Bottom line: The Hail Mary is a biblical prayer that combines the greetings of the Angel Gabriel and St. Elizabeth.
Today is the Fourth Sunday of Advent - the final Sunday before Christmas. With this Fourth Sunday, we change our focus. The past two Sundays have centered on the ascetic, somewhat fierce figure of John the Baptist. Today we focus on a young, gentle woman, who is about to give birth to a child. Her name is Mary. The readings speak about the child to be born of Mary and they also give us some indication of Mary's role in our lives.
Let's start with the Old Testament reading. It foretells a child's birth in a small town: Bethlehem of Judea. The child, says the Prophet Micah, will shepherd Israel "by the strength of the Lord." Moreover, "his greatness shall reach to the ends of the earth." The reading concludes with this declaration: "he shall be peace." Not simply that he will establish peace; he will be peace!
The second reading explains how the child will embody peace, how he will be peace. "When Christ came into the world," the author says, he made a perfect offering of obedience - "once for all."
In the Gospel we see that Christ - who would do such extraordinary things - entered the world by the normal route. For nine months, the pre-born Jesus developed in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Shortly after his conception (by the Holy spirit) his mother visited her kinswoman, Elizabeth. Her pre-born child (John the Baptist) "leaped in her womb." After exclaming the blessedness of Mary and her child, Elizabeth refers to Mary as "the mother of my Lord."
From these Scripture readings we glimpse the greatness of the child, to be born of the Virgin Mary. They also give some indication of her role in our lives. To help understand Mary's role, I would like to tell an amusing story about a Catholic priest who was asked to speak to to an Evangelical congregation.
The people knew that the priest had a great devotion to Mary, but they invited anyway because he was a powerful preacher. They gave priest this condition: That he only preach from the Bible and that he would not mention any "superstitions" about Mary. The priest happily agreed.
He began by asking them take out their Bibles. Being good Evangelicals they had their King James Bibles in hand. He asked them to join in reciting a verse, Luke 1:28. It said, "Hail (Mary) full of grace. The Lord is with thee." Then he asked them to turn to the verse we heard today, Luke 1:42, "Blessed are thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb."
The priest paused, looked at the congregation and said, "Congratulations! You have now prayed the first half of the "Hail Mary."
It is a simple, biblical prayer. It begins with the Angel Gabriel's greeting to Mary. The word, "Hail" has a profound significance. Tim Staples - an Assemblies of God minister who converted to the Catholic faith - has an entire lecture on that one word. The Greek word for "Hail" is "chaire" and in Latin "ave." You may have seen movies where a gladiator salutes the emporer, "Ave, Caesar!" Hail, Caesar! The greeting indicates an exalted status. During the Passion, the soldiers used the word in a mocking way, "Hail, King of the Jews!" The Angel, of course, was completely serious when he greeted Mary, "Hail!" If a might angel can say, "Hail," to that humble daughter of Israel, what about us?
So we say, "Hail, Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee." That is the angel's greeting. Then we add the words of Elizabeth. St. Luke notes that she was filled with the Holy Spirit when she said, "Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb."
The "Hail, Mary" is a beautiful biblical prayer. It should not surprise us that many Evangelicals are rediscovering this prayer. I have Lutheran friends who join right in on the Hail, Mary. And I understand that some Protestants are using the rosary in their prayer.
And what about us? With Christmas so near, this Sunday we focus on the Blessed Virgin Mary. We see her singular role as the Mother of Jesus and we also recognize she has a role in our lives. For that reason we pray the Hail Mary. It is a biblical prayer that combines the greetings of the Angel Gabriel and St. Elizabeth.
Hail, Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
General Intercessions for Fourth Sunday of Advent, Cycle C (from Priests for Life)
From Archives (Homilies for Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year C):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
St. Mary of the Valley Album
(updated December 12, 2009)
Pictures from Peru
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