Behold Your Mother By Matthew Russell S.J. Part 18. Last Thoughts on the Hail Mary.

Last thoughts—for we are coming to the end of our book, and, though we have often in the preceding pages thought of the Archangels greeting to Our Lady, we shall end with a fuller study of the Hail Mary. That little prayer of predilection is a fitting finale ; for it ends with a solemn reference to what is for us the ending of all that can end—the hour of our death." Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death."
"Hail Mary ! " Thanks be to Almighty God for the thousands upon thousands of Hail Marys that we have each of us said since our mothers taught us our first Hail Mary long ago. How many more shall we say before our first Hail Mary in heaven ? For the Hail Mary will be said in heaven—the first part at least, for the second part, or the concluding words of it, will be obsolete, out of date, as the hour of our death will then be only a memorable epoch in the past. All the rest of the little prayer will still be practical ; for the Blessed Virgin will still be praised and blessed by us in heaven, and she will still pray for us and with, us, not indeed the prayer of petition (for there will be nothing more to ask for), but the prayer of praise and thanksgiving which will go on for ever. "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners." Yes, even in heaven that word will still be true. One of the strongest motives of our praise and thanksgiving in the life of heaven will be to remember for ever that we are sinners, forgiven sinners, and that God's forgiveness will go on for ever and for ever, as the priest every day implores that it may when he says the prayer Sacrosanctae et individuae Trinitati at the end of the Divine Office. Nobisque remissio omnium peccatorum per infinita saecula saeculorum. Nor can it be said that that last phrase, "through infinite ages of ages,'' qualifies only the " praise, honour, power and glory" that are here claimed for God " from every creature," ah omni creatura. That for ever and for ever certainly refers chiefly to the clause that is nearest to it, especially as the eternity of the divine glory has already been expressed by the epithet Sempiterna with, which this phrase begins— Sempiterna laus, honor, virtus, et gloria. We pray, therefore, now on earth, that God's pardon of all our sins may be renewed for ever; and hereafter in heaven we shall praise and bless God for ever, as sinners still but sinners repentant and forgiven, with the rapture and the wonder of our final and everlasting forgiveness that can never be forfeited, felt more freshly, more keenly, more vividly, and in a more human and more earthly manner than we are, perhaps, wont to imagine in our poor conceptions of heaven.

Father Faber, in one of his "Spiritual Conferences,'' says : '' Things that are done for God should be done very cleanly. They must be shapely as well as vigorous. What a beautiful thing, doubtless, was the Angelus of St. Francis of Sales ! There was more in it than in a week of our devotional failures." This might be a help to us to perform certain acts of devotion and other duties well—namely, to think how certain favourite saints, or even certain holy souls on earth, have done or may now be doing these same things. For instance, let us try to make our Angelus something less unlike than it generally has been to the Angelus of St. Francis of Sales.
There are three Hail Marys in the Angelus, one in each of its three divisions, which three divisions can very readily be linked with the Three Divine Persons in order, as is the case with many other similar three-fold divisions. What Father Faber says here about the Angelus may be said about every Hail Mary. There can be such a difference in the way in which it is said. "What is worth doing is worth doing well."
It is a pity not to take out of our various exercises of piety something approaching to the full amount of spiritual profit that they are intended to contain for our souls.
Into these exercises of piety the Hail Mary enters largely, and it is well to remind ourselves of all that this shortest of prayers signifies, in order that habitually we may feel this meaning as it were implicitly, and now and then more or less explicitly. Not that we need be much afraid of a merely mechanical repetition of the Hail Mary* We begin our prayers with the intention of praying, and this makes it all a prayer, even if our mind wanders off against our will, and only the lips go on forming the holy syllables. You remember, perhaps, that old monk who spent all the day at his prayers ; and, when someone said to him, "Father, how can you keep your mind fixed on your prayers so many hours ?'' he answered, "My son, it is a great thing even to keep the lips moving for the love of God." But, no doubt, it would be better to follow and feel the meaning of the prayer.

About this prayer and about every sort of prayer it is true to say that it is a privilege and an honour to be allowed to use it. We are too prone to betake ourselves to prayer reluctantly as to a task, a duty, whereas we ought to seek in it our recreation, our repose. Not alone the prayer that the poor human creature addresses to his Creator ; but what a dignity, how high and holy a thing it is to be allowed to address the Blessed Virgin or one of the saints of God ! Oh, we take this privilege too coldly, in too vulgar and commonplace a spirit, with a stupid insensibility. Let us try to realise all that is implied of the unearthly, the supernatural, the divine, in every smallest exercise of faith and piety, and certainly in every Hail Mary devoutly said, with real contrition, faith, hope, and charity.

