For Our Mother, for my mother, for my wife, and for all our daughters on Mother’s Day 2016
I wrote “The ‘Hail Mary’ – An Example of Focus for Committed Professionals” for my LinkedIN weblog (www.linkedin.com/in/johnzoll). It is a not-so-discrete manner of exposing business people to the prayer and Catholic faith in our Holy Mother. I have a more detailed project in mind for later this month and this essay outlines that idea. This idea is prompted by a year-long search concerning how the rosary points to Jesus as opposed to being a worship of Mary. This is important for Catholics and all Christians, and any others curious about our Marian devotions.
Catholics need to do more than say prayers by rote. Doing so in the beginning of learning involves us and gives us practice in learning to pray. Stopping at this point makes the prayer nonsensical words and brings us to what becomes the great criticism of Marian devotion – we might fall into exactly the accusation made of worshipping her in place of God.
Our Christian brethren have a valid criticism if we fall into this routine. Worship of Mary becomes a violation of the first commandment. The tendency quickly becomes an easy accommodation if we allow ourselves to be lazy and look no farther than the words we repeat. Learning where the words come from and what the intent of these words is critical learning veneration of the woman who is the Ark of the New Covenant and worship of the New Covenant himself.
The ‘Hail Mary’ has iconic roots. Born of Christian scripture, invoking the presence of God, and praying for intercession, this prayer thought to ‘worship’ Mary the mother of Jesus actually points directly to Jesus, and then asks for Mary’s help in this moment of invoking His name and when we stand in front of Him at our death. In our family, asking Mom for help has always been the blessing example of what our Holy Mother will do for us.
I break down the prayer into five parts;
- Recognition of Mary as Heaven recognized her
- Recognition of our Mother’s service and the gift she carried
- Invoking the Name of Jesus, the real purpose of this prayer
- Mary’s immediate support of our prayer
- Mary’s support for us when we stand for judgement
Recognition – “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.” The angel, Gabriel, calls upon Mary in Luke’s gospel (Luke 1:26) “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” Heaven acknowledges this young woman as someone special, someone ‘favored’, preferred, selected, singled out. Mary is offered the opportunity to bear the Messiah of God. She is asked if she will participate in salvation history. Catholics call this “The Annunciation”.
Service – “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb”. Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, appreciative of her visit is excited with anticipation as well. Luke accounts these words of reception; ““Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Luke 1:42). Note here, “blessed is the fruit of your womb”. Our God lives! His being is eternal. This is not simply a recitation, but a recognition of the ‘I AM’.
We are told in the gospel Mary goes to help Elizabeth. Are we intuitive enough to see that Mary goes to learn as well? Anna, her mother, was well along in age. Where was Mary to learn of her own effort to give birth except from in her family? Elizabeth’s miracle of carrying John was just that family connection. Catholics call this event “The Visitation”.
Invoking God’s presence – saying the name ‘Jesus’ –Dr. Scott Hahn is a highly educated theologian and prominent teacher in the New Evangelization. He reminds us of the importance of ‘naming’ in living the Judeo-Christian life. Naming someone is to invoke their presence, to call them into a physical presence or to recall memories of them. To a child, his/her name is the sweetest sound they will hear all through their lives. In salvation history, we call this event “The Nativity”. Joseph and Mary performed their Genesis duty, their God-given gift. “So the Lord God formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each living creature was then its name’’(Gen 2:19). God named ‘Man’, ‘Man’ named the creatures of the earth, parents name children. When we say the name of ‘Jesus’ in our prayer we are invoking the presence of our God. We should do this with a pause of great respect and humility. Remember, the Israelites were forbidden to say God’s name, so great was their concern to avoid blasphemy. Saying the ‘Hail Mary’ prayer we invoke the presence of our God. Saying one part of the Rosary we invoke our God’s presence fifty times. Say an entire four decades and we invoke God’s presence two-hundred times!
At this point, in only twenty-four words we have recollected the beginning of the Incarnation and invoked Him, opened our hearts to him. This short and yet incomplete prayer brings to memory the Annunciation, the Visitation, and the Nativity of our Lord God. We are walking through the beginning of Jesus’ life and asking Him to be present with us as we do so. It is all important that we recognize how the recitation of two lines of scripture brings us to the point of asking Jesus to be with us.
Yet, should the full power of God indeed come upon us, we would be meeting our Maker. We cannot comprehend this event without an advocate, one who knows the relation between heaven and earth.
Mary’s Support of our prayer – “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now”. Note that I change the tambour of the prayer as most have learned it. We want Mary to support us, to stand by us, to intercede for us with Jesus as a mother does with the father of her children. We have invoked the presence of Jesus, of God in just a moment, and in that moment and given we are all sinners we want our advocate present. Don’t pause after ‘sinners’, ask for her help immediately! Remember how Jesus obeyed his mother at the wedding feast in Cana?! Her presence in this moment of invocation is a powerful gift of intercession.
Mary’s intercession at ‘trial’ – “and at the hour of our death.” The bible is full of covenants, contracts, and trials, from God’s covenant with Adam and Eve in Genesis to the opening of the seals and the judgments brought forth in The Book of Revelation. We cannot know what our own judgment will be like. So important in our Western culture is the concept of an advocate in front of the judgment bench our law provides for anyone who cannot afford counsel to have counsel assigned. Lawyers have been given a ‘bad rap’ in our society, yet we would not want to be before a Judge without one. Is Mary our ‘lawyer’ before God, or maybe just a favorable witness? Possibly she could help us guard our ‘tongue’ as our own mothers might remind us. The last line of this prayer is one asking for her presence and whatever gift she might afford us at that moment in our lives.
Forty-one words of praise and intercession spoken at a normal pace takes fifteen seconds. It is a bit longer than the Sign-of-the-Cross and not quite as long as the Lord’s Prayer. It is a prayer reminding us of the beginning of the Incarnation. It is a prayer that invokes the presence of our Lord, our God. May you who profess it be blessed. May you who do not, or will not, also be blessed now with an understanding of what we Catholics find within it.
Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now,
And at the hour of our death.