Humble Handmaid

A text by Deepasandra Rodriques

MARY (MAY rih). MOTHER OF JESUS (Luke 2:16). Daughter of Israel, a young Jewish woman of Nazareth in Galilee, a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary’ (Luke 1:26-27). God (The Father) from all eternity wanted the free co-operation of a creature wherein he could prepare a body to bring forth his Son. Hence he chose Mary as the mother of his Son. To become the mother of the Saviour, Mary was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role.

Mary is indeed "Full of grace". She is "the most excellent fruit of redemption" from the first instant of her conception. She was totally preserved from the stain of original sin and she remained pure from all personal sin throughout her life. It was the Angel Gabriel who revealed to her that she was to be the mother of the Messiah. While Joseph (a carpenter) was advised of events in a dream and knowing Mary was miraculously pregnant (as it was the work of the Holy Spirit), took Mary as his wife. Toward the end of her pregnancy, the couple from Nazareth travelled to Bethlehem for a taxation census, and in this small town away from hustle and bustle - Jesus was born.

MARY, the MOTHER OF GOD is often called in the Gospels "the mother of Jesus". Her cousin Elizabeth, at the prompting of the Spirit and even before the birth of her son, acclaims Mary as "the mother of my Lord". In fact, the One whom she conceived as man by the Holy Spirit, who truly became her Son according to the flesh, was none other than the Father's eternal Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity.

MARY is truly the MOTHER OF THE CHURCH. Since the Virgin Mary's role in the mystery of Christ and the Spirit has been treated, it is fitting to consider her place in the Church. Because of Mary's singular cooperation with the action of the Holy Spirit, the Church honours her for the great things the Lord has done for her, and to entrust supplications and praises to her. Mary remained a virgin in conceiving her Son, a virgin in giving birth to him, a virgin in carrying him, a virgin in nursing him at her breast, always a virgin with her whole being. She is indeed "the handmaid of the Lord" (Lk 1:38).

The prayers of the Virgin Mary, in her Fiat and Magnificat, are characterized by the generous offering of her whole being in faith.

The Magisterium of the Church has the task of discerning the fidelity of these ways of praying to the tradition of apostolic faith; it is for pastors and catechists to explain their meaning, always in relation to Jesus Christ.

- Prayer to the Father
- Prayer to Jesus
- "Come, Holy Spirit"
- In communion with the holy Mother of God

In prayer, the Holy Spirit unites us to the person of the only Son, in his glorified humanity, through which and in which our filial prayer unites us in the Church with the Mother of Jesus.

Mary gave her consent at the Annunciation and maintained it without hesitation at the foot of the Cross. Ever since, her motherhood has extended to the brothers and sisters of her Son who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties.

In countless hymns and antiphons the church expresses through prayer, two themes: the first "magnifies" the Lord for the "great things" he did for his lowly servant and through her for all human beings. The second entrusts the supplications and praises of the children of God to the Mother of Jesus, because she now knows the humanity which, in her, the Son of God espoused.

This twofold theme is also found in the privileged expression in the Ave Maria:

  • Hail Mary [or Rejoice, Mary]: The greeting of the angel Gabriel opens this prayer. It is God himself who, through his angel as intermediary, greets Mary. Our prayer dares to take up this greeting to Mary with the regard God had for the lowliness of his humble servant and to exult in the joy he finds in her.

  • Full of grace, the Lord is with thee: These two phrases of the angel's greeting shed light on one another. Mary is full of grace because the Lord is with her. The grace with which she is filled is the presence of him who is the source of all grace. "Rejoice... O Daughter of Jerusalem... the Lord your God is in your midst.” Mary, in whom the Lord himself has just made his dwelling, is the daughter of Zion in person, the ark of the covenant, the place where the glory of the Lord dwells. She is "the dwelling of God... with men." Mary, full of grace, is wholly given over to Him who has come to dwell in her and whom she is about to give to the world.

  • Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus: After the angel's greeting, we make Elizabeth's greeting our own. Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, is the first in the long succession of generations who have called Mary "blessed." "Blessed is she who believed..." Mary is "blessed among women" because she believed in the fulfillment of the Lord's word. Abraham, because of his faith, became a blessing for all the nations of the earth. Mary, because of her faith, became the mother of believers, through whom all nations of the earth receive him who is God's own blessing: Jesus, the "fruit of thy womb."

  • Holy Mary, Mother of God: With Elizabeth we marvel, "and why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?" Because she gives us Jesus, her son, Mary is Mother of God and our mother; we can entrust all our cares and petitions to her. She prays for us as she prayed for herself: "Let it be to me according to your word." By entrusting ourselves to her prayer, we abandon ourselves to the will of God together with her: "Thy will be done."

  • Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death: By asking Mary to pray for us, we acknowledge ourselves to be poor sinners and we address ourselves to the "Mother of Mercy," the All-Holy One. We give ourselves over to her now, in the ‘today’ of our lives; and our trust broadens further, already at the present moment, to surrender "the hour of our death" wholly to her care. May she be there as she was at her son's death on the cross. May she welcome us as our mother at the hour of our passing to lead us to her son, Jesus, in paradise.

Medieval piety in the West developed the prayer of the Rosary as a popular substitute for the Liturgy of the Hours. In the East, the litany called the Akathistos and the Paraclesis remained closer to the choral office in the Byzantine churches, while the Armenian, Coptic, and Syriac traditions preferred popular hymns and songs to the Mother of God. But in the Ave Maria, the theotokia, the hymns of St. Ephrem or St. Gregory of Narek, the tradition of prayer is basically the same.

Mary is the perfect Orans (prayer), and when we pray to her, we are adhering with her to the plan of the Father, who sent his Son to save all men. Like the beloved disciple we welcome Jesus' Mother into our homes, for she has become the mother of all the living. We can pray with and to her. The prayer of the Church is sustained by the prayer of Mary and united with it in hope.

"We believe that the Holy Mother of God, the new Eve, Mother of the Church, continues in heaven to exercise her maternal role on behalf of the members of Christ" (Paul VI, CPG # 15).