The Hail Mary is called in some prayer-books the Angelical Salutation, but it is more than the greeting of an angel; for, as the catechism tells us, " the Angel Gabriel and St. Elizabeth made the first part of it, and the Church made the last.'' The ambassador sent by the Most High to His lowly Handmaid was instructed to address her thus : " Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed are thou amongst women" And, when Mary, already Mother of God, went with haste into the mountains of Judea to visit and help her holy cousin the wife of Zachary, Elizabeth repeated these last words of the Archangel and added others of her own : " Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb." Finally, the Church, after inserting at the beginning and end of this clause the sacred names of Mary and Jesus, completes the little prayer by this perfect combination of invocation and entreaty, '' Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death."

Let us now see how far we can go in applying to this Angelical Salutation the second of St. Ignatius's Three Methods of Prayer, dwelling on the separate words and phrases of which it is composed and trying to feel the full force of each.

Ave, Maria. " Hail, Mary." We salute lovingly and reverently the Mother of Jesus, the Queen of Heaven. Think who we are and who she is. Think how the saints felt towards her while they were on earth—St. Bernard and St. Bernardino, St. John Berchmans, St. Alphonsus Liguori, and so many other specially devoted to the Blessed Virgin. And we dare to present ourselves before her, to address her, to call her by her name, to claim her attention, to implore her intercession !

" Hail." A brief and beautiful greeting, more convenient in English than the cumbrous je vous salue of the French which has besides the disadvantage of confining the salutation to one person, the speaker, whereas "hail" serves equally for one and for many, and one speaking in the name of many or for himself alone can say " Hail, Mary."

Ave. I chance to have remembered for nearly sixty years a note on this word which occurs somewhere in an old school-book, Anthonys Sallust. "Whiter's etymology of this word is extremely ingenious : ' Ave or have is nothing but habe, have, possess—riches, honours, health.'" As if these three were the best treasures that a well-wisher could wish for a friend towards whom he sought to express great good-will. People have pretended to find the respective characteristics of the English and French race in their usual greetings.—" How do you do ? "and " Comment vous portez-vous ? ''—as if the sturdy Briton looked to action while the courteous Frenchman attached importance to manner and deportment—so, too, if the import of Ave were such as has been suggested, it might seem to suit the temper of the all-conquering Roman, while the corresponding xalpe, " rejoice !'' might be taken as hinting at the cheerful, pleasure-loving disposition of the Greek.

All these meanings of Ave, understood in the highest sense, can be given to our greeting of the Blessed Virgin. We bid her rejoice for ever, as the Church bids her do during Paschal time. Regina Coeli, laetare. And again, gaude et laetare, O Virgo Maria. " Rejoice and be glad, O Virgin Mary! '' " Riches, honours, health.'' We, in greeting Mary with our Ave, wish for her these goods in g transcendent heavenly sense—everything that belongs to her utterly inconceivable share of heaven. "O Queen of Heaven, rejoice ! '' Ave, Maria! "Hail Mary!" "And the Virgin's name was Mary " (Luke i. 28). We call her by that name which for her sake has been repeated perpetually in Christian literature and Catholic prayer; which has inspired the most delicate art of the painter, the tenderest eloquence of the preacher, the purest strains of the poet; which has sanctified so many households and has changed so many daughters of Eve into children of Mary. Some nations, like Portugal at one period, have shown their reverence for the name of Mary by not allowing it to be borne by women, while other nations have shown their reverence in the opposite way, making it the favourite name in the highest as well as in the lowest grade of society, common yet never vulgar. Our Irish forefathers showed their reverence for the name of Mary by reserving one form of the name for our Blessed Lady herself and giving another to her daughters. It was, perhaps, the sacred spell of that name that without his knowing it made the poor sinful poet (who had many generous and many Catholic impulses) exclaim, "I have a passion for the name of Mary.'' And elsewhere he says in all seriousness, whatever the context may be :—

Ave Maria! may our spirits dare
Look up to thee and to thy Son above.

A less vigorous poet than Lord Byron, but a more virtuous man, who seemed to have light enough to enter the Church, of which the Hail Mary is almost by itself a sufficient note, but who unhappily remained outside, had nevertheless the grace to write :—

Ave, Maria! thou whose name
All but adoring love may claim. (Rev. John Keble.)

We may each of us recall for ourselves, but not here, the various meanings assigned to that name of Mary, such as the Stella Maris which St. Bernard with passionate love invokes in the famous passage that many of us remember by its often repeated chorus : Respice stellam,voca Mariam. "Look up to the Star, call upon Mary."

