Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
HEAR, O most sweet Virgin Mary, hear things new and wonderful! Hearken, O daughter, and see, and incline thine ear ! Hear that glorious messenger, Gabriel! Hear what is to be the wonderful mode of thy fecundity! Incline thine ear to a fruitful consent. Hear what is announced to thee as a certainty by God the Father ! See in what manner the Son of God is to become Incarnate of thee! Incline thine ear to the Holy Spirit, who is about to operate within thee ! Because thou hast ears to hear, hear !
And in the beginning of thy hearing, listen to this unheard-of salutation:
Hail Mary. This name, Mary, is not inserted here by Gabriel, but by the devotion of the faithful, inspired by the Holy Ghost. And the last sentence, blessed is the fruit of thy womb, was not uttered by Gabriel in his salutation, but was pronounced by Elizabeth in the spirit of prophecy. Let us each and everyone say, Hail Mary. O truly gracious and venerable, O truly glorious and admirable salutation! As Bede says: "Inasmuch as it is unheard of in human experience, so much more is it becoming to the dignity of Mary."
In this sweetest of salutations five sweet phrases are set forth, in which are contained five sweet prerogatives of the Virgin. Oh, how sweetly are these praises insinuated! For here is signified how most pure, how most full, how most firm and secure, how most worthy, how most useful was the Blessed Virgin Mary. She was most pure, because of the absence of all fault in her; she was most full and abounding, because of the plenitude of grace in her; she was most firm and secure, because of the Divine Presence within her; she was most worthy, because of the dignity of her person; she was most useful, because of the excellence of her Child. How pure Mary was because of the absence of all evil in her, is well expressed by the word Ave. Rightly is the word Ave addressed to her, who was ever entirely immune from the "vae" or "woe" of sin. Thus it behooved the Mother of God to be, as St. Anselm testifies: "It was fitting that the conception of the God-Man should be of a most pure mother, that the purity of the Virgin-Mother, than which, under God, there was none greater, should be hers to whom God had designed to give His Only Son, whom He had begotten, equal to Himself, from His own Heart, that He should so give Him to her to be at the same time the Son of God and the Son of Man."
Again, how full of grace was Mary by the abounding plenitude of her gifts is well signified when it is said to her: "Full of grace." And truly full, and ever full, as St. Anselm testifies, when he most devoutly exclaims: "O Woman full and overfull of grace, of whose abundance every creature is revived and refreshed." Again, how secure and firm was Mary by the Divine Presence is well signified by the words, The Lord is with thee. Rightly is Mary safe and secure, when the Lord is present with her; for the Lord, God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, is with her, so that she is in an especial manner most intimately connected with God. St. Bernard shows this when he says: "Nor is God the Son alone with thee, whom thou dost clothe with thy flesh; but also God the Holy Ghost, of whom thou dost conceive; and God the Father, who hath begotten that which thou conceivest."
Again, how worthy was Mary, because of the dignity of her person, is well expressed when she is saluted in the words: Blessed art thou among women! For it could not be that her person, having been made venerable by such a blessing, was not most worthy. Therefore, St. Anselm, overcome with amazement, exclaims: "O Blessed and ever Blessed Virgin, by whose blessing every creature is not only blessed by its Creator, but the Creator by the creature!" Again, how useful was Mary, by the excellence of her Child, is well expressed in the words: Blessed is the fruit of thy womb! For she availed to save the world, having brought forth the most excellent and powerful Fruit of salvation. Therefore doth the devout St. Anselm say: "By thy fruitfulness, O Lady, the unclean sinner is justified, the condemned sinner is saved, and the exile is recalled. Thy Son, O Lady, redeemed the captive world, healed the sick, and raised the dead to life."
You see, therefore, dearly beloved, in what manner Mary, because of her immunity from guilt, is rightly saluted with the Ave. Because of the abundance and immensity of her grace, she is rightly saluted as full of grace; because of the Divine Presence within her, and her intimacy with Our Lord, she is told: The Lord is with thee; because of the dignity and reverence of her person, she is rightly saluted as blessed among women; because of the excellence and utility of her Child, it is fittingly said to her: Blessed is the fruit of thy womb. We shall now treat of each of these points in order.