The Hail Mary and Love

At the Annunciation, St. Gabriel brought a message from God that was really a declaration of love. No doubt some people reading this have heard that praying the Rosary is not as repetitive as it may seem at first glance, because with each Hail Mary one is saying “I love you,” over and over, and saying “I love you” is never merely repetitious: every time one says “I love you” there is some new, sparkling way the light of love is reflected in the words, like light shining through the varying facets of a diamond. Since the message of St. Gabriel to Mary is God’s declaration of love to Mary, it makes sense that the Hail Mary is saying to her, in essence, “I love you!” That is essentially why those few words in the Hail Mary could sweep a girl off her feet and capture her heart, as St. Louis de Montfort wrote:

. . . the Hail Mary is the most beautiful of all prayers. It is the perfect compliment the most High God paid to Mary through his archangel in order to win her heart. So powerful was the effect of this greeting upon her, on account of its hidden delights, that despite her great humility, she gave her consent to the incarnation of the Word. If you say the Hail Mary properly, this compliment will infallibly earn you Mary’s good will.1

But that’s hardly saying anything so far. No fellow goes up to a girl and only says “I love you!”; rather, that declaration is like a gem in its setting. What is the setting? The setting is that the guy tells her why he loves her. Here is where things get really interesting with the Hail Mary, because in that prayer, if we explore a bit, we see why God loves her so much, so much that He even wants to become bone of her bone and flesh of her flesh. And knowing the specifics of the “why” isn’t simply an exercise of theological knowledge, it’s personal: knowing what is being said in the Hail Mary reveals better to our hearts why God loves Mary, why we love (or ought to love) Mary, and why all of creation is smitten with her.

After all, if God Himself is, so to speak, love sick for her, what of us mere mortals, made to his image and likeness? This is a girl who melts hearts and takes them captive, for Heaven’s sake (literally) — look at the saints — and they are just following God’s example, living His life, because even God lets Himself be captured by her: “. . . the sweet odour of whose humility, ascending to heaven so to say, awakened the Divine Word, reposing in the bosom of the Eternal Father, and drew Him into her virginal womb,” writes St. Alphonsus Liguori, quoting St. Antoninus.2

Knowing why God loves her is, as I said, personal: in this knowledge we learn why we love her. In fact, God talks about Mary throughout Scripture. If God were a human person, just some fellow, we would say something like, “Great Scott, he is totally crazy about her, he can’t help but talk about this girl; he’s always gushing about her!” God of course could help it . . . but He doesn’t want to. Scripture is chock full of types of Mary and prophecies that reveal a lot about her, and Scripture includes, thus unsurprisingly, the meaning of the Hail Mary. This makes sense, since clearly God wants us to participate in His own love for Mary by loving her in some special way via the Hail Mary, and He wants us to participate knowing what we are getting into. How do we know God wants us to participate in His love for Mary via the Hail Mary? Because He wants us to constantly pray the Hail Mary, especially in the Rosary (e.g. the many saints who prayed it, the twelve encyclicals on the Rosary by Pope Saint Leo XIII at the latter part of the 1800s and the turn of the century, not to mention Mary herself telling us to pray it in her approved apparitions, etc).

So, what does God say to Mary in the Hail Mary that so powerfully woos her, capturing her sweet Heart and leading her to say, “Yes”?

Hail, Full of Grace

The Greek word used by St. Luke for “Hail” is Chaire, Χαῖρε. It can mean “Hi, my girl/my man!” but it doesn’t simply mean “hey” or “howdy.” Rather, it means “rejoice,” and specific to the context, it is more like, “I am conscious of and rejoice and delight in you, Mary, that you are full of grace!” This makes sense, because “Hail” is connected to the next phrase, “full of grace”; they go together.3 That brings us to the next word: kecharitomene, Κεχαριτωμένη.  This Greek word means more than simply “full of grace,” it means perfect fullness: “It is permissible, on Greek grammatical and linguistic grounds, to paraphrase kecharitomene as completely, perfectly, enduringly endowed with grace” (Blass and DeBrunner 1961: 175).

Not only that, the original Greek for “full of grace” is a perfect passive participle relates that the action was completed in the past and with a permanent continuance of that completed action (Smyth 1968: 108-109). This is part of the reason we know Mary is Immaculate. Mary is Immaculate in the deepest core of her being, so much so that the Angel uses kecharitomene as her name rather than “Mary”: “Hail, Full of Grace!” or in the Greek, “Chaire, Kecharitomene!” (So if you want, you can call Mary by the name Kecharitomene, which I think she would love.) God calling Mary by this name via the angel is like a fellow saying to the girl he loves, “I’m going to call you ‘Beauty of Beauties,’ because no other name suits you!”

