It’s amazing how one phrase can change your life.
“I love you.”
“You have cancer.”
Each of these phrases has the ability to lock you into an emotional roller coaster. It has ups and downs that make your spirits soar and your stomach churn into knots. For me, each of these phrases take me back to very specific times in my life.
I mean what kid wasn’t relieved to hear that he/she had passed a test they didn’t study for and were certain they failed? It made you feel like doing backflips of joy that apparently enough information had stuck in your brain during class that you were able to pull of a grade that didn’t have to be signed off by a parent or warrant an e-mail home.
Likewise, when we’ve heard bad news, those words haunt our memories. For years I have had mysterious health problems that no one has been able to accurately label. I’ve been to every doctor under the sun for over ten years and am just now starting to get answers. But it wasn’t until I heard the word ‘cancer’ did I really stop in my tracks because this diagnosis wasn’t mine but my sister’s. Before I could fully grapple with it, she was gone.
Each phrase invokes an emotion, a memory, a reaction.
It is no different then when we pray the rosary. We have to keep in mind that these are actual events that happened in real time. They are not merely nice little tales drawn out of someone’s imagination. Mary, Jesus, the apostles and people of Israel actually lived the rosary.
Mary was human. She would have had strong emotional reactions to the events of the Rosary. Not because she was completely caught off guard by God’s plan but because she had to make a conscience choice to be a part of the mission God had laid out centuries before.
Some people like to paint Mary as an ignorant young girl who was suddenly confronted with an unplanned pregnancy and thrust into the events of the life of Christ without a clue of what was going on. On the contrary, Mary would have known a lot just from her upbringing in the Jewish faith. Which would mean that on that day when Archangel Gabriel appeared before her at the Annunciation she would have known very pointedly that her life was about to change.
So, let’s set the scene.
It’s a warm day in Israel. A young woman in her early teens is strolling along in a garden when suddenly a bright light bursts before her. From the light emerges a heavenly figure radiating with power and peace. Stunned, the young girl awaits his words. Then, he speaks, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.” Her stomach leaps in surprise at the angel’s presence and greeting. A greeting like this was not what she expected from such an angel.
We’re going to pause right here.
A garden? I’ll be honest, no one is certain where Mary was when Gabriel appeared to her but many theorize that it would be appropriate for her to have been in a garden. The first woman who assisted in the Fall of mankind did so in a Garden, so it would make sense that the ‘New Eve’, the one to assist in the redemption of man would be in a garden. It also seems reasonable that Eve’s ‘no’ to God’s command and declare herself more wise than God would be countered by Mary’s joyful yielding ‘fiat’.
Now, the greeting,
“Hail, full of grace”
In Greek, this phrase is translated as “Hail, you who is, who was and who will be full of grace.” It is a statement not of just one time but for her entire life which has been, is now and will be. Her soul will always be full of grace. This grace points directly to her unique role in humanity. She is the New Ark of the Covenant for the people of Israel. (Check out, Exodus 25-40 for the specifics of the Ark of the Covenant and the Tabernacle/Tent of Meeting)–the Ark was the most prized possession of the people of Israel. The golden vessel was adorned with golden cherubim, beneath them were inclosed manna from the desert, the rod of Aaron and the tablets of the 10 Commandments. But the most cherished feature of this sat nestled between the wings of the cherubim: The Shekinah, the Holy Cloud, the presence of God. God dwelled among his people between the golden wings of angels. When their days of conquering the Holy Land were over, the Ark was moved to the Temple. But God’s people sinned against him many times. Many believed however, that nothing bad would happen to them since God’s presence remained in the Temple. When the people did not change, God’s Holy Cloud left the Ark of the Covenant and the prophet Jeremiah was instructed to take the Ark of the Covenant and hide it in the hills, never to be found again. Despite what Indiana Jones may claim, it still has not been found.
Yet, I ask, as valuable as the Ark of the Covenant had been, how much more valuable would it have been if God’s fingernail were in there? His hand? Arm? Leg? Heart? Head? The materials of the Ark were meticulously chosen and arranged to hold His presence and the most sacred objects of Israel. Why would the place where His Son would dwell for nine months, whose home He would be raised in for thirty years, whose care He would be entrusted to be any different. She would have been treated greater then the Ark. She would be more beautiful, more pure, more sacred then any golden encasing. Now, in an amazing step, God no longer hides among the wings of angels or veiled in a cloud or behind a Temple veil, instead He dwells inside the womb of a virgin, consecrated to Himself and free from sin.
Most importantly, the Ark was not an end of itself. Yes, it held valuable things within itself but without God’s presence it was just a golden box with artifacts inside. It is God’s presence that set it apart. The Ark, was designed by God and given to the people to build. The Ark itself always pointed past itself and onto God.
Mary is the greater than the Ark. Unlike the Ark whose materials are plain and meaningless on their own, she as a person has innate value and dignity. Her role as God-bearer is not everything. Because once He was born She is a mirror, a reflecting pool, an outward sign which always points onward to her Son, Jesus. Why else do you think his name is in the middle of the Hail Mary?
The Hail Mary itself is the telling of His story, of His incarnation, of His journey to fulfill prophesies.
“The Lord is with thee”
This is no ordinary small talk. To have the Lord with you was to have His power and favor. Figures like Moses, David, Noah, Joseph and even the entire nation of Israel have all heard these words applied to themselves. This phrase appears when the chosen ones of God are being given a mission, are battling to bring their mission to its fulfillment, and is given a special movement of the Spirit of the Lord over them.
To have God with you was to defy logic.
(The Israelites never should have been able to enter the Promised Land. Two out of twelve of their own spies said the people were too large and too many, their walls to large for them to penetrate. Yet, they won. In another battle Moses’ arms were raised to God in heaven and as long as his arms were raised Israel won the battle, when they dropped they started losing (no, this is not like wearing your lucky jersey during a game so your team will win or if you leave a football game to go to the bathroom and the other team scores that your bladder is mystically holding the game’s fate). When Israel faced enemies under Gideon, the army was reduced to a mere regimen of 300 men. And they won.)
And so it would be that a young woman, pure and consecrated virgin would become the mother of God. It defies logic, yet, it happened.
Next up, the Visitation…until then, may the Lord be with you 🙂