers. We also express our great love for our holy Mother.

Once again, then, let us pray:

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

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