"Hail, Mary, full of grace" Yes, for this is the force of that perfect participle passive, Kecharitomene as it has been understood in the Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopian, Egyptian and Persian versions of the Scriptures as well as by St. Jerome, St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, Venerable Bede, St. Bernard, and all Catholic commentators. Full of grace according to her capacity at the various stages of her life ; but that capacity increased inconceivably by her closer union with the Author of Grace which began with the first Hail Mary, and that increased capacity filled to the utmost by continually added stores of grace, so that St. Bonaventure says that, as all rivers flow into the sea, even thus all graces whatsoever that angels, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, martyrs, confessors, and virgins ever possessed, all flowed into the Immaculate Heart of Mary ; and some ancient writer plays upon her name, " Congregatio omnium aquarum vocatur Maria, congregatio vero gratiarum omnium Maria." For if the Archangel, using the words that the God of Truth inspired, could call her " full of grace " at the beginning, what was she after the enduring fulfilment of the next word of the Ave Maria, Dominus tecum. "The Lord is with thee " ?

Yes, most holy Mary, the Lord was and is with you, and will be with you for ever. He was with you, after you had spoken your Fiat and the Archangel left you; and then during the happy months of solitude and prayer before His birth and during the distressful, but merit-earning, time of St. Joseph's perplexity. He was with you on the way to Bethlehem and on the first Christmas morning when you first clasped Him in your arms, when you first gazed into His eyes, when you imprinted your first kiss upon His lips. Did He cry like any helpless infant t Yes, He too deigned to be

An infant crying in the night
And with no language but a cry.

He was with you when He first pressed His lips against your virginal breast, when you first earned the last part of that beatitude which the woman in the crowd pronounced upon 70U thirty years after. He was with you during all the years of childhood from the day that the Child first left the shelter of your arms, first stood on the ground alone, first spoke to you an articulate word—was it your name ? Was it the sacred name of mother ? He was with you for thirty years with the single break of the Three Days' Loss. And even in the three years of His public ministry, with you sometimes in person and always in spirit, as you were with Him. With you on Calvary, and after His death again in your arms on the way to the sepulchre. With you surely first of all in the joy of the Resurrection, and often during the Forty Days before the sorrowful rapture of the Ascension. And then in spirit during the fifteen years of waiting which succeeded His going, like the other fifteen years of your life which had preceded His coming. And then with you and you with Him in the Assumption when you went up out of this desert, leaning on your beloved Son who is now with you in heaven, giving you for all eternity the share of heaven which is due to her who was chosen to be on earth and for ever the true Mother of the coequal and coeternal Son of God. Dominus tecum. " The Lord is with thee."

I need not go much further in forestalling the reader's application of the second method of prayer to the Hail Mary. Every word of that briefest and most effective of prayers suggests many thoughts and prompts many feelings.
"Blessed art thou amongst women.'' Blessed and worthy of being blessed and praised above all women that ever have been or ever shall be on this earth. High and holy beyond all the holy women of the Old Testament, beginning with our first mother, whose name Eva reversed forms the Ave of the Archangel:—

Sumens illud Ave,
Mutans Hevae nomen.

What sanctity must our Mother Eve have attained at the end of her long centuries of sorrow and penance and prayer ! Yet not she but the Second Eve is the true Mother of all the living. How much better Mary, daughter of Joachim and Anna, deserved the praises that Joachim the High Priest bestowed long before on Judith : " Thou art the glory of Jerusalem, thou art the joy of Israel, thou art the honour of our people." (Judith xv. 10.) To Mary Immaculate it was said by the King of kings, as King Assuerus said to Esther : " This law was not made for thee but for all others." And among the women who did not look forward to her but looked back to her, what glorious saints of every kind and degree— Agnes, Teresa, and so many others that we know, and so many that we do not know in the hidden life of holy convents and Christian households. Yet blessed beyond all these together is the Blessed Virgin Mary ; for " by their fruits you shall know them," and blessed is the fruit of her womb, Jesus. Please God, we shall take the advice that someone has given, to put almost everything we do between two Hail Marys. The spirit of the Hail Mary shall be always in our hearts, and the words of it often on our lips through all our days and hours till that last dread hour when, if we are conscious enough, we shall change the last words a little thus: " Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for me a poor sinner now at the hour of my death." Every Hail Mary is a prayer for a happy death : for we pray that the Blessed Virgin may pray for us when we are dying, and the dying one for whom the Mother of God is at that moment praying must die happily. Nothing but a happy death can be the ending of a lifetime of Hail Marys.