VIII. THE EXCELLENCE OF THE VARIOUS PARTS OF THE ROSARY
(e) The Hail Mary.
"And the angel said to her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women."—Luke i, 28.
Dear Brethren: To-day there is offered for our consideration one of the sweetest of prayers of our holy Religion. It is the "Hail Mary," or Angelical Salutation, which we say so often, particularly in the Rosary. Considered in its origin, its contents, and in its efficacy it is beautiful and sublime, and, with the exception of the Lord's Prayer, the most excellent. Its origin is to be had in the words which the Archangel Gabriel addressed to blessed Mary, ever virgin. To these have been added the words of St. Elizabeth on the occasion of Mary's visit, and the holy Church has completed the prayer with a consoling supplication. Its very origin, therefore, makes this prayer a holy and venerable one.
The words of salutation are brief, but they contain everything that one could ever say in praise of the Virgin Mother of God.
The petition includes briefly everything for which we may ask Mary.
Let us then give our attention to this beautiful prayer in the name of Jesus and Mary, His blessed mother.
I. I said, that in the first part of the "Hail Mary" all the privileges and glories which made the blessed Virgin so worthy of praise are contained. A closer examination will show us how true this is. Let us transport ourselves in spirit to Nazareth, to the quiet little room where Mary is praying in deepest devotion. Suddenly there enters this room one of the most exalted spirits that stand at the throne of the Creator. What does this messenger from heaven desire of this humble virgin, unknown to the world? He desires no less than her participation in our redemption. The only begotten Son of God, in His infinite love for mankind, has offered to take upon Himself human nature, to atone for our sins and to redeem us. The time appointed by God's providence, when this great work was to be consummated, had now come. Mary, in the divine counsels, is destined to be the mother of the Saviour. The celestial messenger appears to bring this message to her, and to obtain her consent. God desired that Mary should voluntarily cooperate in the redemption.
Mary cooperated in our redemption by proving herself worthy to be called to the divine motherhood, as far as this is possible for a human being. This she did by cooperating faithfully with the abundance of grace granted her by God, and thus proving herself worthy to become the mother of the Saviour. Through her virginity she rendered herself worthy according to the body, and through her most profound piety and humility according to the spirit. Both virtues stand forth most brilliantly in the annunciation of the angel. But she wished rather to forego the exalted dignity of divine motherhood, than relinquish the virginity which she had dedicated to God. And when the highest dignity which can be bestowed upon a creature was announced to her, she called herself the handmaid of the Lord. Mary, when convinced of the will of God, humbly consented, saying, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to thy word."
Through this consent Mary conferred upon the world an unspeakable great blessing, for which we should be eternally grateful to her. By this consent she became the second Eve, me spiritual first parent of the redeemed race.
The angel, recognizing in Mary his future queen, now reverently set forth in brief words all the prerogatives which God had granted her, and was about to bestow upon her. These prerogatives are: (1) the fulness of grace which God had already granted unto her; (2) the dignity of mother of God which He now granted her, and, finally (3), the veneration and glorification which on account of this fulness of grace and this dignity she would partake of in heaven and earth.
The first privilege, fulness of grace, which she had received from God, the angel expressed with the words "full of grace." These words mean: thou art filled with all the divine graces in a measure possible to no other creature; thou hast received to the full all graces. As God will exalt thee to a dignity beyond that of the most exalted spirits of heaven, so He has granted you more and greater graces than even to the Seraphim and Cherubim. Now since thou hast cooperated in a perfect manner with all these graces, thou hast become the most virtuous, the holiest, the most perfect of all creatures. Therefore, art thou worthy to become the mother of the Most High.
Mary's second privilege which the angel mentioned was her elevation to the dignity of mother of God. "The Lord is with thee," that is, God has bestowed upon thee every grace, and, finding thee worthy, thou art to be the mother of His Son, to cooperate in the redemption and the salvation of the world.
In the words "The Lord is with thee" is expressed the intimate relationship of Mary to God, accomplished by the Incarnation. Not merely through the fulness of His grace and love is God with her, but even according to the flesh God is intimately united to her.
