Hail Mary – the Trinity’s Love Song

Crowned statue of the virgin Mary carrying a child with a diffused vegetation background
Crowned statue of the virgin Mary carrying a child with a diffused vegetation background

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.

Annunciation Mary AngelStained Glass Old Basilica Guadalupe Mexi
Annuciation Angel Gabriel Tells Mary She Will Give Birth to Jesus Stained Glass Old Basilica Guadalupe Mexico City Mexico. Also known as Templo Expiatorio a Cristo Rey. Basilica construction was started in 1531, finished in 1709. This basilica is the location where the Virgin Mary appeared to the Meixcan peasant Juan Diego. The old Basilica is where Juan Diego’s original cloak with the picture of the Virgin Mary first appeared.

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.

Antwerp - The Visitation of Virgin Mary to Elizabeth by Francken
ANTWERP, BELGIUM – SEPTEMBER 5, 2013: The Visitation of Virgin Mary to Elizabeth by Frans Francken (1581 – 1642) in Saint Pauls church (Paulskerk)

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.

Judith Shows the Head of Holofernes

 

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

Ruth declares her love for her mother-in-law

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.”[1]

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.[2]

The Hail Mary is a celebration of the Trinity and celebrates the Incarnation of Jesus.

[1] Ex. 20:12

[2] Matt. 18:19-20

#trcot #Hail Mary #Mary #Trinity #Rosary #tcot

 

Moses and Jesus – a Life Comparison

Church of St. Anne - Transfiguration
The internal painting of the church of St. Anne, an illustration of the Transfiguration. The author – Ivan Protsiv.

Moses and Jesus’ lives are linked from the very start. Their stories both begin with the death of innocent children. In each case, Satan sensed that someone of importance was coming and inspired the leaders of the nation to execute small children to thwart the plan of God.

With Moses, Pharaoh ordered that the Hebrew newborn males should be thrown into the Nile River. Moses mother, Jocabed, while obedient to the letter of the law fashioned a basket and placed the child inside.  Moses floated on the Nile until he was saved by none other than the daughter of the Pharaoh!

With Jesus, King Herod sought to find and destroy the newborn King of the Jews. So he ordered every newborn child under the age of two killed. St. Joseph was warned in a dream to flee to Egypt and the Holy Family escaped.

When the Holy Family escaped to Egypt they passed through the tribal lands of Simeon, which means “God heard”.  This is a reminder of what God said to Moses at the burning bush.  If you adapt it to Jesus, it is apparent that the mandate was the same.

I have seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt (sin), and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters(Satan); I (Jesus) know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them up out of the land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey (heaven).[1]

Just the Living God spoke in a burning bush before the start of Moses’ public ministry, so Jesus heard the words of the Father at His Baptism.  Jesus was led out into the desert for 40 days paralleling the forty years that Moses led the Hebrews in the desert.  At the end of the forty years, Moses instructed the Hebrews on what lessons they should have learned from that time. Jesus successfully defeated Satan in the desert by quoting from Moses’ instructions.

In another parallel, Moses’ first plague was to turn the Nile’s water into blood.  Jesus’ first miracle was to turn the water in wine. Jesus too performed many miracles, signs and wonders before the people and the unbelieving religious authorities of the day.  The hearts of the religious authorities just grew harder and harder like Pharaoh’s.

At the Transfiguration, Moses and Elijah spoke to Jesus about the exodus Jesus was to accomplish in Jerusalem. [2] This emphasized that everything Jesus had accomplished up to this point was leading toward His people’s deliverance from their slavery to sin. Before the exodus from Egypt could begin, there first had to be the Passover.

During the last plague of Egypt the angel of death killed the first-born of every Egyptian family.  The Hebrew families sacrificed the Passover lamb in the place of their first-born. They placed its blood on the wooden lintels of their doorposts.  They then ate the body of the lamb to participate in its death.

This foreshadowed both the Last Supper and the Passion of Christ.  He ordered His disciples to eat the bread and drink the wine after transforming it into His Body and Blood. He became the Passover Lamb. In this way, they participated in His death.  The first-born of the family of God really did die and His blood spilled on the wooden beams of the cross, the doorway of our salvation.

[1] Ex. 3:7b-8a

[2] Luke 9:31

Simeon’s Sorrowful Prophecy

Maria Mutter Gottes

While the shadow of the cross is all over the Infancy narrative, it is especially strong in Simeon’s words to Mary.  Here it is that she is first told of the suffering both she and Jesus will experience.

“Behold,  this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is spoken against (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.” Luke 2:35

Most people know what happened to Jesus but few of us know the Seven Sorrows of Mary. That is why she is sometimes shown with seven swords through her heart.

This prophecy at the Presentation is considered the first sorrow.  Hearing that her son would be rejected and suffer was difficult.  She pondered those words as He grew.

