Sunday, August 15, 2021

How to hail Mary

Sermon for the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary

How often do you say the Hail Mary?

Once a week?

Nine times a day for the Angelus?

One hundred and fifty times for a full rosary?

Or perhaps not at all! After all, the Hail Mary prayer is not in the Book of Common Prayer, is it?

It's a shame, because it is formed from ideas we find in the Bible, it has been repeated by many of the Church Fathers and there is good reason for us to say it. The Hail Mary is s good Catholic prayer: it belongs to the Catholic Church of which we are a part.


First, the prayer begins, "Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee." These are the words of the Archangel Gabriel when announcing the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ to Our Lady. These are words that cannot be separated from Our Lord's coming again. The angel calls her "full of grace" and he uses a word that is only found twice in the New Testament. On both occasions, it means that God has supplied His grace. The first time the word is used is here; the second time, the word is used by St Paul in the first chapter to the Ephesians in which he explains how the death of Christ bestows grace upon us for salvation. Mary is the only living person who is singled out as being full of grace before the Crucifixion and the Greek word used here shows that God's giving grace to Mary has been completed. She needs no more grace - she is full of grace.

This is a singular honour and shows that Mary has already received God's grace whereas everyone else receives God's grace as a result of the Crucifixion. We know this because the Archangel immediately says that God is with Mary, and we know that Grace is the active presence of Almighty God. Even before the conception of Our Lord, God is actively present with Mary. He has already foreseen her willingness to be His Mother and is with her. 


The next phrase is "Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb" which are the words of Cousin Elizabeth to Mary. Her unborn son, John the Baptist, already recognises the presence of Jesus within Mary and this unborn baby reveals this truth to Elizabeth. This is why she calls Mary blessed and also recognises that the fruit of her womb is blessed, too, though she does not know His name. We do know, though, which is why we add the Lord's name to Elizabeth's words: "Blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus!"

This allows us to understand the remainder of the prayer.

We say "Holy Mary" because Mary has been separated out for God's purposes which is what the word 'Holy' means. We call her Mother of God because Jesus Christ is fully God and fully Man. While Jesus is born a man of Mary, He is still genetically God and He is inseparable from His Humanity. Thus Mary is fully and properly Mother of God. 

This means that, if Jesus is King, then His Mother is a queen albeit a Queen Mother. In the Old Testament, kings could be approached at the request of their mothers as did Solomon's mother at the rather wicked request of Adonijah.

Further, we know that we are surrounded by the cloud of witnesses who stand with Our Lord in Eternity. If He can hear our prayers then they can too, for the saints are like Him. Thus it is perfectly reasonable for Mary to hear our prayers and bring them to her son, the Son of God. It means we can say quite sincerely, "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death."


Of course, we must always listen to other Christians who struggle with this. They may pray directly to Our Lord, and there is nothing wrong with that whatsoever. But in saying the Hail Mary, we are doing something perfectly biblical and perfectly healthy. We stand with St Elizabeth and her son St John the Baptist. We stand alongside the Archangel Gabriel and the angels with Him. We stand with the countless saints who have, themselves prayed the Hail Mary.

And we stand with Our Lady, Mary Mother of God. And she stands with Christ in worship of Him and Him alone. Likewise we all worship God alone alongside Mary and all the saints. Truly, she is full of grace and, one day, so will we be!

No comments: