Rev. José Mario O. Mandía
Now, as we wrap up our little unpacking of the faith, let us conclude it with the prayer that Christians through the centuries have untiringly repeated. After the Lord’s prayer, it is the prayer that we always find handy.
“HAIL, MARY!” “Chaîre kecharitomene, ho Kyrios meta sou,” “Hail, [rejoice] full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Lk 1:28). “The Angel’s greeting to Mary is therefore an invitation to joy, deep joy. It announces an end to the sadness that exists in the world” (Benedict XVI, General Audience, 19 December 2012). When God enters into our lives, He announces joy, He brings peace.
These words were spoken by the messenger, the Archangel Gabriel, but the words came from God. The first part of the Hail Mary is God’s Word, God’s proclamation.
When Saint John Paul II went to Mexico in 1979, he prayed before the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe and told her: “Hail Mary! It is with immense love and reverence that I utter these words, words so simple and at the same time so marvelous. No one will ever be able to greet you in a more wonderful way than the way in which the Archangel once greeted you at the moment of the Annunciation. Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. I repeat these words, words that so many hearts ponder upon and so many lips utter throughout the world. We here present utter them together, and we are aware that these are the words with which God himself, through his messenger, greeted you, the woman promised in the Garden of Eden, chosen from eternity as the Mother of the Word, the Mother of Divine Wisdom, the Mother of the Son of God” (27 January 1979).
“FULL OF GRACE, THE LORD IS WITH THEE.” The CCC (2676) points out the connection between the two phrases: “These two phrases of the angel’s greeting shed light on one another. Mary is full of grace because the Lord is with her. The grace with which she is filled is the presence of him who is the source of all grace.”
Pope Benedict XVI, in the same audience cited above, explained, “In the greeting of the Angel, Mary is called ‘full of grace.’ In Greek, the term ‘grace,’ charis, has the same linguistic root as the word ‘joy.’ In this term too the source of Mary’s exultation is further clarified: her joy comes from grace, that is, from being in communion with God, from having such a vital connection with him, from being the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, totally fashioned by God’s action.”
“BLESSED ART THOU AMONG WOMEN AND BLESSED IS THE FRUIT OF THY WOMB, JESUS.” “Mary is ‘blessed among women’ because she believed in the fulfillment of the Lord’s word” (CCC 2676). How did Mary believe? Pope Francis explained, “She lived [her faith] in the simplicity of the many daily occupations and worries of every mom, such as providing food and clothing, and taking care of the house… Precisely this normal existence of the Virgin was the ground on which a singular rapport and profound dialogue between her and God, between her and her Son, developed” (15 May 2018).
“HOLY MARY, MOTHER OF GOD.” This, in effect, is what Saint Elizabeth declared, when she received Mary’s visit: “And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43). No other person is a better position to represent us in our prayers: “we can entrust all our cares and petitions to her” which also means that “we abandon ourselves to the will of God together with her: ‘Thy will be done.’” (CCC 2677).
“PRAY FOR US, SINNERS, NOW AND AT THE HOUR OF OUR DEATH.” How gently we are reminded that we are sinners, that we do not have a right to any of the things that we ask. But we go to her, who is Mother of Mercy.
Whenever Saint Josemaría recited some prayer, he would often pause at one word, and in the case of this prayer, that word was “now.” We have already seen how important this word is. “We give ourselves over to her now, in the Today of our lives. And our trust broadens further, already at the present moment, to surrender ‘the hour of our death’ wholly to her care. May she be there as she was at her son’s death on the cross. May she welcome us as our mother at the hour of our passing (cf. Jn 19:27) to lead us to her son, Jesus, in paradise” (CCC 2677).
In the 13th Station of the Cross, we meditate how the dead body of Jesus is placed in His Mother’s arms. We can tell her, “Mother, I would like to die that way – in your arms.”
Finally, let me share with you a little related story. Some 20 years ago, I would recite the Rosary with some high school students at least once a week, and one day, as I recited it with them, I noticed that one of the boys had a slightly different version of the Hail Mary. His version was unorthodox, but not for that reason was it wrong. So I told him my observation but added that he could pray his version as long as he wished because, frankly, it gave a greater sense of security. This was how he prayed the last part: “pray for us sinners now until the hour of our death!”
The boy’s name was Robin Gregory D’Souza. He grew up to be a brilliant barrister while helping people in whatever way he can. He died of kidney failure on 9 June this year. I am sure our Lady had listened to his petition and was praying for him until the hour of death.