Queen of Heaven rejoice: alleluia!
For he whom you merited to bear: alleluia!
Has risen as he said: alleluia!
Pray for us to God: alleluia!
Rejoice and be glad, Virgin Mary: alleluia!
For the Lord is truly risen: alleluia!
During the Easter Season, the Church turns us to the joy of Mary.
It is said that St. John XXIII’s favorite part of being Patriarch of Venice, before he was elected Pope, was an Easter morning tradition. At daybreak, an old Monsignor would enter the Archbishop’s apartment and announce, “Christ is risen, our Lady rejoices! Let us go to Mary to share in her joy!” Then they would go to the altar of Our Lady in the Cathedral of St. Mark and pray to enter into Mary’s joy.
On one level, this is just a pious meditation. It’s a way of thinking more seriously about the resurrection. The resurrection is no abstraction. Christ was a real human being, something nowhere more evident to us than in thinking about his mother, who was naturally most deeply attached to that humanity.
His dying was real sadness, and so we join Our Lady of Sorrows in thinking about that sadness. But his rising was real joy, and it’s hard to think of a better imaginative way to enter into that joy than to think of how his mother’s heart would have pounded when she saw him alive again. These are things that happened in his humanity, and it is right to experience the human emotions of sorrow and joy by meditating on his human mother’s responses.
But of course this goes deeper than just a pious imagination, because it points to the reality of the Incarnation, to hard doctrinal truths. In 431, the Council of Ephesus, the third great ecumenical Council, proclaimed that you cannot embrace the truth of who and what Christ really is without actively embracing the truth that Mary is Mother of God.
These pious meditations help us enter into the reality of his humanity. This is no illusion, no vague idea. It is a real man, with a real mother, who died and rose again. “If Christ has not been raised,” says Paul, really, truly raised, in the flesh, the real humanity born of Mary, “then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Cor 15:14) – because if his flesh cannot be raised, neither can ours. Death would still be the end for us.
Pious meditations on Mary’s Easter joy help us think seriously about the reality of the incarnation and the resurrection.
But in fact it is even more important to come to grips with Mary’s joy. Without joy, life without end is no good news. The truth of the Gospel is not just that we will rise from the dead. The heart of the Gospel is joy itself.
Always there are these two poles: the truth about Jesus, and the truth about what Jesus does for us. The deeper resurrection is not the resurrection of the body. The deeper resurrection is the resurrection of the soul: the restoration of friendship, of love of God and neighbor. In heaven we will have bodies, yes, but this is the least of heaven’s joys. In heaven we will also have risen from the death of sin, and of all that impedes love and joy.
The Hail Mary takes us into the roots of this joy. “Hail,” remember, means rejoice. It is good, especially in this Easter season, to dig into that word, to spend a few seconds now and then lingering on Mary’s joy: “Rejoice, Mary!”
And then to let those opening words lead us through the rest of the prayer. Hail, rejoice! Because you are full of God’s grace: because he has healed you, and lifted you up, and made you all beautiful. Because he has filled you with his presence: the Lord is with you, and you are with him! Rejoice!
You are blessed, blessed as an ordinary woman, but also lifted up by his grace, above the ordinary. You are blessed as he is blessed. And how blessed is he, the fruit of your womb! How blessed is that life that has been united to yours!
Holy Mary, so close to God, pray for us, that we too may enter in that joy.
This is the joy that carries Mary – and us – even through the Cross. But it is good to linger in it in this season of Easter joy.