December 01, 2023

Domestic Church Corner

This weekend we celebrate the beginning of Advent.  Preparing for Jesus’ birth always brings us back to the story of the Annunciation to Mary, by the Angel Gabriel, of being chosen to be the Mother of God.  How fitting then that we learn about the “Hail Mary” prayer this month.

At the foot of the Cross, Jesus gave us His mom, Mary, as our own, and she became our spiritual mother.  As Catholic parents, we pray for our children, and Mary is no exception, she prays for her children….us.  Mary intercedes for us with her son, which means she brings our prayers to Jesus on our behalf.  At the Wedding Feast at Cana, Mary interceded for the young couple by bringing their situation to Jesus saying, “they have no wine”. (John 2:3)

Catholics sometimes get accused of worshiping Mary or believing that Mary can answer their prayers, but that’s just not the case.  We honor her as Jesus’ sinless, virgin, mother, because we know that she loves us and takes our needs to her son.  Jesus loves His mother so much that He doesn’t refuse her anything she asks so long as it is the will of God.  The Hail Mary prayer is one of the ways that Catholics ask Mary to help them. 

History of the Hail Mary Prayer
There is no exact date that we can point to and say that’s when the Hail Mary began, but we do know that it was originally written in Latin and known as the Ave Maria. The first verses of the Hail Mary were officially included in the Latin liturgy by Pope Gregory I in the 6th century, but Tradition holds that it was prayed as early as the 3rd or 4th century.   The ending verse was added to the prayer in the 13th or 14th centuries and formally finalized at the Council of Trent in 1566. 

Breaking down the Hail Mary
The prayer is divided into two parts: praise and adoration of Mary and supplication, which means asking her to intercede or pray for us.  The bulk of the prayer comes to us directly from the Bible.

“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.”
The Angel Gabriel greeted Mary with these words “Hail, full of Grace” in Luke 1:28.   Gabriel bestows a greeting usually reserved for royalty (hail) and he lets us know that she is sinless by calling her “full of grace”.  Mary was immaculately conceived, meaning she was conceived without Original Sin and then remained sinless for the remainder of her life.

Gabriel finished off the greeting with, “the Lord is with thee.” Whenever we hear that phrase, we know that God is asking someone to take on a huge mission and to do His will.  The Lord was with Mary when she chose to give her “fiat”, which means give her “yes” to the mission God had for her.  God is a gentleman and waits for our “yes” whenever He asks us to do His will.  Mary agrees and the Angel tells her that the way it will happen is that “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” (Luke 1:35)

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.”
Mary learned from Gabriel that her cousin, Elizabeth, whom everyone thought was barren, was six months pregnant.  Mary then “set out and traveled to the hill country in haste” (Luke 1: 39) to be with her elderly cousin and help her.  When Mary greeted her cousin, Elizabeth was “filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:41) and returned Mary’s greeting saying, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.” (Luke 1:42).

Elizabeth is shown by the Holy Spirit that Mary is pregnant with no ordinary child. She is the mother of Jesus, the Word made flesh. God chose a humble, simple young woman from the small town of Nazareth to carry His own son, and He makes her blessed and honored among all women. 

“Holy Mary, Mother of God,”
Luke 1:43 quotes Elizabeth saying, “And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”  Through the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth recognized that Mary was the Mother of God.  We know Jesus is the second person of the Holy Trinity and God, so this makes Mary the Mother of God. 

Catholics do not believe Mary is divine when we say she is Holy.  Mary is human and a creature like us who was created in the image and likeness of God.  God, however, created Mary for this special task as the mother of Jesus, and she is His greatest creation, sinless, full of grace, and Holy.

“pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.”
At the end of the prayer, we remind ourselves that we are sinners, and we need grace to become Holy like Mary is.  We ask Mary to pray on our behalf, both in the present moment and at the hour when our life ends. We know that Mary is our spiritual mother and that the prayers of a mother for her children are especially powerful.  Asking Mary to pray for us is not just asking for her intercession, it is also entrusting ourselves to her love of us.  Mary is in heaven and hears the prayers of her children on Earth and intercedes for them.

Let us pray:
Hail, Mary, full of grace,
the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.
Amen.


Written By: Birgitt Hacker
 

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