She did not have to wait long for the second sorrow.  Joseph had a dream in the middle of the night telling them to flee.  They escaped one of the most horrific massacres ever but at the cost of living as an exile in Egypt.

The third sorrow was when she lost the child Jesus for three days when He was twelve years old.  Fulton Sheen had a wonderful sermon on Our Lady of the Empty Arms.  She experienced what it was like for sinners to not have Jesus and to search for Him.  Every time my autistic son has run away, I have prayed to her and the Child Jesus.

The fourth sorrow was the Way of the Cross.  She saw her son struggle with the cross as he was being cursed at and jeered by the crowd. Simeon’s prophecy was becoming very real to her.

The fifth sorrow was standing at the foot of the cross for three hours as her son suffered and died.  I think she stood there willing herself to be strong for His sake.  So, He could have a place to gaze and see pure love staring back at Him.

The sixth sorrow was when He was taken down from the cross.  Did she look at His hands and feet as she did when He was born?  Did she ever so carefully remove that hated crown of thorns as if He was still capable of feeling pain? As she wrapped Him in linen cloth for His burial, did she remember wrapping Him in swaddling clothes?

The seventh sorrow was the hardest.  So quickly was He taken from her.  Sunset was coming and He had to be in the tomb before the Sabbath.  No time for her to anoint His body, no time for mourning.  Soon there was a big rock between her and her son.  So much had happened in so short a period of time.  How long did she stay there? Did she hug that rock like she couldn’t hug her son? Did she remember the kisses of birth as her soul was ripped asunder into a chasm of unbearable pain? How reluctantly did she leave with John?

What can I say for you, to what compare you, O Daughter of Jerusalem? What can I liken to you, O virgin daughter of Zion? For vast as the sea is your ruin; who can restore you?  Lamentations 2:13

#trcot #tcot #The Presentation #Seven Sorrows #Mary

The Presentation Reimagined

Bruges - Virgin of sorrows in St. Salvator's church
BRUGES, BELGIUM – JUNE 12, 2014: The virgin of sorrows on the windowpane in St. Salvator’s Cathedral (Salvatorskerk) by stained glass artist Samuel Coucke (1833 – 1899) with Simeon and prophet Ann,

The Presentation is one of the joyful mysteries and I have imagined it many times over the years.  Mary proudly carrying her beautiful son while Joseph carried the two turtledoves.  They gave the doves to Simeon the priest who after offering the doves took the child in his arms and praised God.  Anna, an aged widow, nearby comes to see the baby as well.

Wonderful, beautiful, except it didn’t happen that way.  Mary and Anna  would not have been allowed any further than the Court of the Women. This was not just for women only, any Jew could come there, but  the women could proceed no further.

The Temple treasury was also in the Court of the Women.  Thirteen chests also called trumpets for their shape, lined the walls.  They were narrow at the top and large at the bottom.  Each trumpet was labeled for its purpose.  Trumpet Three was for people who wanted to offer turtledoves.  Mary and Joseph would have put a couple of coins in the trumpet.  Sometime later, someone would have come and gathered the money from the trumpet and figured out how many turtledoves the priests had to offer.  If not for Simeon and Anna, it would have been a very impersonal experience.

We don’t really know much about Simeon. He is just called a man in Jerusalem, it doesn’t specify a priest.  God truly must have inspired him to go when he did.  He saw that couple out of the crowd dropping a couple of coins into Trumpet Three and he knew this child was the One! He then gave a remarkable prophecy. First thanking God for allowing him to see the Messiah that he had waited so long for, then he prophesied regarding the future suffering of Jesus and Mary.  I’ve heard it called the second Annunciation.

Both Simeon and Anna were old. I believe they represented the faithful of Israel who had grown old waiting for the Messiah.  Simeon was from Jerusalem which at one point had been the capital of Judah the Southern Kingdom.  Anna was from the tribe of Asher which was the northernmost tribe of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. That descendant of that tribe had remained faithful speaks of a remarkable faith lineage.

To begin with after Solomon, the Northern Kingdom separated from the Southern Kingdom. They no longer worshipped in the Temple in Jerusalem their king had set up alternative altars.  Anna’s ancestors would have had to make the long trip to that Temple in defiance of the religious practices of their own tribes and country.  This occurred about 930 years before Christ.

Then around 721 BC, her ancestors were conquered by the Assyrians and deported to other countries.  Later the southern kingdom of Judah was also sent into exile to Babylon and the Temple was destroyed.  It would not be until 538 BC that the Israelites were even given a homeland again and that was for the Jews from Judah.

So her ancestors would had to have kept the faith for at least two hundred years in a foreign land separated from the Temple and worship before they would have had even an outside chance of returning. Most people would have been assimilated into the culture. The religion of their ancestors would have been an ancient myth if it had been passed down at all.  Anna represented the faithful of the Northern Kingdom of Israel who had contended for their faith for over 900 years.

