This Monday, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Annunciation, the glorious event in which Mary becomes the Mother of God by accepting the message from the Archangel Gabriel through her our Savior will be born. At that moment, the divine Son took on human nature for our salvation and our glory. It is a good occasion to reflect upon the most common way in which we likewise approach Mary, the prayer that begins with Gabriel’s words, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you.”
The Hail Mary prayer begins with an address to Mary that is drawn from both Gabriel’s initial greeting and the words Elizabeth spoke at the Visitation in greeting Mary, “Blessed art thou among women and blessed in the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” By joining with Gabriel, we likewise are united with the angles themselves in asking Mary once again to bring the love of Jesus to the world. And then, in repeating the words of Elizabeth, “Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus,” we join with her in welcoming Mary and Jesus into our homes and neighborhoods.
By the mid-eleventh century, it was becoming common among monks and nuns to join these two phrases together during their daily prayers to have a sense of joining with the angels and saints to honor Mary as the one who brought Jesus Christ into the word at the Incarnation. There was a sense that, in honoring Mary, we are joining with her in bringing Christ into the world today. Many devout members of the laity also took up this practice, sometimes repeating this salutation 50 times, a practice that became the basis for the rosary.
In the 15th century, the faithful began adding the petition, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” And, in 1566, the Church’s official Roman catechism endorsed this additional petition, which focuses our attention on the two most important times of our lives, the present moment and the time of our death. For, while the past is fixed and the future unknown, we have in the present hour the freedom to respond to the grace of God; and our response should reflect our final goal, namely that by the end of life, we will be able fully to receive and give that divine love. And, by honoring Mary and invoking her prayers, we ask her to guide and help us to make the present moment always reflect the glory of God, so that when our time comes we will, with her, enter into the light of Jesus forever.