Mandeville, LA – by Father John Hardon, S.J.
“The opening of the “Hail Mary” as the greeting of the angel to our Lady, and that is the object of this meditation. We can never penetrate too deeply to understand what the angel meant when he greeted her with this angelic salutation.
First then, the narrative. St. Luke tells us that what he is writing is just after he narrates the visit of the angel Gabriel to Zachary. The two visitations, angelic to Zachary and angelic to Mary, one after the other. We continue. Luke tells us that when Elizabeth was in her sixth month, notice God waited six months. After six months, the same archangel was sent by God to a town of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph of the house of David.
St. Luke, as we know, is the historian among the evangelists. A medical doctor by profession, he was precise, detailed. As soon as he arrived, he was addressed our Lady and said: “Hail, Ave, full of grace, gratia plena, the Lord is with thee, Dominus tecum, blessed art thou among women, benedicta tu in mulieribus.” Each of these four parts of the angelic greeting has been acclaimed in, I dare say, thousands of volumes over the centuries.
We increase the fervor and the value of our prayers, that is what the Church tells us, here in the Ave Maria, by growing in the understanding of what we are saying. Our wills are blind faculties. We must be informed, they must be educated by the mind. The will loves only in so far as it understands. That is why, following the directives of my father and guide, St. Ignatius, who tells us individually and orders us as teachers to explain the meaning of the prayers we say, here of the Ave Maria.”
The opening words of the angel’s greeting of Mary is not really a greeting. Ave is no mere ‘hello’ or ‘good morning’ or ‘how are you’. As we know from Sacred Scripture as a form of salutation, it is a prelude of respect. It is an introduction to a solemn mission from God. It is an expression of profound reverence, reverence by an angel of God to the one who was to become the mother of God.
Consequently, this Ave of the angel was the way God wanted His messenger to introduce himself to the most holy human person that God ever made, and whom He has chosen to become the mother of her Creator.
What should this mean to us? The angel’s Ave should mean that we are to dispose ourselves everytime we pray. What a difference between, as we say, praying and praying by making ourselves first, aware of the one to whom and with whom we are praying. What an important, not recommendation, injunction. Never start your prayers before placing yourself in the presence of the one to whom and with whom you are going to pray. In God’s presence always, here, in the presence of God’s mother. So far the opening words of the angelic salutation. – Father John Hardon, S.J.