Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Reflections on the Rosary: The Annunciation

“Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.” Not only are these the first words which the archangel Gabriel uses to address the Virgin Mary (Luke 1:28), they are also the first words of the Rosary’s most controversial – and common – prayer, the “Hail Mary”. Sadly we often forget that the first half of the prayer comes entirely from scripture (Luke 1:28, 42) and the second half dates to a popular Christian devotion in Ephesus during the 3rd-4th century – that’s right, half of the most identifiably “Catholic prayer” comes down to us from lay Christians, not clergy!

Most important is that the first of the Rosary’s twenty mysteries begins just as the Bible begins: with one man and one woman, but in this case it is the New Adam and the New Eve. Unlike the first Adam and Eve, however, the New Adam will draw his flesh from the flesh of the New Eve. Furthermore, just as the Holy Spirit hovered over the waters of Creation (Genesis 1:2), so too will the Holy Spirit come upon Mary. And just as God spoke words and things were created, so too will he speak through Gabriel and, with Mary’s consent, the eternal Word of God will become flesh in her womb. Where Adam and Eve failed, Jesus and Mary will triumph – and we cannot understand the relationship of Jesus and Mary without any kind of understanding of Adam and Eve.

Before examining the words of Gabriel as used in scripture and in Catholic devotion, it is important to note that Luke 1 is not the first time people have encountered the archangel Gabriel. Good Jews and Christians familiar with the Old Testament prophet Daniel will readily recall the prophecy given to Daniel by Gabriel in which the promised messiah will not come for another 490 years – and if you do the math it all works out to Christ coming around the first century! Mary certainly would have known this and the news for her would have been all the more joyous.

But even knowing that the promised messiah would enter the world through her, the words which Gabriel used to address her must have been all the more joyful (this is the first of five “Joyful Mysteries” after all). Gabriel says “Hail!” as if Mary was royalty – for indeed she was royalty. In Israel when the Kings of Judah reigned, the queen was not the wife of the king but rather she was the mother of the king. In announcing the good news of the king’s coming, Gabriel is also announcing the restoration of the kingdom in a new and radically perfected way.

The Kingdom of God is at hand and Mary shall be the new Queen Mother reigning with her Son, the King.

More still, Gabriel addresses Mary not as “Mary” but rather as “full of grace.” It is important to recall that many important people of the Bible undergo name changes which signify their status and relationship with God and the People of God. Abram’s name is changed to Abraham, Jacob to Israel, and Simon to Peter. Before God, Mary is “full of grace” and after the Annunciation Mary has a new and unique relationship with God – and not just merely with God but with each Person of the Trinity. She is now the daughter of the Father, Mother of the Son, and spouse to the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, Mary will often be referred to as “woman” – not because she is being disregarded but rather because she is the woman of Genesis 3:15, the promised woman from whom shall come the victor over sin and death and as we shall see, she will be the “woman clothed with the sun” (Revelation 12).

Mary’s response to all this was: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Perhaps if there is something overwhelmingly important to be drawn from all this is the complete humility exercised by all those present at the Annunciation. Here first is Gabriel, a mighty and powerful archangel of God, addressing Mary not merely as a queen among men but as his own Queen (indeed Mary is also known as the Queen of the Angels). Furthermore, Mary’s response isn’t to become proud and arrogant but rather to beautifully embrace the Lord’s will and act in faith. Perhaps most important is the fact that God should become man, allowing Himself to dwell as an infant in the womb and one day be murdered for us all, rising from the dead and presenting a redeemed humanity in Himself before His heavenly Father.

Now that’s good news to spread, live out, and – in the Rosary – pray!

Monday, August 16, 2010

Reflections on the Rosary: Introduction

It has been said that riding to one’s own coronation would be a joyful thing even if the ride wasn’t too particularly pleasant, and that riding to one’s own execution would be a dreadful thing even if the ride was in a limousine. So which one of these situations are you and I in and what is our destination?

Quo vadis? Where are you going?

I think this is a question most of us fail to consider. We’re typically too caught up in our everyday lives to think about the long term – indeed the eternal long term. Ask anyone why they went to school and they’ll tell you it was to be educated. And when you ask them why they were educated, they’ll tell you it was to get a job. Keep pressing them and they’ll tell you all about getting married, raising a family, and retiring to some tropical island. But then what? What was it all for?

Quo vadis?

This may seem like an odd way to open a series of posts on the Rosary, but too often we can’t get past seeing a string of beads with a crucifix dangling from it – and if we do, the thought of praying fifty “Hail Mary’s” seems daunting at best and perhaps even idolatrous at worst. Most people miss out on the fact that the Rosary is a meditation on the mysteries contained in the Gospel. Through this prayer we walk the life of Christ and quite literally pray the Gospel. In the Joyful Mysteries, we dwell on the Annunciation and the early life of Christ, the Luminous Mysteries contemplate the public ministry of Christ, and in the Sorrowful Mysteries we prayerfully join Christ in his passion and death.

But there are also the Glorious Mysteries. In the Rosary we encounter Christ in a new way and we are given Mary as a model of Christian sanctity – and this is particularly true when praying the Glorious Mysteries. The Rosary is certainly a journey with Christ, but it is also a reaffirmation of what God does in the lives of the faithful. Mary certainly didn’t have it easy. She is told that a sword of pain will pierce her heart just as much as the heart of her Son would be pierced (see Luke 2:35). Mary’s “yes” brought God into the world, but she would one day watch as her divine Son would be tortured and murdered by his own people. But Catholics believe her faithfulness was not without future glory because we believe she was taken by God into heaven body and soul and that she now reigns as Queen Mother with her kingly Son. The Rosary thus reminds us of this glory and gives us a renewed hope of our future resurrection from the dead into glory with all the angels and saints.

In the coming posts, I’ll be taking a closer look at the Rosary and its many mysteries. In the meantime, I would strongly recommend praying it and dwelling on the mysteries as best as possible, recounting that these events actually happened in human history so as to bring about our new lives in Christ – and this will be particularly true for me in that I have been gifted with a Rosary from the Holy Land making the whole prayer that much more concrete!