The infancy narrative is the foundation for one of the great prayers of the church—the Hail Mary. The words of the first part of the prayer originate in the Trinity itself. The Trinity’s goal for man has always been to bring them into the circle of Trinitarian love. Here in the relationship between the Trinity and Mary you see God’s love and the perfect human response to that love. Just as the Song of Songs is a duet between the Bridegroom and the Bride. At the beginning of the Infancy narrative you see a love duet between the Trinity and Mary.
The angel Gabriel who was sent from God the Father called her, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” Those words are also translated, “Hail, full of grace!” These are words of love for Mary that originate from the Trinity, spoken to her by an angel. Mary was troubled not knowing why an angel should address her with such honor and to what purpose. Her heart already belonged to God and her humility made her wary of personal praise. Eve’s pride left her vulnerable when Satan sought her opinion.
Next the angel Gabriel like Abraham’s servant laid out the riches of the Father before her and asked her to be the mother of God the Father’s Son. Gabriel said, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” Marvelous, marvelous news, but does it remind you a bit of when Satan showed Jesus all the nations of the world that could be his? Or when the serpent promised Eve equality with God? Mary’s heart is still ever true to God. If this greatest honor of all time involves her breaking her vow of virginity to God, she wants none of it. “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?
Mary did not succumb to pride when honored or greed when offered incredible position. Her relationship with God was paramount. She was not like Eve at all.
The angel Gabriel responded a third time, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.”
Here Mary recognized the God she loved. The same God who made Sarah pregnant has made her cousin Elizabeth pregnant. The same spirit that overshadowed the Ark of the Covenant and entered the Temple will enter her. Her vow to God rendering her body sacred to Him will not be violated but be brought to its highest level of sanctity. Now she believed what was said earlier that the child will be the Messiah who will sit on the throne of his ancestor David. Now she understands why she was called highly favored. She gave love’s perfect response to God–perfect submission to His will. “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”
This annunciation event of the Father wooing Mary through Gabriel is remembered in the first lines of the prayer, “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.” The next line of the prayer originated with the Holy Spirit who sang His duet with Mary through Elizabeth.
When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting she was filled with the Holy Spirit and gave utterance. “Most blessed are you among women…” This exclamation recalls the titles given to Judith and Jael the women warriors. “and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” This reaffirmed that child was the Messiah the one who would take the throne of His father David. The Holy Spirit through Elizabeth gave her the title that had belonged first to Bathsheba, the queen mother. “For the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.” This recalled David’s dance before the Ark of the Covenant when he brought it into Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit affirmed her as the New Ark of the Covenant and gave her and her son the reception the world should have given them. “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” Elizabeth’s husband Zechariah the priest had failed in that and was mute because of it. Under the Old Covenant, the nation of Israel represented by Zechariah had failed. Mary was the faithful remnant of Israel, the daughter Zion who responded with faith.
Mary responded in the duet of love with the Holy Spirit. Overwhelmed by the expressions of love and honor given to her by the Holy Spirit through Elizabeth, Mary responded by declaring her nothingness without God. Any greatness she had was because of what God had done for her. She wanted her very being to magnify God for the world. Gratitude, humility and a desire to glorify God were all blended in her heart’s response.
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;
my spirit rejoices in God my savior.
For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;
behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.
The Mighty One had done great things for me, and holy is his name.
Mary knew that God had already won a great victory over Satan. God had called her to be “the woman” who with her son would crush the head of Satan. She responded as Miriam did when God delivered Israel from the Egyptians, as Deborah did when God delivered Israel from Sisera, and as Judith did when God delivered Israel from Holofernes. She sang a song of victory, but unlike them she sang her victory song in advance of the battle. This second part of her song of love extolled the might, mercy and faithfulness of God.
His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him.
He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.
He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly.
The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy,
according to his promise to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever. Amen.
In Song of Songs the bride and bridegroom extolled the physical characteristics of their beloved. Here Mary and the Trinity extol the character and spiritual beauty of each other. A soul that seeks God alone delights the Lord, the way a bride’s beauty ravishes her bridegroom’s heart. All of this duet between Mary and the Spirit is referenced in the second line of the Hail Mary, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.”
At the center of the prayer is “Jesus”. He was at the center of her life and devotion. It was He that made her holy, set apart for God alone. The Father was truly Jesus’ Father. Jesus was truly the Son of God, but Jesus was also truly the son of Mary. The title Mother of God encapsulates the mystery of the perfect unity of Jesus’ humanity and divinity. He became our brother in the flesh, so we might become His siblings in the spirit. He did this through His mother. The next phrases of the Hail Mary refer to the mystery of Christ’s incarnation.
Holy Mary, Mother of God
The Queen Mothers of the courts of Judah were advocates and intercessors for the people. If you remember how Bathsheba and Esther had to enter the king’s presence with trembling, and they were their wives, then for an ordinary person to approach the king would be terrifying indeed. The queen mother was different. She could speak freely to the king and he would listen to her. People could approach her.
We do not have to fear to approach God because Jesus our brother has sanctified us. But if we were to truly see him as He is, and truly see our sinfulness, we would faint like John in Revelations, or bid Him depart from us because we are sinful men like Peter. The Holy Spirit led Elizabeth to proclaim that she is “the mother of my Lord” because God wanted her to act as mother not only for her son but for the other members of the Kingdom of God as well. The Trinity is weaving us into a family with God as our Father, Jesus as our brother, and Mary as our mother. This honor is encapsulated in the last words of the Hail Mary. Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen
Just as Mary was there for Jesus during His suffering on the cross, and she was there for Elizabeth during her labor, I believe that no Christian is alone during their hour as they are born into heaven. Stephan looked up to heaven and saw Christ in his glory. Joseph was surrounded by Mary and Jesus when he died. He is the patron saint of a happy death because of it. I believe that in a special way Mary is present at the hour of a Christian’s death just as she was at her son’s.
Why would God so honor a human being in this way? For the same reason God honors us by calling us brother or sister. The love of God is beyond reason in its generosity towards humanity. By giving Mary this position Jesus is fulfilling the commandment.
“Honor your father and your mother, that you may have long life in the land the Lord your God is giving you.”
For those afraid to pray the Hail Mary lest they offend God, the Trinity should not be offended by us echoing the Spirit’s own words of praise and offering our own Amen to them. Nor should God be offended in our asking for her prayers. For Jesus said,
Again, [amen] I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything for which they are to pray, it shall be granted to them by my heavenly Father. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
The Hail Mary is a celebration of the Trinity and celebrates the Incarnation of Jesus.
 Ex. 20:12
 Matt. 18:19-20
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