28 And he came to her and said, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you! " (Lk 1:28)
41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! ” (Lk 1:41-42)
43 And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? (Lk 1:43)
25 Brethren, pray for us. (1 Thes 5:25)
15 The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. And I am the foremost of sinners. (1 Tim 1:15)
The Hail Mary prayer, also called the Angelic Salutation, is Catholicism’s most beloved prayer to our most beloved saint, the Blessed Mother. The first line was spoken by St. Gabriel the Archangel; the second by Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth. The third part was composed by the Church and was not comprised of Scriptural quotes, but of conclusions taken from Scripture. Let’s look at this prayer in more detail.
The first line is underlined in the above quote from Luke 1:28. It is the greeting of the angel to Mary, who at the time was maybe fourteen years old based on traditional Jewish customs of the time. “Hail” was simply a normal greeting; we associate this modern English word with royalty, as in “Hail Ceaser!” The Greek word, Chaire, would, however, best be rendered as “rejoice,” as in “Rejoice, Mary!” But note the angel did not refer to Mary by name. Instead, he referred to her by a beautiful title, in Greek: kecharitomene – full of grace. Some English bibles translations apply the term, “highly favored one” or something like that, claiming the word was an idiom of that time used as an honorific. But such was not the case; it was used only here, by St. Gabriel to Mary. The literal meaning of the word is unquestionable, as a title of one who was quite literally full of grace (charis); and delivery by an angel makes this statement indisputably true. (For some interesting conclusions from this truth, please see this essay.)
Next, St. Gabriel states that the Lord is with Mary. First, this is an obvious observation of one who is full of grace, as grace is nothing less than the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in a person; the Lord is certainly “with” Mary who is “full of grace,” that is, filled with God. Second, the phrase was also common as a holy expression, for example:
4 And behold, Boaz came from Bethlehem; and he said to the reapers, "The LORD be with you!" And they answered, "The LORD bless you." (Ruth 2:4)
22 The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you. (2 Tim 4:22)
We recognize this phrase from our Liturgy. It’s a kind of blessing. In this case, however, with it immediately following that particular title of kecharitomene, it has a unique meaning as we understand Gabriel is talking to someone who is already with the Lord. It cannot have been a blessing, as was the common use, but was a statement of fact, a conclusion of the preceding title. This is, perhaps, why the common translation is “the Lord is with you,“ and not “the Lord be with you.”
Next, we move to Elizabeth’s salutation or greeting. Note Elizabeth was “filled with the Holy Spirit,” a phrase used in Scripture to identify that an individual was prophesying (cf. Acts 4:8). Elizabeth’s words should then be understood as of a divine origin, much like Gabriel’s words. Elizabeth declared Mary to be “blessed among women” (some English bibles also insert this phrase into Lk 1:28 above, from the mouth of Gabriel). This phrase declares Mary to be blessed above and beyond that of other women; the reason being related to the “blessed” fruit of her womb, i.e., Jesus. Mary was to give birth to the most blessed child ever born, making her the most blessed woman. Interesting that it was her womanhood that was employed to bring her to such greatness, and the reason behind why she is forever honored as the greatest of all disciples. Ours is not a patriarchal Church!
Next, our prayer inserts two titles: Holy Mary, and Mother of God. The first is merely calling our Blessed Mother by name, and prefacing it with a word (“holy”) that, like the above kecharitomene, indicates unity with God. Calling Mary holy is a conclusion of the scriptural text above.The second title, Mother of God, is merely a repetition of Elizabeth’s words above: the mother of my Lord. Remember: Elizabeth was prophesying; she referred to Mary’s baby as “my Lord,” which is an honorific title for God. Mary is, then, the mother of God. Some of our reformed brothers and sisters do not like this phrase, as they feel it characterizes Mary as some kind of divine being before time and space who brought God Himself into being. That is, of course, not what it actually means. A mother is one who gives physical birth to another person, the key word here being person. The gestation & birthing process is surely a physical one, involving bodies. But the “body” that lives in the mother’s womb is that of a human person. When I get sick and see a doctor, her healing arts apply to my body, but she is keenly aware that she is treating a person. So is it with any person; a mother carries and births a person, not just a body. And we know a doctrine of the Faith is that Jesus was one person with two natures, human and divine (the Hypostatic Union). The person in Mary’s womb was not only human, but divine as well: the Son of God Himself. (We could also go further and conclude that in her prophetic state, Elizabeth’s reference to a person in Mary’s womb is a divine statement on abortion.)
Now we come to a part of our prayer where we find no direct Scriptural reference: asking Mary to pray for us. Of course, Scripture includes many references of individuals asking others to pray for them. Above I note one of St. Paul asking the disciples at Thessalonica to pray for him. We Christians ask each other to pray for us; it is quite natural to our Faith. As we believe in the Communion of Saints, this fellowship through prayer extends to all of our brothers and sisters, including those in heaven. We are in no way limited in time and space, as the source of our communion is the eternal and infinite God; we transcend those creatures of time and space in our communion with God, and through Him, with each other. And if I am asking other disciples to pray for me, it is natural that I will ask those who are closest to God. And who is closer to Jesus than His mother? We know that the first miracle Jesus did was upon the request of His mother.
3 When the wine failed, the mother of Jesus said to him, "They have no wine." 4 And Jesus said to her, "O woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come." 5 His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." 6 Now six stone jars were standing there, for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to them, "Fill the jars with water." And they filled them up to the brim. 8 He said to them, "Now draw some out, and take it to the steward of the feast." So they took it. 9 When the steward of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward of the feast called the bridegroom 10 and said to him, "Every man serves the good wine first; and when men have drunk freely, then the poor wine; but you have kept the good wine until now." 11 This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (Jn 2:3-11)
We get the feeling in this text that Mary was asking something that Jesus seemed not so disposed to do, yet He did it anyway because she asked Him. She moved God’s will, and that is something beyond anything we can imagine. Then of course I’m going to go to her with my petitions! And what shall I ask of her, who can move God’s will? Shall I ask for money? For love? For happiness? No; I will ask for the most important thing there is in my life – I will ask for God’s mercy, because I am a sinner. Pray for us sinners! Like St. Paul in his quote above from 1 Tim 1:15, I am a sinner. I have sanctifying grace, but I still sin and I still need God’s mercy every single day. So I ask this through Mary. She will ask her Son. And He will deny her nothing. I ask her to pray for me now, today, this day with all of its sins. And I ask her to pray for me again when I die, to receive final forgiveness of my sins before I meet Jesus.
14 Is any among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; 15 and the prayer of faith will save the sick man, and the Lord will raise him up; and if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects. (Jas 5:14-16)
The prayer of a righteous man has great power. How much more that of a righteous woman! How much more that of holy Mary, the most blessed among women, the Kecharitomene, the Mother of God.
Now: Say one Hail Mary.