The Messiah had come for both of them.  Their hearts are what picked the Holy Family out from the crowd. They knew the One that they had been waiting for.

#trcot, #tcot, #Simeon #Anna #Presentation

 

 

He was Called Jesus (Part One)

Baptism of Jesus

And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

Jesus means “God saves”. Jesus was not the first person in the Bible to have that name.  Joshua is spelled the same way in Hebrew.  Joshua’s story is very interesting when compared to Jesus’ life.

Joshua was a loyal aide to Moses. He was sent to reconnoiter the Promised Land with eleven other scouts. Only he and Caleb had the necessary faith in God to encourage the people to enter the Promised Land.  The other ten spies filled the Israelites with fear and doubt about God’s intentions toward them.  As a result, the people refused to enter the Promised Land. So, they were sentenced to 40 years of wandering in the desert. Only Joshua and Caleb were allowed to enter the Promised Land because of their faith.

Moses was also barred from entering the Promised Land because of a small sin that is debated as to what it was exactly.  The underlying reason I believe is that Moses represented the Law and the Old Covenant.  Following it would not be sufficient for entering the Promised Land of heaven.  For entering the physical land the people needed Joshua; for entering the True Promised Land of Heaven we need Jesus.

When it came time for the people to enter the Promised Land, Joshua had the priests bring the Ark of the Covenant into the waters of the Jordan.  When they did this the waters stopped and were backed up as far as the town of Adam.  The people crossed over on dry land just like at the Red Sea.

Centuries later, Jesus stood in that same place with John the Baptist.  John was a direct descendant of Aaron the High Priest.  John baptized Jesus in these same waters and the heavens (the Promised Land) opened. The effect of Christ’s sacrifice had an impact all the way back to Adam, the first sinner.

In Joshua’s day, all of the Israelites had to pass through the Jordan to reach the Promised Land.  Christians enter Heaven through the waters of Baptism.

#trcot #tcot #Jesus #Joshua #Baptism

Referenced Scriptures: Luke2:21, Numbers 13-14, Joshua 3, Luke 3:21-22

Shepherds of the Passover Lambs

stained glass widow of nativity

Every year at Passover, Jews from all over the world would come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover.  They needed to have a lamb without blemish approved by the priests for their Passover feast.  Rather than cart a lamb that long distance they would buy lambs for the Passover that were raised locally for that very purpose.

The shepherds would graze their flocks on the fields near Bethlehem which is about 5 miles due south of Jerusalem.  It was to these shepherds of the Passover lambs that the angels brought tidings of Christ’s birth and proclaimed “Glory to God in the Highest”. It is fitting as Jesus, the Lamb of God, would become the ultimate Passover sacrifice.

Some of these exact same shepherds would see Jesus again thirty three years later.  It was on our Palm Sunday before their Passover that the shepherds drove their flocks into Jerusalem to be inspected by the priests.  Jesus entered by the same gate. I wonder if any of those original shepherds thought of that night as they heard the people shout, “Hosanna!”

Those shepherds who had already died followed behind Jesus, the Good Shepherd, as He entered heaven triumphantly. Behind him were those He had ransomed.  They heard those same angels saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”

In the Orthodox churches and the Byzantine rite, they often have icons in a set of three called triptychs.  I’ve thought of these three images as God’s triptych.  All three images have some of the same characters, there is rejoicing and praise in all three, and they center around Jesus and lambs.  This mental triptych is worth pondering.

For more background on this I recommend Frances Hogan’s series on the gospel of Luke, her second half of Gospel of John,  also “Behold the Lamb” by Scott Hahn.  Jeff Cavins in his Bible timeline does a wonderful job of tying all the old Testament stories about lambs to Jesus.  Dr. Brant Pitre also has a wonderful book on the Jewish rites and Jesus.

 

Related scriptures:  Luke 2:8-20, John 12:13, Rev. 5:12

He’s Here!

A nativity scene of christs birth in bethlehem with the isolated run down stable being lit by a bright star on a dark blue sky background
A nativity scene of christs birth in bethlehem with the isolated run down stable being lit by a bright star on a dark blue sky background

He’s here. He’s finally here.  Since we were cast out of Eden, mankind has been waiting for His coming.  On their worst days, when the Hebrews were in the desert or in a foreign land, their hope and faith sustained them. He was coming. The prophets foretold all the wonders He would do, and the care He would take over His people.  He’s here, letting out a wail as air fills His lungs for the first time.

Mankind doesn’t know to celebrate, so heaven does.  Hosts of angels fill the skies and stun some poor shepherds. A beautiful star appears in the sky but only a few wise men know to follow it.  His birth, one of the most momentous times in history, goes by unnoticed by most of mankind.

Don’t miss him today in the midst of all you do.

#trcot #tcot #Christmas