One of the most frequent questions I get asked as a recent convert to Catholicism is, “So, what do you do with Mary?”I completely understand the question because I have asked it myself many times. My last defenses against becoming Catholic had to do with Mary’s role in salvation and the popular practices of Marian devotion that I had observed in the Catholic Church.
One of those big things was the Hail Mary. No, I’m not talking about the last-ditch effort football pass (although, those are exhilarating…you can watch the purported “Top Ten Hail Mary Plays All Time” here). Of course I’m talking about the prayer that makes up the bulk of the Rosary.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of they womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.
Can I just tell you now how much I love the Hail Mary?
Why, you wonder? I’m so glad you asked.
For starters, the first sentence comes straight from Scripture. Take a look at Luke 1:26-38. Gabriel greets Mary heartily and assures her that she has found favor with God and that God himself is with her. He delivers her the most powerful invitation that has ever been offered—to be the mother of the Son of God.
It is so precious to me that God decided to make himself known as a baby, carried by a woman. How much dignity does that bring to women? I don’t know about you, but I grew up with the mindset that women weren’t quite as called as men when it came to ministry. But how much more called can you be than Mary is? God basically asks her this: “Will you bear my son for nine months, birth him, and raise him in your own family?” How much trust and confidence does God have in a woman! It blows my mind, in a really good way. This may sound strange, but the way God honors Mary in choosing her shows me how much he values me. She has a ‘yes’ in her heart that I want to embrace in my own heart toward God.
Secondly, we echo Elizabeth’s greeting to her young cousin. Elizabeth has already experienced the power and promise of God in her own journey (in her old age she is with child), and when she encounters Mary, she exclaims, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (See Luke 1:39-45.) Elizabeth has a special revelation of Mary as the Mother of the Lord, which is a huge deal. Here God goes again, revealing things to women! I can’t tell you how huge it was (is) to me that God does not reserve prophecy or revelation for men alone.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.
Maybe this part of the Hail Mary weirds you out a little.
Holy Mary? Does that means she’s sinless? That is what the Catholic Church teaches. But regardless of where you fall on that issue, isn’t it true that she is in heaven, purified by the blood of the Lamb, and holy before God because of Jesus?
Mother of God? Well, if Jesus is God, then there is no way around Mary being his mother. It is the humility of God that he has entered into our human family and forever is linked with us through the flesh.
Pray for us sinners? This may be a stretch for you, but think about this: If death is not the end for Christians, if we live in heaven with God after our earthly life ends, what are we doing up there? Yes, worshiping the Holy Trinity! But I have no doubt that the saints in heaven are joining Jesus in his constant intercession for us. They are alive, a great cloud of witnesses. I need all the prayer support from my brothers and sisters, on this side of Jordan or the other, now and at the hour of my death.
In my journey to understand how Mary ‘fits’ in the Gospel, my deep prayer has been this: “Jesus, teach me to love your Mother like you love her.” And He has answered and is continuing to answer my prayer.
Over the past year, Jesus has brought to my heart a deeper love for and honor for Mary. Mary is a figure or a type of the Church, or the People of God. She is holy because He is holy, not by her own merit. She, a woman, is the first to have the Good News: you will bear the Son of God and He will save the world. As Christians, we hold the promises of Mary and we walk to the cross with Mary. We wait for the Resurrection with her, view the Ascension with her. Because she faithfully bears, raises, and follows Jesus, her testimony is to be trusted. Her life is a picture of what awaits the Church.
When I say the Hail Mary, I bask in the favor that the Father shows Mary, because I truly believe it is my portion, too. A woman—a human within the fallen created order—is asked to bear the God-man within her body, making a home for Him in a hostile world. Because she says yes, I know that I can, too. In this she is my mother, and I need her wisdom. She raised the Son of God and the Son of Man and never left His side. She actively participates in His ministry (think of her intercession at the Cana wedding), and this makes me bold to ask Him for great things. It makes perfect sense to me that she is still actively involved in His kingdom work through her intercession.
When, in the Hail Mary, I ask Mary to pray for me at the hour of my death, I can earnestly do it…because she prayed for Jesus at the cross, the hour of His death. She didn’t leave, even when her heart was breaking. What depths of consolation of the Holy Spirit she has tasted! What wisdom does she have on loving to the end? If the Great Tribulation is coming and we will be called upon to live and die for the name of Jesus, I need her wisdom, her example, her prayers that I may be faithful to Jesus in the utter darkness.
She, like John the Baptist, is a forerunner of the Church. She goes ahead of me with a willing heart, a joy-filled experience of the crucified and risen and ascended Jesus.