The Hail Mary…
(from a May 1974 conference)

The Hail Mary is a wonderful prayer, and perhaps we do not make nearly enough of it, whether we are saying it once or repeating it in the Rosary.  We not only join God in complimenting His Mother with a lovely compliment, but we also praise Her Son in it, and also ask for help both now and at the hour of our death.  I wonder how many times we have reverently and seriously asked Our Lady to pray for us “now and at the hour of our death.”  What an insurance premium that is for our benefit at our last moments on earth.

Unless we made the unlikely mistake of regarding Mary as God, it is not possible to love or honor her too much.  And one of the surest signs of being on the road to heaven is a deep devotion to Her.  It is characteristic of all the saints.  And if we think about what we know of Her, whether from God’s greetings or from other sources, we cannot help being carried away by love for Her and trust in her extremely powerful help in life.  We can always count on Her.  She never lets us go far astray.

Apart from Jesus, Mary is the most beautiful person Who has ever graced this earth of ours, and God thinks, and from all eternity thought, so much of Her that She is woven into the whole fabric of revealed religion and true life.

When the earliest prophecy about the Mother of God was made, it was at the moment of the most profound tragedy there ever was.  The loveliness of God’s creation, the perfect innocence of a perfect man, Adam, and his lovely wife, Eve, united in a simple embrace with God, and the whole cleanness of things was suddenly defiled and broken.  Evil came into the world.  As satan fell from heaven, he split the earth from God and through Adam separated man and woman from each other and both of them from God.  And Adam made an excuse to God:  “It is the woman You gave me who caused me to sin,” he said.

And God said He would put enmity between satan and a Woman, and between the tribe of satan and that woman’s family.  And so it is.

By the way He made Her, by Her whole purpose in existing, by Her very shadow, Our Lady is opposed to everything that is even remotely evil.  Not only by Her intention and Her love for God, but by Her very constitution, She cannot stand the least fingerprint from satan’s clammy hand.  By the person that She is, She is at enmity with everything that is in any way impure.

Our Lady is the Mother of God.  She is not just Mater Dei but Dei Genetrix, the one Who gives birth to God.  This is Our Lady’s true reality.  Wherever She does anything She brings God’s life to it; She makes Him come.  She is a relative of God’s and all that She touches is related to Him; it is made holy.

We are all related to God only through Our Lady.  We are maternal relatives of  God.  God became man only through His Mother, and we become sons and daughters of God only in God made man.  Jesus is one of us because He is the Son of Mary.

It is all very well to look for deep theological reasons for the present glory of Our Lady with Her Son, and they exist, but heaven would not be the same for Him if He did not see His Mother there with human eyes and hear Her lovely voice with human ears.  She speaks to Him of us, and He speaks of us to Her.  They both love us very much.  He died to save us in Himself; She lives to love us in the Son She bore.

The Lord has blessed Her by His power because by Her, as prophesied, He has brought our enemies to naught.  She is blessed by the Most High God above all women on the earth.

Why is it granted to us that the Mother of Our Lord should visit us, as She does each time we greet Her?  It is because Her soul magnifies the Lord through us for the great things He has done to Her, and She really wants to bring our enemies to naught and make us feel the life of God stirring within us as He spreads His merciful love from generation to generation on those who call His Mother Blessed.

It is Our Lady who disposes us to receive His Son worthily and fittingly.  No grace from God reaches us without Her intervention.  She is the Mother of our spiritual life and all our Christian life. . . .

The Hail Mary is the prayer that we should love more than any other except the Our Father, and just as we spend our lives learning more about the depths of meaning and devotion in the Our Father, so should we do with the Hail Mary.  It is a wonderful greeting to our Mother in heaven, which honors Her Son and repeats the words of God the Father when His Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary at the Incarnation.  It is a prayer of contemplation in which we have a vision of the fullness of grace of Mary and how blessed She is in having such a Son as Hers.  It is a prayer of powerful petition in which we ask for immediate help from the one Who among all saints is most universally influential for our good.  And we prepare for our last hours by praying for Her prayers at the hour of our death.  Thus we keep our sense of proportion about the things that matter in this life of ours, and we honor God in greeting the most perfect work of His hands, a divine Son and His human Mother.

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.

Have you ever tried, in a moment of deep devotion, to spend five whole minutes slowly saying the Hail Mary just once?  Or even pondering half an hour over it?

[Editor’s note:  In the fourth week of The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, Ignatius suggests as a method of prayer, pondering for one hour over the Our Father, word by word, so Fr. Keep’s suggestion about lingering over the Hail Mary for half an hour is neither extreme nor unprecedented.]

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