15 Aug 2019
  1. The Hail Mary: A Catechism on Grace

“My soul is bursting as it magnifies the Lord. My spirit is overjoyed with God my saviour. He looks on me in my lowliness and raises up all the lowly. He loves me in my emptiness and fills all the hungry with good things. He recognises me in my nothingness and has all generations call me Blessed.” (Lk 1:39-56) Gift after gift, grace upon grace, that’s my experience of God, Mary sings in her Magnificat tonight, as she sings again on her entry into heaven. 

It all began with a “Hail Mary”. An angel said it at the Annunciation and we have echoed it ever since. It is a mini-catechism on grace. The angel begins it for us. Not just hello, but praise, honour, I salute you Mary. Why? Because you are “most highly favoured”. Grace is just that: divine favour. The Holy Spirit will over-shadow you, the angel says, that you might conceive Jesus; but the Spirit is already at home with you, for you are “full of grace” and He is the One who fills with grace. Pentecost is every day for you.

But what is this grace word Christians throw around so freely? Grace is the life of God, as the three Persons give and receive their substance, identity and mission from each other. Grace is God’s life in Mary also, as she receives these from God too. And that means grace is God’s life in us, giving us existence, identity and purpose too. Grace is God creating and sustaining, recreating and inspiring, communicating and caring. “The Almighty works marvels for me, hallowed be His name!”

Dominus vobiscum,” we say, literally “Lord with you”. Mostly we mean the Lord BE with you – it’s a prayer. But in your case, Mary, we mean “the Lord IS with you” already. Grace is God, already at work within you, and for your sake, and through you, for the sake of others. 

Mary, you are full of grace; Mary, the Lord is with you; and so you are “most Blessed of all women”. In our Gospel tonight Elizabeth cries out “Blessed are you among women” (Lk 1:39-65; cf. 11:27-8), and you responds “Yes, all generations shall call me Blessed”. We have done so ever since. From there our litanies grew, as each generation recognised your graces and invoked your intercession. Grace preserved you from sin. Grace prompted your Yes to God. Grace made you persevere, all the way to your Son’s cross and tomb to His rising and ascension. Grace raised you up also, assuming you to itself, crowning your earthly journey. Most blessed woman: your trajectory is rightly ours too, by God’s grace – more about that in a moment.

Mary, you are full of grace, you have the Lord with you, you are the most blessed woman. But for one reason only: “Blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.” Grace puts Him in you and you in Him. Grace upon grace. No longer is it you that lives only, but Christ who lives in you. You are the ark, He is the Tablets within (cf. 1Chr 15:3-4,15-16; 16:1-2). You are the tabernacle, He is the Bread of the Presence. You the monstrance, He the Host. You are the lamp, He is the Light shining through you. 

All this is grace. God with us. For us. Now. We depend upon it utterly. And you, Mary, teach us these things about divine grace. 

  • The Holy Mary: A Catechism on Eschatology

But what is our future, “Holy Mary, Mother of God”? Well, we are graced, made holy, for the present moment, but for the future also. Holy Mary means Saint Mary, Mary made for eternity, for communion, for heaven. We, too, are graced for now, but for eternity also. 

The moment Jesus was made “the fruit of your womb”, you Mary were made “Mother of God”. For then. For now. For ever. So, too, when God graces us, He doesn’t just turn a blind eye to our wickedness: no, He builds on our natures, heals the brokenness, elevates us to be more and better. He might not make us Mother of God, but he does make us Brother or Sister of Jesus, our God, made for an eternity in God’s family.

“Pray for us”, Holy Mary Mother of God, for we need to be filled with grace as you were, we need the Lord with us as He was with you, we need to be blessed among people as you are, we need the fruit of our lives to be blessed also. But more than this, Holy Mary, pray for us, that we may be these things not just now, not just fleetingly, but forever. 

“Pray for us sinners”, Holy Mary, pray that temptation, sin, vice will not block the action of grace in us. Pray that we don’t lose confidence when we are weak, or give up when things seem too hard. Inspire in us the hope that, like you, we can live without sin. That with God’s help we may sin no more. Pray for us sinners, that we might be saints.

Pray for us, Holy Mary, pray for us sinners, “now and at the hour of our death”. When we are in danger of physical death, moral death, emotional death, spiritual death. Pray for the grace of final perseverance, of perfect contrition, of embracing God in eternity. Pray that we will be saints with you forever.

On this feast when Mary’s life and prayers came to their fulfilment in her being raised up to God, we should have great confidence as we pray the Hail Mary. In awe and gratitude let the life and person of each one here tonight declare to all generations: “The Almighty has done great things for me: holy is His name!”