In fact, logically “Full of Grace” could only mean tota pulchra, “absolute beauty.” Think of it this way: if one has a glass of water, and in that glass is the merest speck of dust, even invisible to the human eye, is the glass truly full? Of course not, there is an obstacle, however small. Given all that has been said, it is clear that Mary had not the least obstacle to being full of grace whether in the past, present, or future. If Mary is full of grace, she is spotless, totally pure, thus she is full of beauty — after all, Mary isn’t just Immaculate in her soul but in her body as well, and her soul is the form of her body, as the soul is for the body of every human person, so when God through the angel calls her “Full of Grace,” He is saying “absolutely flawless beauty of beauties.”

Now, suppose a guy goes to the girl he loves and says, “You are the most ravishing thing God made, you are like the most beautiful rose, but without thorns! You have no flaws, you are utterly, spectacularly, wondrous beauty in perfection, and this is so true that literally every good thing is in you!” That’s going to get the girl’s attention. We can add more to this though by turning to that greatest of love stories in the Old Testament, the Song of Songs, discovering a bit more of what God through the angel is saying in “Hail, Full of Grace”:

How beautiful art thou, my love, how beautiful art thou! thy eyes are doves’ eyes, besides what is hid within . . . thy lips are as a scarlet lace: and thy speech sweet. Thy lips, my spouse, are as a dropping honeycomb, honey and milk are under thy tongue; and the smell of thy garments, as the smell of frankincense. My sister, my spouse, is a garden enclosed, a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed up. Thy plants are a paradise of pomegranates with the fruits of the orchard. Cypress with spikenard. Spikenard and saffron, sweet cane and cinnamon, with all the trees of Libanus, myrrh and aloes with all the chief perfumes.4

Or as the holy writer puts it more succinctly, “Thou hast wounded my heart, my sister, my spouse, thou hast wounded my heart . . .”5

Wow! Yeah, try saying that to your girlfriend, fiancée, or wife. Can you imagine the reaction? You can’t honestly say that, of course, because there’s only one girl all this could apply to since what is being said, in essence, is “You’re not just beautiful, you are beauty itself.” Still, I’m sure the reaction of any girl on the receiving end of that would be passing out from sheer joy; that alone would capture any girl’s heart! But God doesn’t stop there.

The Lord is with thee

The meaning here is clear from the preceding verse — if Mary is full of grace, God is really with her in a unique way. Or in other words, “Mary, God is so one with you, that when I find you I find Him; you and God can’t be parted.” Or as Fr. Lagrange has St. Gabriel say, “‘You are more intimate with God than I. He is about to become your Son, whereas I am but His servant’ . . . she was both pure in herself and the source of purity for others.”6 That’s how wonderful God is saying she is — “Mary, you are so one with the Lord, so pure through and through, so lovely, you make everyone who comes to you pure and lovely!” Or as Solomon says, she is “the brightness of eternal light, and the unspotted mirror of God’s majesty, and the image of his goodness . . .” She “makes them friends of God, and prophets.”7 One would think that all this, along with “Hail, Full of Grace,” is declaration of love enough: so strong is God’s love for Mary made manifest in just the first few lines of the Hail Mary that it’s probably a miracle she didn’t die of love on the spot. But God is still not done, He goes on!

Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus 

This is also from God, not this time via an angel, but via St. Elizabeth. Solomon gives us detail about this part of the Hail Mary too, in Proverbs 31, where he is speaking of the same girl he writes of in the Song of Songs: “Her children rose up, and called her blessed: her husband, and he praised her. Many daughters have gathered together riches: thou hast surpassed them all.”8 Prior to this, and connected to it, is the beginning of this section of Proverbs 31: “Who shall find a valiant woman? far and from the uttermost coasts is the price of her. The heart of her husband trusteth in her, and he shall have no need of spoils. She will render him good, and not evil, all the days of her life.”9 So, she is beyond rich — she has it all — and there is literally no one else like her and on one else equals her dignity.

Various other elements also tell the reader this woman cannot be just any woman. For instance, she is “like the merchant’s ship, she bringeth her bread from afar,”10 a reference to the Eucharist, the Bread from Heaven, and to Mary being the ark in whom resides the presence of God. All of these elements (and there are more) tell us she is blessed among all women: she never brings evil, only good (again, she’s immaculate and full of grace); her Son is God Incarnate (the Bread from Heaven); and the one who, in a spiritual-mystical sense, marries her has it all too, because the one who loves her has “no need of spoils,” he has her — “He that shall find me, shall find life, and shall have salvation from the Lord,” Solomon foretells of Mary in Proverbs 8:35. This is like saying to a girl, “The one who has you has everything one could possibly want or need!” All of this pertains to the blessed one spoken of by Solomon and greeted in historical fact by St. Elizabeth. If Mary is “blessed” she is the woman of Proverbs 31. And yes . . . there’s more.

