Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
A reflection on the word “PRAY”
Perhaps more than any other prayer, the Hail Mary is the means by which we invoke the Blessed Mother’s intercession. A single Rosary elicits those three powerful words dozens and dozens of times: “Pray for us…pray for us…pray for us.” In that light, it might seem natural for the reflection on prayer in the Hail Mary series to highlight Mary’s role as our intercessor, as the saint who prays most fervently and most effectively on our behalf for the graces we need to live the Christian life.
But there is another connection between the Blessed Mother and prayer, a connection that jumped out at me more vividly than ever before as I was preparing to write this piece. In his apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, Blessed Pope John Paul II calls the Rosary “the school of Mary.” At this school, he goes on to say, we are “led to contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and to experience the depths of his love.” Ad Jesum Per Mariam: always, always, Mary leads us to union with Christ.
Thus, as we ask her to intercede for us, Mary serves as a model for our own prayer, for the ways in which we relate to God. So when we think about the word PRAY in the context of the Hail Mary, the question arises: how does Mary pray? There are probably more answers than I can count—and certainly more than we have room for here—but meditation on a few of my favorite mysteries of the Rosary led me to some preliminary thoughts. I would love to hear your own reflections on these or other mysteries in the comments.
I’ve always loved the account of the Annunciation in St. Luke’s Gospel (see Lk 1:26-38), partly because it helps me to remember how human Mary is. Confronted with a strange situation, Mary is troubled; when the angel declares that she will bear a son named Jesus, her first response is to ask him how this could be. And yet, despite her confusion and the dangers she has to know will accompany the mysterious events that Gabriel describes to her, Mary responds with faith. She conquers the natural impulse to fear with her confidence in her loving Father. And her fiat is not simply a grant of permission; it is also a prayer, a heartfelt petition that this mysterious divine plan will be realized in her life.
Meditating on Mary’s actions at the moment of the Annunciation helps me remember two things about prayer. First, obedience does not require us to be automatons; Mary’s example shows that natural emotional responses to difficult situations do not automatically preclude the mastery of fear and anxiety by virtue and the genuine, ongoing surrender of our wills to the will of the Father. This is very good news for people like me. Second, she reminds me that one of the surest ways to accomplish this surrender is to pray for it to happen. We can say, “let it be done unto me” before we possess the grace to really want it to be done. God will fill in the gaps.
The account of Christ’s birth in the book of Luke only tells us two things about Mary’s actions in that moment. We read first, “she gave birth to her first-born son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths, and laid him in a manger” (Lk 2:7). These are such sparse words—too few, arguably, to do justice to such a glorious event. But then, after the shepherds’ visit, we get another glimpse at the Blessed Mother. The text says, “and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:18-19).
It seems to me that the quiet, simple description of Mary’s reactions to the birth of Jesus shows us something about the value of quiet, simple prayer. In the face of the majesty of God, it might seem natural to respond with an overflow of fancy words. If a blogger had written the Gospel account of the Nativity, it probably would have included a lot more adjectives. But maybe sometimes the appropriate response to incomprehensible divine mystery is not to try to describe it. Maybe the appropriate response is to hush.
The Wedding at Cana
I think of the wedding at Cana whenever I’m tempted to panic. Usually these temptations have to do with relatively minor situations—an interview, or a paper deadline—but occasionally I’m faced with bigger worries. No matter what the details are, though, it always consoles me to think of that day in a small town in Galilee, when the absence of a good thing threatened to mar a joyful celebration. It’s easy to think of this as a cosmically insignificant problem: nobody was going to die for lack of another glass of wine. But then remember: our Lord came not simply to give us life, but that we may have it abundantly (Jn 10:10). At Cana, this is where the Blessed Mother comes in. She observes a need and, eschewing anxiety, gently points it out to her Son. Not: “Oh no, the wine is gone, whatever shall we do?!,” but, simply, “they have no wine.” And then, to the servants: “Do whatever he tells you” (see Jn 2:3-5).
I love this story because it shows me something about the nature of God. The Blessed Mother knows the Lord more intimately than any other human being, so we can trust that she knows how to approach Him. And see her behavior when she discovers a need: she is fearless. By her example, Mary teaches us to approach the throne of God confidently, trusting completely in his love and mercy. It is a reminder that I think many of us need more than we realize: God wants good things for us! And from this position of childlike confidence, we can understand her direction to do whatever He tells us. If God is trustworthy, if we believe that He wants our good even more than we want it for ourselves, then we can persevere through any difficulty and obey any commandment. Mary’s actions at Cana confirm and encourage us in that belief.
Pray and Learn
In the section of Rosarium Virginis Mariae entitled “Learning Christ from Mary,” Bl. JPII makes the following observation about the Rosary: “This school of Mary is all the more effective if we consider that she teaches by obtaining for us in abundance the gifts of the Holy Spirit, even as she offers us the incomparable example of her own ‘pilgrimage of faith’.” This is the beauty of Marian prayer: that the pedagogy of the Blessed Mother intertwines with her intercession. May we benefit from both as we seek to grow in the knowledge and love of her Son.
Miriel Thomas is a brilliant and very dear friend of mine. Once, when I called her sister, she answered, and the rest is history. Not only has she endeared herself to my daughters (who ask weekly when she will be visiting again and pray for her regularly), but she holds a special place in my heart. You’ll find her studying for her Ph.D. (I didn’t use the word brilliant lightly) or Twittering or maybe even blogging at Seeking Soloman. Her faith is an inspiration to me, as is her sunny smile.
image credit: MorgueFile