A Reflection on Our Lady in Advent

The AnnunciationThe Annunciation

The following sermon was given during a recent Rorate Mass by Rev. Mr. John Rickert, FSSP.  Deacon Rickert currently teaches at St. Gregory’s Academy in Elmhurst, PA.

The Angelic Salutation

Thou has found favor with God. ( Luke 1:30 )

As a culture we do not attribute much significance to particular numbers, and yet certain numbers do stand out as being especially symbolic or significant. The number 7, for example, signifies fullness, completion, or perfection, and is regarded by some, in some sense, as a happy or “lucky” number. And we see this both in the secular world and in religious themes. For example, Rome is the city of 7 hills and had 7 kings. There are, traditionally, 7 seas and 7 wonders of the world, and 7 liberal arts. In the Bible, we find a 7-day week with the 7th day being the Sabbath. In the New Testament, Our Lord multiplies 7 loaves of bread and yields 7 baskets of superabundance. In the Apocalypse, in particular, there are 7 churches, lamps, spirits, and seals, to name only a few. And, of course, we must mention the 7 Sacraments and the 7 gifts of the Holy Ghost. There are 7 petitions in the Our Father. As we said, 7 often times signifies fullness, perfection.

Now, in the “Hail, Mary” we see 7 salutations:

  1. Hail, Mary
  2. Full of grace
  3. The Lord is with thee
  4. Blessed art thou among women
  5. And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus
  6. Holy Mary
  7. Mother of God

This prayer is so familiar to all of us, we may simply take it for granted and not give enough thought to all that it is saying. Let us take some time to ponder each of these salutations.

The Rorate Mass
The Rorate Mass is said by candlelight.

1. Hail, Mary. The angel salutes her. The ordinary form of greeting is “peace – shalom”. We see this several times after the Resurrection of Our Lord: when He appears to His apostles He says, “Peace be with you,” shalom. But the verb used here is a salutation. It is also used, in 1 mockery, by those who crown the Lord with thorns and say, “Hail, King of the Jews.” The primary meaning of the word used here, though, is “to rejoice.” So, one could say that the angel is telling Mary to rejoice and be glad, because he brings a message of great joy. Let’s not forget this. We look at the world today, and it’s very bleak and and apprehensive.
Are we conforming to that spirit of the world, because it is submerged in its own gloom, or instead to the spirit of joy that comes from knowing of salvation, and who brings it?

2. Full of grace – gratia plena. One of the oldest translations of the Bible that we have is into the language called Syriac, which is very closely related to the language that Jesus spoke on a daily basis, Aramaic. This translation we have in Syriac is important because of its antiquity and because of its Semitic understanding. Now, this version of the New Testament translates this phrase as “malyuth-taybuthá” which means, “full of grace,” but even more literally means “full of goodness.” Next to Our Lord, no one is as full of grace or goodness as Mary is. The greatness of Mary is surpassed only by the greatness of God Himself. Another point to mention here is that Mary is the daughter of St. Anne. Now, the name “Anne,” which is “Hannah” in Hebrew, means… grace. So, not only is Mary the Mother of Grace, she is the daughter of Grace: She is full of grace.

3. The Lord is with thee. And the Lord is with us. That is what we hear also today. For, the epistle tells us, “His name shall be ‘Emmanuel,’” which means “God with us.” It is crucial to understand something about the Hebrew way of thinking here, and this point is comes up many times through the course of the Bible. In Hebrew, the word davar means both word and thing, and we see this in today’s Gospel reading. The Gospel says, “Non erit impossibile apud Deum omne verbum.” Some translations say, “No word shall be impossible with God,” and others say, “Nothing shall be impossible.” ( Luke 1:37 )Either translation is acceptable, because, for the Hebrew mind, 2 word and thing are equivalent, and as a result of this, name and identity become equivalent.

This is especially clear in the book of Exodus. When Moses asks for God’s name, God tells him, “I am WHO AM.” Moses asks for God’s name, and God replies by telling Moses Who He is. So, back to today’s reading, God is with us, Emmanuel, Who was first with her: The Lord is with thee. One other observation: We can see there is no inconsistency in the message. The child of Mary is Emmanuel, because He is truly God-with-us, and He is Jesus, because He is the Savior. The different names bring out different aspects of one and the same reality.

4. Blessed art thou among women. In all of the New Testament, only two people are directly called blessed in addition to Our Lord Himself. There are descriptions of categories of people who are blessed, of course, such as the Beatitudes – blessed are the meek, blessed are the pure of heart, and so on – as well as other occasional designations – for example, blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it. But in all the New Testament, only two particular people are called blessed: St. Peter when he confesses the divinity of Christ, and Mary, as we see here. In the Old Testament, there is a very striking passage where someone is called blessed: Judith in the book of Judith 13:18. 1 “O daughter, you are blessed by the Most High God above all other women on earth; and blessed be the Lord God, who created the heavens and the earth, who has guided you to cut off the head of the leader of our enemies. Your praise will never depart from the hearts of those who remember the power of God. May God grant this to be a perpetual honor to you, and may he reward you with blessings… you averted our ruin, walking in the straight path before our God.” And all the people said, “Amen! Amen!”

5. And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. There is an implication here we need to draw out. In Matthew 7 Our Lord says: “By their fruits you shall know them… Even so, every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, and the evil tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can an evil tree bring forth good fruit.” Jesus is the blessed fruit of Mary’s womb, so Mary herself must be good. She has never known sin in any moment of her existence.

6. Holy Mary. This would seem to need no comment, but it gives us a good opportunity to raise a very important point: Sancta sancte tractanda sunt. Holy things must be treated in a holy manner. Mary is holy, and images and representations of her are holy as well. Let us always be sure to treat them with reverence. Let us remember, too, that Mary is the mystical spouse of the Holy Ghost. As St. Luke tells us in today’s Gospel, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy whch shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” To dishonor Mary is to dishonor her Mystical Spouse. Therefore, let us be especially careful to be reverent in our speech or actions regarding her: She is holy. Nor should we hesitate to defend her honor when we see it attacked.

7. Mother of God. This title of Mary was resisted by heretics and definitively approved by the Council of Ephesus in the year 431. In affirming this title, we affirm the divinity of Christ, the personal relationship of Mary as being truly His mother, and we reject the Nestorian heresy especially along with several others. Indirectly, in professing this great title, we stand by the authority of the Church to teach. After making these 7 beautiful and majestic salutations, we put make our request: Pray for us. Pray for us now, because we always need help, and she is the Mediatrix of all Graces. Pray for us when we are about to die, because without the grace of final perseverence, all other graces come to nought.


When we bear well in mind what we are praying for and whose help we are seeking to obtain it, we will pray with reverence, care, and love, and not in hurried, thoughtless, mechanical way. We remember that we are praying to a real, live person, a personal friend, the best friend we could ever have next to Our Lord Himself. May she who is full of grace and ever blessed, who has already done more for us than we realize, obtain for us every blessing, and above all, the supreme grace to be with her, and with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost forever in heaven. Amen.

December 16, 2009