There is another reason Mary is called “blessed,” and this has to do with her being “valiant”: Mary is the fulfillment of the historical person of Judith, of whom it is related:

And Joachim the high priest came from Jerusalem to Bethulia with all his ancients to see Judith. And when she was come out to him, they all blessed her with one voice, saying: Thou art the glory of Jerusalem, thou art the joy of Israel, thou art the honour of our people: For thou hast done manfully, and thy heart has been strengthened, because thou hast loved chastity, and after thy husband hast not known any other: therefore also the hand of the Lord hath strengthened thee, and therefore thou shalt be blessed for ever. And all the people said: So be it, so be it.11

Mary, whose father’s name is also Joachim, is declared “blessed” just as Judith is, and Mary is the glory and joy of the New Israel, the Catholic Church, and all this for the same reason Judith was declared blessed and the joy of Israel: As Judith cuts the head off the enemy General, thus saving Israel, Mary crushes the head of the dragon, the devil, saving our souls and bringing forth the New Israel by her Yes to God and the subsequent Incarnation of the Son. Mary crushes the devil by never sinning and by bringing forth the Savior in her pure and exalted union with God. Extolling Mary as “blessed” is to say to her that there is, again, no one who could possibly exceed her resplendent beauty, but it’s also to say she possesses all riches and is so strong in her love of God that she is a dragon conqueror.

End of the first part of the Hail Mary

In the Hail Mary God has already gone way beyond merely exalting Mary’s sublime loveliness of body and soul. This is the most staggering declaration of love to any girl that could ever happen, and truly, this is only scratching the surface. It is astonishing how God packed so much into so few words.

There is one objection that might arise here, however: Would Mary have actually understood all this? The answer is yes, she would have, and far more. With her immaculate intellect, which enjoyed a keen understanding of divine things, and her knowledge of Scripture, she certainly would have discerned the connections in the words of the Hail Mary to the applicable scriptural passages and understood them as referring to her. This would also more deeply explain why she was disturbed at what the angel said, because what he said could only apply to the great personage of the Mother of God. In her humility, she would never have sought to apply these things to herself — being the Mother of God would never have crossed her mind.

Holy Mary, Mother of God

The second part of the Hail Mary is shorter to analyze, but no less awesome.

In this second section of the Hail Mary, we begin with calling Mary “Holy” — which has been covered above — and also “Mother of God.” We get pretty used to saying “Mother of God,” but most of us are missing something crucial here. Usually when we call her “Mother of God” we sort of think unconsciously, “Well yeah, she is the Mother of God, because Jesus is God Incarnate in her, so she’s His mom,” and that’s the end of the story.

Except no, it isn’t. Mary being the Mother of God means that God said to her at the Annunciation, “I want to assume a human nature from your human nature. In my humanity I want to look like you, have your scent, your eyes, your hair color, your accent, your mannerisms. I want to walk with you, I want to hold your hand, I want to be close to your heart. I want you to tell me from your own heart about God, the world, the trees, the sea, and tell me stories.” This is GOD, mind you! For eternity Jesus will have all these Marian characteristics. That’s how intimate He wants to be with her.

How stunningly exquisite in every single way on Earth and in Heaven does a girl have to be to be Mother of God? Just the question from God, “Will you be my mother,” implies everything that has been said in this article thus far. The Lord was already with her, the Holy Spirit is her Spouse after all, but with “mother” comes a stunning completeness in her union with God: her fiat leads to a union not only spiritual but biological now as well, encompassing her whole human personhood. Talk about saying “I love you!”, no one says this better than God, and He says it in compact form in the Hail Mary.

Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death

This part is straight from our hearts as sinners. When we ask her to pray for us sinners, now and when we die, we are saying, “Mary, all that I just said to you and about you in the Hail Mary? Well, I want to add that I totally trust you. I love you and trust you so much that I am commending not only my present life to you, but the ultimate moment of my life too, my death.” Again, imagine a fellow saying to the girl he loves, “You are so good, so powerful, so one with God that I know I can entrust my immortal soul to you and my very salvation, all my life and even my death, and that you will get me through death to life.” Of course that could only mean the girl the guy loves is the Virgin Mary, because there is no other girl, however spectacular, who can tend to all one’s temporal needs, spiritual needs, and be with one in death, safely getting one to Paradise. Mary can, because, as Solomon said, “She is a tree of life to them that lay hold on her.”12

Putting it all together

Two things happen when we pray the Hail Mary.

The first is that we remind Mary of everything said above, and so much more that we lack space, time, and insight to mention. Talk about a joyous reminder! Talk to a bride about marrying the love of her life or a mom about her baby and you will make her very happy simply by the mere mention of those times. She will be incredibly thankful for you recalling to her those incredibly joyous memories. Now, imagine how happy Mary is when we remind her of everything the Hail Mary means, over and over and over.

