A meditation on The Annunciation by Father John A. Hardon:
It is the same Gabriel that announced to Zachary that Elizabeth, in her old age, would conceive and bear a son. Given the magnitude of this great mystery of the Annunciation, I thought we should have three meditations on the angelic Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The first one will be on the angelic salutation. The second will be on the angelic prediction. And, the third will be on the angelic explanation.
If any event in Sacred Scripture deserves three prayerful meditations, it is surely the Annunciation. This event changed the whole course of human history. Better, this event was the culmination of human history. We are told by the fathers of the Church, God becoming man was more important than God creating man. We should say that before God took on a human habitation in Mary’s womb, the Almighty was indeed present because He is God. He is present because He is God everywhere in the world He made.
The moment He became incarnate, God became present as the God-man, and having instituted the Holy Eucharist on Holy Thursday night, from the Annunciation through the Last Supper, God has decided to remain on earth as the God-man in the Blessed Sacrament until the end of time.
As we have been doing, we will first quote the words here of the angelic salutation, and as we go along, we will apply these words to ourselves as the object of our faith in the mind and as the object of our devotion to our wills.
There are no words that a believing Catholic uses more often and has used over the centuries than the words of what we call the “Hail Mary”.
The opening of the “Hail Mary” as the greeting of the angel to our Lady, and that is the object of this meditation. We can never penetrate too deeply to understand what the angel meant when he greeted her with this angelic salutation.
First then, the narrative. St. Luke tells us that what he is writing is just after he narrates the visit of the angel Gabriel to Zachary. The two visitations, angelic to Zachary and angelic to Mary, one after the other. We continue. Luke tells us that when Elizabeth was in her sixth month, notice God waited six months. After six months, the same archangel was sent by God to a town of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph of the house of David.
St. Luke, as we know, is the historian among the evangelists. A medical doctor by profession, he was precise, detailed. As soon as he arrived, he was addressed our Lady and said: “Hail, Ave, full of grace, gratia plena,the Lord is with thee, Dominus tecum, blessed art thou among women, benedicta tu in mulieribus.” Each of these four parts of the angelic greeting has been acclaimed in, I dare say, thousands of volumes over the centuries.
We increase the fervor and the value of our prayers, that is what the Church tells us, here in the Ave Maria, by growing in the understanding of what we are saying. Our wills are blind faculties. We must be informed, they must be educated by the mind. The will loves only in so far as it understands. That is why, following the directives of my father and guide, St. Ignatius, who tells us individually and orders us as teachers to explain the meaning of the prayers we say, here of the Ave Maria.
The opening words of the angel’s greeting of Mary is not really a greeting. Ave is no mere ‘hello’ or ‘good morning’ or ‘how are you’. As we know from Sacred Scripture as a form of salutation, it is a prelude of respect. It is an introduction to a solemn mission from God. It is an expression of profound reverence, reverence by an angel of God to the one who was to become the mother of God.
Consequently, this Ave of the angel was the way God wanted His messenger to introduce himself to the most holy human person that God ever made, and whom He has chosen to become the mother of her Creator.
What should this mean to us? The angel’s Ave should mean that we are to dispose ourselves everytime we pray. What a difference between, as we say, praying and praying by making ourselves first, aware of the one to whom and with whom we are praying. What an important, not recommendation, injunction. Never start your prayers before placing yourself in the presence of the one to whom and with whom you are going to pray. In God’s presence always, here, in the presence of God’s mother. So far the opening words of the angelic salutation.
Gratia Plena, ‘Full of Grace,’ How these inspired words of the angel to our Lady have been weakened, mutilated, and destroyed. The angels called Mary not only ‘highly favored daughter, or ‘blessed one’. No. The angel told Mary that she was full of grace. How carefully we have to be, I have to say it, on what bible we use, on what scriptures we meditate on to make sure that we have the authentic words inspired by the Holy Spirit.
Our lady not only was, she is full of grace. She is full of grace because she was, what shall we say, filled with sanctifying grace from the first moment of her human existence, from the moment of what we call, her immaculate conception. Which in theological language means, ‘grace filled conception’.
She was full of grace because she was chosen to be the mother of the Author of grace. No wonder we speak of our Lady as the mother of Divine grace. Mary is full of grace because she is the most pleasing to God of all His creatures, of either angelic or human persons. Mary’s divine Son was not a human person, He was a divine person who assumed a human nature.
Mary is more pleasing to God that any human person and above all the angelic persons of the heavenly host. She if full of grace because she is the spiritual mother of the human race. Christ redeemed the world by His passion. Mary cooperated in the redemption of the world by her compassion. Mary is full of grace because she is the mediatrix of divine grace.
Three prepositions that are at the heart of our Catholic faith: from, through, and to. All grace comes from Christ. Grace comes through Mary. And thanks to Jesus and Mary, grace comes to us.
