When I was younger, it bothered me when Jesus addressed his Mother as “Woman” in the Gospels. This was long before I had grown into my own womanhood, or knew what it meant to be a woman. Now I hear that word in a new light.
At first glance, the Hail Mary seems to be primarily about Mary. However, as St. John Paul II emphasized, this prayer is meant to focus our attention on Jesus Christ. “Although the repeated Hail Mary is addressed directly to Mary, it is to Jesus that the act of love is ultimately directed” (RVM, 26).
Mary of Nazareth, the mother of Jesus, has from the earliest Christian tradition been given a preeminence of place and status in our faith, far beyond any other person in history. She gave God’s son flesh and blood, and no one was closer to the Savior. In preparation for that unique role, God preserved her from original sin and from all personal sin.
The Hail Mary has always been one of my favorite prayers and the one that I rely upon the most when I feel the need for assistance from the Mother of God. One of the first prayers I was taught, it reminds me of my grandmothers, May crownings and Marian songs.
Mary first conceived Jesus in faith and then in the flesh, when she said “yes” to the message God gave her through the angel. What does this mean? It means that God did not want to become man by bypassing our freedom; he wanted to pass through Mary’s free assent, through her “yes.” He asked her: “Are you prepared to do this?” And she replied: “Yes.”
Mary is indeed a very special person for us Catholics. Episcopalian and Lutheran Christians also hold her in high esteem for her special role in salvation history. It is impossible to think of our faith, both in doctrine and practice, without thinking of the mother of Jesus—the Mother of God.
My mother, mother of seven, had inherited from her own mother (of 10) a beautiful statue of Mary. It was one of the few objects in our home that was kept out of the reach of us youngsters. When I was very young, I asked my mother why the statue was so special and she responded simply that Mary was the perfect role model for every mother.
Two thousand years ago, Mary had a baby. We can relate a few historical facts about both mother and child, but very few. Then there is the theologizing about Jesus and Mary that has taken place over the centuries—lots of words and ideas. Add to that the sentimental and devotional practices that surround both, and we have what very possibly could be a truly confusing mess. As the king in The King and I stated so well, “’tis a puzzlement.”
Many great popes, saints, and Christian leaders have exhorted us to pray the rosary. It’s a powerful prayer, they say, one that can change your life, strengthen the family, bring peace to the world in a time of crisis, and win the salvation of souls. But does the average person experience the rosary this way?