The second thing is more incredible still. When we pray the Hail Mary, we participate in God’s breathtaking declaration of love to Mary — we say to her all that God says to her. God loves her in each of us, and in each of us she sees the image of her Son, a person alive with His life. Every time we say the Hail Mary God with us is telling her how beautiful she is, how deeply we love her, that she is so precious that only she could be God’s Mother — everything that was said throughout this article. We make God’s declaration of love to Mary our own according to our status as members of the Body of Christ. Now put yourself in Mary’s place, imagine being on the receiving end of all that’s been said, and what St. Louis de Montfort said now makes even more sense: “If you say the Hail Mary properly, this compliment will infallibly earn you Mary’s good will.”13 St. Louis won’t mind if we go further, though: Saying the Hail Mary as best as you can will infallibly win you her sweet, most precious and Immaculate Heart. She will be yours and you will be hers. She is the gift of the Father to the Son, and she is the gift of God to each person who is alive with the life of the Son.

Conclusion

In a few final words of Solomon, what we are saying in the Hail Mary is this: “Mary, there is this girl I love. ‘I loved her above health and beauty, and chose to have her instead of light: for her light cannot be put out.14 Her have I loved, and have sought her out from my youth, and have desired to take her for my spouse, and I became a lover of her beauty.15 I purposed therefore to take her to me to live with me: knowing that she will communicate to me of her good things, and will be a comfort in my cares and grief. For her sake I shall have glory among the multitude, and honour with the ancients, though I be young. . . .16 I went about seeking, that I might take her to myself.17 And I prayed to God: Send her out of thy holy heaven, and from the throne of thy majesty, that she may be with me, and may labour with me, that I may know what is acceptable with thee: For she knoweth and understandeth all things, and shall lead me soberly in my works, and shall preserve me by her power.’18 That girl, Mary, is you.”

Praying the Hail Mary, with all that this prayer is saying, is to sweep Mary off her feet, to cause her Immaculate Heart to beat with intense joy as she uniquely receives God’s declaration of love again in each of us. That’s why she gave her Son up to death, so we would be spiritually alive with His divine life, and our love of her is proof He is alive in us. And how happy the good God is to love her again in me, in you, once again declaring to her His love as we say, “Hail, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee! . . .”

  1. Louis de Montfort, True Devotion to Mary (Rockford: TAN, 1985), §252.
  2. Alphonsus Liguori, The Glories of Mary (Rockford: TAN, 1977), 320.
  3. Keith Berube, Mary: The Rosary, the Relationship, and Dragons (St. Louis: En Route, 2020), 49.
  4. Song of Songs 4:1-15.
  5. Song of Songs 4:9.
  6. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, The Mother of the Savior (Rockford: TAN, 1993), 68-69.
  7. Wisdom 7:26-27.
  8. Proverbs 31:28-29.
  9. Proverbs 31:11-12.
  10. Proverbs 31:14.
  11. Judith 15: 9-12.
  12. Proverbs 3:18.
  13. De Montfort, True Devotion to Mary, 252.
  14. Wisdom 7:10.
  15. Wisdom 8:2.
  16. Wisdom 8:9-10.
  17. Wisdom 8:16-18.
  18. Wisdom 9:10-11.
Keith Berube About Keith Berube

Keith Berube, MA, PhD cand., is a Mariologist and the author of the books Mary, the Beloved and Mary: The Rosary, the Relationship, and Dragons (reviewed by Fr. Don Calloway), published by Enroute Books and Media. He has been a guest on EWTN with Jim and Joy Pinto and interviewed by WCAT Radio, St. Gabriel Radio, and Tumblar House. Mr. Berube is currently working toward a PhD in systematic theology, specializing in Mariology. He teaches Mariology and Literature at Queen of Heaven Academy.

Comments

  1. Avatar Deacon Michael Grella says:

    I am speechless! Absolutely beautiful! My love for God and for Mary seem more alive than ever. I will never pray God’s song about His love for His/our Mother in the same way. How delightful!

    • Thank you for sharing that Deacon, that made my day! And may the Holy Spirit cause you to love her still more; even, I hope, to an almost immeasurable degree. If you can use any of what I wrote in your own homilies and writing, well, may the good God cause many more people to love Mary as you do. Our Lady bless you and keep you in her sweet Heart!

  2. Avatar Bernadette Fakoory says:

    This written work really captures the whole length and breath of the beautiful reflection of a creature of God namely Mary , the mirror that reflects the work of sanctification in her soul reflective of God’s work of holiness in each of our souls. The radiant beauty and transparent y of a soul full of God’s grace.

    I particularly like the manner in which you expressed that Jesus was sent from the bosom of the Father the word reposing in God drawn in her womb .

    Mary truly the fiat and model for all Christians. A hard role to fulfill for sure.

    Thank you
    Bernadette

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