We are not finished. Mary is full of grace because she is the most pleasing and therefore the most perfect intercessor to God for obtaining grace for us. Hear it, anyone, angels or human beings, are only as powerful an intercessor with God as that angelic or human person is pleasing to God. Holiness is the condition for intercession. The greater the holiness, the more powerful the intercessor.
Let me say something about the meaning of the angelic words, Gratia Plena. Now some implications for all of us. Every mystery of our faith is to be believed with the mind and is to be obeyed by our wills and our bodies. We need God’s grace, how desperately we need it, even to be saved, not to say to be sanctified. We therefore need Mary as our principal, what a cheap word, as our most potent pleader with Christ for the grace we most desperately and constantly need.
Invoking Mary so that she might intercede for us is at the heart of Catholic Christianity. In the truest sense of the word, we pray through Mary to Christ, as brought out in the Holy Mary, which follows the Hail May. “Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners.”
Let us remind ourselves, Mary obtained the first miracle from Jesus at Cana. She asked Him and Christ words to His mother, not a rebuke, but for us, a lesson: “My time has not yet come.” Mary understood her Son. What did she do? She told the stewards to fill jars full of water, and then Christ orchestrated this first miracle because his mother suggested he work His first miracle.
How this needs to be said and emphasized. In any age of the Church’s history, those who wish to serve Christ faithfully needed grace. One of my favorite definitions of grace is “Grace is what God gives to do the humanly impossible”. But if in the two thousand years of Christianity, the followers of Christ needed grace to do the humanly possible, what shall we say about all of us who want to follow Mary’s son in today’s world which is lost in the idolatry of itself?
If we are going to serve God and the follow the teachings of Christ we must live heroic lives. To lead such heroic lives we will need an abundance of grace, from whom? From Christ. Through whom? Through Mary, the mediatrix and mother of divine grace.
The angel continued: Dominus Tecum, “The Lord is with thee.” What does it mean to have the Lord with someone? It means that God loves that person. It means that God blesses that person. It means that God is pleased with that person. Never has any angelic or human person, been closer to God, nearer to God, than His mother Mary.
So what follows in our own lives? We should honor Mary above all the angels and saints. We should, how shall I express it, recognize with our minds who Mary is, while reflecting, meditating on our Lady. She does not merely have the title, she if these the Queen of angels, the Queen of patriarchs, the Queen of martyrs, the Queen of virgins, the Queen of all saints.
The heart of devotion to our Lady is the veneration of Mary. What does it mean to venerate our Lady? It means thinking of Mary, thinking about Mary, it means reading about Mary, it means speaking to Mary, it means talking about Mary. In a word, we are to venerate our Lady, because she is the one created person, angelic or human person who is, dare we say it, venerated by God.
Finally the angels in speaking to our Lady say Benedicta tu in mulieribus, “Blessed art thou among women.” We know what it means to be blessed. In the language of theology, to be blessed is to be made happy by God. Happiness, in general, is the satisfaction of our desires. But only God can fully satisfy our desires. That is why we speak of the saints as blessed in heaven. We speak of beatification. We speak of the eight beatitudes. What are they? They are the eight conditions laid down by Christ for making us totally happy.
How is Mary blessed among women? She enjoyed the happiness of motherhood. What a miraculous combination. She enjoyed the happiness of unstained virginity. She enjoyed the happiness of the highest sanctity. She enjoyed, we must say this, the happiness of suffering with Christ, suffering for Christ, suffering like Christ. How the meaning of happiness is taught us by the mother of God.
Mary enjoyed the privilege of carrying the living God in her womb, and of nursing the Creator. And now she enjoys the greatest beatitude of any creation, human person or angel, because she is in the arms of her divine Son whom she had held in her arms at Bethlehem. All of this and a library more is locked up in those mysterious words, “Blessed are thou among women.”
The implications in our lives. We ask ourselves, what does Mary’s happiness teach us? It teaches us first of all, that we are only as happy as our hearts are united with the heart of Christ. And in Sacred Scripture, the heart symbolizes the will. We are only as happy as we surrender these hearts of ours to the heart of God. As we know, the very definition of sacrifice is the surrendering of something precious. Surrendering our wills to God is not letting go with our hands, it is letting go with our hearts.
Happiness on earth is a measure of our living lives of sacrifice as our Lady did. When we address our Lady as the cause of our joy, we mean it. She is in the deepest sense of the words we can use. She is cause of our joy because she is the mother of the God for whom our being is made. She is the cause of our joy because our joy will depend on how faithfully we allow Mary to teach us what it means to be happy. As she told the servants at Cana, “Do whatever he tells you”. That statement of Mary is addressed to all of us. If we need miracles to make us happy, so be it. Mary will obtain these marvels of divine grace from her almighty Son.
Blessed Virgin Mary, teach us the hardest yet most important lesson we have to learn in life. That like you, we to shall be blessed, made happy by God in this life by conforming our wills to the will of your divine Son. And again like you, we shall join Him and you in that blessed eternity provided that once more, like you, we have always loved what He tells us to do. Amen.