Part 11 in our series on the “Hail Mary.”
We now reach, in a sense, the punchline of the Hail Mary. What do we ask of Mary? Pray for us! In fact, the veneration of the saints always includes two elements: we look to their example, and we ask them to pray for us. The first, earlier, Biblical half of the Hail Mary looks to her example. But the second half, and the entire prayer, as it now stands, concludes by asking for her prayers.
It is nice that the Hail Mary does not specify what she should pray for: just “pray for us.” On the one hand, there is the opening for us to add our particular desires. For faith, for hope, for love; for this particular need; this particular person. On the other hand, there is the opening for us not to add our particular desires. You know our needs better than we do: pray for us.
Intercession emphasizes the power of God. To ask God for something is to recognize that he can do what I cannot.
But this is even further emphasized by asking someone else to pray for us. The deepest temptation of the spiritual life is Pelagianism – the Pride that thinks everything begins with me, not with God. The danger is, we can think this even with our prayers. “Lord, please help me to be strong in this situation” so easily slides into “Me! I can do it!” We so easily turn our gaze from him to ourselves, and can even turn our prayer into self-affirmation.
To ask someone else to pray for us, to add a further intermediary between ourselves and God, is to realize that it is not all about me. There really is a God, there really is a spiritual world beyond myself. I realize that my prayers are not the beginning of all spiritual strength, that I draw strength from outside of myself. That my prayers, in fact, are pretty weak – but he is strong.
To ask Mary to pray for us is simply to realize that we need help. We need help, above all, from God. But we need help in even asking for help, because we are so tempted to rely on ourselves.
But in addition to being a recognition of God’s power, intercession is also a recognition of communion.
Communion, first, with God. We realize that all strength comes from our closeness to God. Even to ask God for things ourselves is to acknowledge that strength comes through friendship with God.
But then to ask others to pray for us is, again, to intensify the point. You don’t ask people to pray for you if they don’t pray. You ask people who do pray, people who know God. And so you realize that it is all founded in that relationship.
All the more so when we ask Mary to pray for us. Such a juxtaposition: Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners. No, I am not close to God. I am only close enough to know that I am far off, close enough to know I am a sinner, and to ask someone holier to pray for me. The primary one I ask to pray for me is the one who is most holy, full of grace, but also just plain closest to Jesus: Mother of God. Mary is a good intercessor, because she is the one closest to the mystery of God-with-us, the one who knows him most personally.
There is a real doctrinal point here. Strength through relationship – but relationship through the Incarnation, through Jesus. Not some vague God in the sky, but the God who lived in a house in Nazareth. Of course the person we ask to pray or us is Mary! (St. Joseph, too.)
Finally, intercession also emphasizes communion among people. We can only ask someone to pray for us if we know them, and we can only hope they will pray for us if they know us. God wants us to have this closeness with one another. “Where two or three are gathered.” “Lay down your life for your friend.” “Love your neighbor.” “Behold, your mother!” Closeness with one another is essential to our closeness with God.
Mary loves us: loves us because Jesus loves us, loves us because she lives in the mystery of his love. And we too should love Mary, for the same reasons. Friendship with God and friendship with one another are inseparable.
What a beautiful way to express that friendship: to ask for prayers, and to trust that she will pray for us!
What does the intercession of the saints mean to you? How do you experience Mary as your mother?
Click here for the entire series on the “Hail Mary.”