Sometimes people have a virtue for each mystery, like poverty for the Nativity. Or you could make the first three Hail Mary’s be faith, hope, and charity, and the next seven be the Beatitudes or the Gifts of the Spirit.
There is also a tradition – John Paul mentions it, and Louis de Montfort makes it almost normative – of naming the virtue or the mystery, or both, within the Hail Mary. This is a way of focusing ourselves on the words of the Hail Mary. The Hail Mary isn’t there just as a timer – it’s not replaceable with the ABCs. It’s there so we can pray it.
Hail Mary – of charity (or whatever virtue). First we say, “look at Mary.” Now, the point of everything – in Christianity, in the rosary, in Marian devotion – is that Christ is the source of all that is good. Mary is not good by herself, Jesus makes her good.
But see how important it is to begin by looking at Mary. If we turn it around, and say, “the Lord is with you – and you have charity,” the danger is that we can think she, and we, don’t really have charity, it’s really just him nearby. The point of the Lord’s gift, of grace – and the point of Marian devotion – is that when Christ gives the grace, we really do receive it. Mary really is charitable, Our Lady of Charity. First we look at her: see Mary, full of charity.
And we always recall: “Hail” (Latin Ave, Greek Chaire) is a joy word. We start by saying, “see Mary; she is charitable; and how happy!”
Full of grace. Ah, everything about her is a gift from God. This happiness of Mary, this virtue of Mary: it is grace.
The Lord is with you – at the Baptism in the Jordan (or whatever mystery). The mysteries make vivid a key point about grace and Christian virtue: it is given to us through the Incarnation of Christ, to unite us to himself. So we think not just vaguely and generally about the Lord’s presence: we think of him in a particular mystery. And we see, as it were, the virtue (charity, or whichever) drawing Mary to him. In every situation, he gives us the grace to live virtue there.
Blessed art thou among women. Now we look around. What distinguishes Mary? What makes her different from all the other women, all others “like” her? It is the virtue that Christ gives her. Here, at the Jordan river (or at the Crowning with Thorns, or wherever), there are many women: and what makes Mary stand out is her charity (or poverty of spirit, or wisdom, or whatever). Virtue is what sets her apart.
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb. We named Jesus “Lord”; now we name him “the fruit of your womb.” In the first, we speak of his divinity – radiating grace, and drawing her to him. Now we think of his humanity: he too has these virtues, though in a special way. See him there, in that mystery, with his own super-abundant meekness, or hope, or fortitude.
Jesus. Jesus means savior. He is savior because in his blessed humanity he has the virtues that our humanity needs. His divinity fills his humanity with exactly what we need to be united to him: grace, and love in general, but also all the specific virtues we pray for. He is savior because he carries the “blessing” that we need.
Holy Mary. Now we turn to the petition. First we point out whom we are addressing. It is as if we say, “virtuous Mary”: what am I going to ask of the virtuous one, but virtue? “Dear Mary, who are poor in spirit, please give me a car?” No. But instead of virtuous, we say “holy”: Christian virtue, the virtue that unites to Christ. That’s the person we are addressing, that’s what we are talking about.
Mother of God. We invoke her authority. It is an authority of grace. It’s not that God “has to” listen to her. It’s better than that: God chooses to listen to her. He made himself her child, chose to be obedient to her. Really, we invoke the whole mystery of the Incarnation: God has chosen to come close to us, and it is in this mystery – a mystery summed up in the womb of Mary – that we beg for grace.
Pray for us sinners. Ask for us what we need. And what do we need? Not to be sinners. To be holy (like Mary). Christian virtue.
Naming ourselves as sinners also names the reason for God’s grace: not because we are good, but because he is. Many of our intercessions point this out: for the sake of your name, though I am miserable. I am not demanding, I am asking, as a beggar – and in the order of virtue, the name for a beggar is sinner.
Now and at the hour of our death. We have seen in what situations Mary received the grace of the virtues. In what situations do I need it? I need it now. And always I consider that I will need it in the final test, in the final moment, at the hour of my death.
How do you use the Hail Mary?