Reflection on the Hail Mary

The other day, at Blackfen, we had an Evening of Recollection for men. This is a simple occasion, with Mass, a spiritual talk, exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, rosary (during which there is an opportunity for confession) Benediction and then some time to meet and chat in the Hall. Below is the text of my talk.

The prayer "Hail Mary"

May being the month of Mary, I decided to focus today on that daily prayer to Our Lady which is so familiar but bears a little examination so that we can make the best use of it.

Hail Mary
At the beginning of the prayer, we can put ourselves in the frame of mind to talk to our Blessed Lady. We can do so because she is the Mother of Jesus, she is the Queen of Heaven and Our Lord wants us to go to her. “Son, behold your mother”, he said. We are greeting Our Lady personally: this reminds us that prayer is not simply the saying of words in a formula, but a personal encounter in which we converse – primarily with God, but also with the angels, Our Lady and the Saints.

We can imagine ourselves bowing with the deepest respect before our Queen and Mother as we try to imitate the reverence shown to her even by such a great being as an archangel. We know that if we are sincere, we will not be held at fault for our clumsiness or lack of knowing how we should speak properly. Our Lady listens with great kindness and attention to our humble words.

Full of grace
Our Lady is sinless and perfect. This does not distance her from us; on the contrary, it makes her the perfect friend for us, someone who is always seeking our good. Our own faults and sins sometimes make us ashamed or fearful of someone who is so much superior to us in holiness and goodness, but that very goodness is itself a guarantee of her graceful understanding.

We need not expect Our Lady to be anything but horrified by sins against chastity. However, like a good mother, she knows that temptations are rife, and that these sins exist. After we have repented, she guides us to seek God’s mercy and grace in the sacrament of confession, and does not despise us. The very thought of her can help us to resist temptation to such sins.

The Lord is with thee
Our Lady was constantly listening to God and his voice in her heart. He was with her by grace but this was an active presence, an exchange in which she was in continual peace and companionship with God. Even when distracted by worldly chores and business, God’s presence was the backdrop of her life.

Our Lady followed her conscience – only her conscience, unlike ours, was perfectly formed. Not only was she instructed in the law of God, her judgements on what to do here and now were unsullied by that self-seeking and inclination to our own desires that mark our own struggles to choose what is right and good.

The Lord wishes also to be with us, not only at our fixed times of prayer or in the Church itself, but at all times as He is always present whatever we do, wherever we are. The Hail Mary can remind us of this constant truth that God is indeed everywhere.

Blessed art thou among women
St Elizabeth recognised Our Lady’s greatness straight away when she came to visit her after being told of her exalted vocation by the angel Gabriel. “Why should I be blessed by a visit from the mother of my Lord?”

At the same time, St John the Baptist leapt in the womb – an unborn child making an act of faith in the presence of his cousin as an embryo of only a few days implanted in the womb of the Blessed Virgin.

The recognition of these great saints teaches us the fundamental reason why we give so much honour to Our Lady. She carried God the Son in her womb for nine months and was chosen for the supreme privilege of nursing and nurturing Him in His childhood. If we really reflect on this great truth, played out on the world of whose history we are a part with her, we can only bow down in love and awe at the greatness of this woman who acknowledge in humility “All generations shall call me blessed.” How fortunate we are to know this and to respond with our hearts.

Blessed is the fruit of thy womb
Our Lady leads us always to Christ. It is one of the saddest mistakes of the reformation to think that somehow Our Lady detracts from our devotion to Jesus Christ. On the contrary, she draws us to Him, shows Him to us, and teaches us how to be His disciples. If sometimes we find that we are distracted at Mass, it is a sure way back to true devotion to ask the assistance of Our Lady to help us to make our own offerings at Mass, of adoration, thanksgiving, sorrow, and petition for the grace of God. This is also true for the priest. He can ask for no greater assistance in His attempts to celebrate the Eucharist with due reverence and devotion than to ask the help of that holy Mother who stood by the foot of the Cross and can guide Him at the altar.

We should pray for priests who have grown lukewarm – it happens – that Our Lady will set them on fire anew with the genuine devotion of true disciples who will bring Our Lord to others

Holy Mary, Mother of God
Being the Mother of God is the source of all Our Lady’s other titles. They are not simply nice thoughts but they tell us the truth. Mary also safeguards the truth about Jesus Christ. Because she is the Mother of God, it shows us that he is truly God and truly Man. For this reason, Our Lady has been called the “Destroyer of heresies.” As Mother of the Church, she gives her protection to those who ask for it, enabling them to teach what is true and orthodox concerning Christ.

In our secular culture it is easy to be swayed by popular opinion, to water down the teaching of Christ and His Church to make it more acceptable, to avoid arguments or sneering, or to make things easier in our own lives. Our Lady’s total fidelity at the Passion can shame us to stand up and be counted, to defend the faith at the cost of ridicule, to be known as disciples of Christ, to be proud to be such – not of course though any self-congratulation considering our weakness, but that legitimate pride in being under the banner of the Cross, of being His men.

Pray for us sinners
Our Lady never sinned but she knew more than anyone the damage caused by sin. We call her co-redemptrix because of her share in the passion of Christ. Her perfection in grace means that she above all is the terror of demons who flee in terror from her very name as exorcists testify.

Yet she is also compassionate towards us, affected by the wound of original sin, and weighed down by our own past sins and habits of sin. We beg her prayers for us as sinners because they are most powerful, both in helping us to resist temptation and in putting new heart into us when we have fallen. She also knows well the infinite mercy of her Son “with whom there is fullness of redemption” and the folly of ever despairing of this mercy.

Now and at the hour of our death
Every Hail Mary is a way of preparing for the time when we die so that we are not lost at that moment. This is something we should remember often: it is why the Church in her wisdom has placed this petition at the end of the prayer.

Many people live as if death were not a fact of our lives. But our life here on earth is short, we have one soul to save, and an eternity to enjoy the presence of God or to lose Him for ever. Nothing is more important than our eternal salvation.

Therefore we ask Jesus, Mary and Joseph to help us to prepare for our death by a good life. We also pray for a happy death, which means dying in a state of grace, fortified by the sacraments of the Church.

The Hail Mary is a simple but very rich prayer. We should sometimes take a little time – it is after all only a short prayer – to say it more slowly, to savour the sweetness of the words, to ask Our Blessed Mother to grace us with her prayers, and to form us anew as the disciples of her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Hail Mary…

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