Mary's third privilege announced by the angel is the exalted veneration which she merits for her dignity and sanctity. The angel expresses this in the words "Blessed art thou among women." The angel had reference to the promise given by God in Paradise, that there would come a woman who should crush the serpent's head. He had in mind also the renowned women of the old law who had rescued the people of God from peril and oppression, and who were for this reason blessed by the people, such as Judith and Esther. These heroic women were glorious prototypes, pointing to Mary who was to crush the serpent's head, to destroy the designs of Lucifer, and to save the human race from destruction. Yes, truly, Mary is blessed by God among all women, and is herself an infinite blessing for the entire world. The Lord hath done great things in her. She realized this herself, in those prophetic words, "Behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed, for he that is mighty hath done great things to me, and holy is his name." And so it has been, and ever will be, as long as the sun illumines the earth. For more than nineteen centuries the people and nations have joyfully repeated the angel's words, "Blessed art thou among women." By precept of the Church we add the words "and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus," in order to join to our praise of Mary that of Jesus, from whom and on whose account she received all her privileges, and for whose sake she receives all this praise.
II. After the prayer of praise in the "Hail Mary" there follows the prayer of supplication which the Church has added. This supplication is "Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now, and at the hour of our death. Amen." A short petition, but a significant one by which we invoke Mary's intercession in all our needs. The words holy Mary, mother of God, form the opening of this petition. They repeat the truth contained in the prayer of praise, and are at the same time calculated to arouse our confidence in Mary. The name "Mary" alone should awaken our confidence in the blessed Virgin, because the name Mary means sovereign. Mary, is indeed a sovereign, a ruler. As mother of the King of heaven and earth, she is the Queen of heaven and earth, and our lady, our queen as well. Mary means also star of the sea. As star of the sea Mary is to mankind what a kindly star is to the sailor who finds himself on the stormy waters. This world resembles an ocean, where storms and perils abound to the menace of body and soul. The winds and storms of temptations rise, the dangerous rocks of oppression threaten, the stormy waves of passion, of pride, of ambition, of avarice, of anger, envy, revenge, avidity beat upon us. All these dangers trouble the heart and fill it with sorrow and fear. And as the star leads the sailor to a safe haven, so Mary is to us the kindly star that inspires us with consolation and confidence and brings us rescue.
Holy Mary, mother of God! As mother of God Mary possesses the power of mediation with her divine Son. The angels and saints all together can not have the influence that Mary exercises. The holy fathers and teachers refer to this power, when they say Mary is omnipotent through her intercession, as God is omnipotent in Himself. Thus the opening of the supplication inspires veneration and confidence in Mary. With this veneration and confidence then we ask, "Pray for us sinners." Thou, the holy one, the powerful and good, pray for us miserable sinners, not worthy to approach God and be heard. Pray for us in all our temporal and spiritual necessities, in every danger of body and soul. Pray above all, to obtain for us the grace of a perfect conversion and repentance, and the grace of perseverance until the end of life. Pray for us, holy Mary, mother of God, now, while it is yet time for us to merit salvation, but pray for us especially when that solemn and sad hour of death has arrived. In that dark hour will be decided our eternal destiny; at that dread hour forsake us not, Pray for us now, and at the hour of our death.
We have seen what an excellent prayer the Hail Mary is. It follows that it is also an efficacious prayer. When the Hail Mary was uttered for the first time by the Archangel it ushered in the most stupendous of all miracles. And whenever we devoutly repeat this salutation with faith and confidence, it will be for us also a means of grace and blessing. Whenever you salute Mary, says St. Bernard, she returns the greeting, she gives you in return consolation and blessing.
Let us then recite this beautiful and excellent prayer most diligently and piously, and let us give special preference to the devotion of the Rosary which is a garland woven to blessed Mary from this prayer of praise. The quarter of an hour spent in reciting the beads will bring us blessings in life and a happy death. How we shall rejoice when we behold Mary face to face and greet her with the words: Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus, to whom be praise for all eternity. Amen.