Behold Your Mother By Matthew Russell S.J. Part 13. Three Hail Marys.

If I propose that we should make a little meditation on "Three Hail Marys," some will think I am going to recommend the pious custom which is so common among the faithful, the custom of saying every day three Hail Marys in honour of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in order to obtain the gift of purity. Marvels of grace have been wrought in countless souls, and are wrought every day that passes, through this blessed practice, which cannot be too strongly urged upon the young with all the dangers of life before them or around them. What a sweet and sanctifying influence this little practice must have when kept up perseveringly for years, on through all our years ! Nay, many stories are told of persons brought back to virtue after years of sin, who with a strange fidelity had kept up in the midst of a sinful life this one little habit of saying three Hail Marys daily.

The three Hail Marys, however, which we are going to think over now, are not thus repeated together in a few seconds, but are separated by wide intervals of years. The first of the three is the very first Hail Mary that our lips ever pronounced ; the second is the Hail Mary that we shall say with special deliberation, attention and fervour, after we have finished our present meditation; and the third is the last Hail Mary that will be murmured by us, as we hope, on our deathbed, with faith and devotion, very close to the last breath of our mortal life.

As for the first of these, we can only know that there must have been a first Hail Mary. For one who is drawn by a marvellous grace into the Catholic Church, in mature years it must be a solemn moment when he first uses this little prayer as a sign that he has become, in heart at least, a child of the true Church whose truth is proved by the very fact that she is the Church of the "Hail Mary," For instance, we know the time and place of the first Hail Mary said as a formal and deliberate act of devotion by Henry Edward Manning. In an autobiographical note Cardinal Manning related the circumstances as follows :—

"In the month of March, 1851, I went into the City and executed the resignation of my office and benefice before a public notary; and then I returned over Blackfriars Bridge and went into St. George's, and knelt before the Blessed Sacrament. It was then and there that I said my first Hail Mary ''—namely, in St, George's Cathedral, Southwark, the beautiful Church built for Father Thomas Doyle by the great architect, Pugin, one of the first trophies of the new life infused into the Catholic Church in England about the middle of the nineteenth century.

How many Hail Marys the great Convert said in the forty years of Catholic life that followed that first Hail Mary ! For us, however, who were born into the Catholic Church by holy Baptism a few hours after we were born into this world of human life, the first Hail Mary was taught to us word by word, as we knelt by our mother's knee, or were clasped in our mother's arms. It was a momentous day for us when our childish lips were first able to pronounce the syllables that make up that little prayer, when we had learnt the words off by heart and had fixed them in our hearts. Thanks be to God, the names of Jesus and Mary were familiar to us from the first; and the name of Jesus is in the very heart of the Hail Mary. How quickly did the meaning of all the words sink into the mind of the child ? At any rate we all know that never was there the slightest danger of the exaggerations and errors that many misguided people outside the Catholic Church pretend to fear for us. Never did we think of the Blessed Virgin as more than the highest and purest of creatures, the Virgin Mother of the Incarnate God. Our childish, minds instinctively grasped the substance of the theology embodied, for instance, in John Henry Newman's discourse, "The Glories of Mary for the sake of her Son" Thanks be to God, then, for the thousands and thousands of Hail Marys that we have said since our first Hail Mary—often no doubt with little thought, by a blessedly mechanical routine, but sometimes with fuller advertence, as will be the case, I hope, with our next Hail Mary.

In repeating this second of the Three Hail Marys let us try to realise the sublimity of the privilege that we exercise in addressing thus the Queen of Heaven and imploring her help. As in the Mass the priest before the Pater Noster uses the phrase audemus dicere, "we dare to say Our Father,'' so is it an audacious thing for such worms as we are to speak to God's Mother, to call her by her name, to ask her to pray for us, not only now, but to hold us in remembrance and to pray for us at the hour of our death. Let us pause sometimes over each word of the Hail Mary and try to feel as we ought to feel, or at least would desire to feel, in speaking to the Immaculate Queen of Heaven. The first part is praise, the second part is petition. Is it not a daring act of faith to believe that the Mother of Jesus can care for our praise, or can listen to our petitions ? Yes, it is amazing ; but that amazement is only another phase of the wonder that broke out of old in the question: "What is man that Thou art mindful of him ? "What are we, poor mortals, that God bears us in mind 80 lovingly and lets the heavenly citizens and their Queen be mindful of us and concerned about us ? Therefore we bestow upon the Blessed Virgin the titles of honour and the praises that the Archangel Gabriel and the Mother of the Baptist bestowed upon her ; and we ask her to pray for us poor sinners now and at the hour of our death. Now, first of all, for this passing moment is all that is really at our disposal. The past cannot be recalled, the future cannot be forestalled. This present moment, this "now," will never again be in my power to use or lose or abuse. Le moment ou je parle est deja loin de moi. Holy Mary, pray for me now.

But, while we say that the present only is certain and that the future is uncertain, there is one moment of the future that is certain also; and this is the moment of death. That moment is surely before us. Where shall it find us, and when and how ? In what state ? Ready to go ? or unprepared, taken by surprise in spite of so many warnings ? May we be then as calm and content as the good poor people of County Limerick, and probably other parts of Ireland; but it was of the Limerick people I was told that if you visit them on their lingering deathbeds and ask how they are, they will answer cheerfully, "Right well, thank God, and waiting for the best day" the best day ! That is their name for the day of death. And it will be our best day if the Blessed Virgin prays for us, as every day and many times in every day we implore her to do. So shall we continue to implore of her, on to our last Hail Mary. How shall that last Hail Mary be said ? Will death give us full warning, and shall we be aware that we are very near the end ? Or shall we be taken suddenly away ? Or shall death be preceded by a long or short interval of helplessness and unconsciousness, so that we shall for all spiritual purposes be dead long before the actual moment of death ? Is any dying one ever so conscious that the end has come for him that he is able to change the familiar words, and adapt them to the actual circumstances ? "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for me a poor sinner, now, this moment; for this is indeed the hour of my death—and this is my last Hail Mary on earthy to be followed soon, I hope, by my first Hail Mary in heaven."