Saturday, December 30, 2006

Marian Devotion: The Rosary, III

Let's examine the Ave Maria itself, that which makes it distinctively Marian:

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.

The first line of the Hail Mary with the addition of "Mary" is Scripture (Luke 1.28), as are the next two clauses with the addition of "Jesus."

Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus (Luke 1.42).

In the first half of the Ave Maria, we are simply praying the Scriptures - what was said by St Gabriel the Archangel and by St Elizabeth, who spoke filled with the Holy Spirit.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.

As I've already discussed the idea of praying to Mary, I won't reiterate our reasons here. Instead let's deal with calling Mary "holy" and calling her the "Mother of God." All of us in Christ, St Paul calls "holy ones," or saints. In Christ, there is a certain sense of this. The Church also differentiates those who have led exemplary lives as Saints. There are requirements that must be met before these men and women can be canonized as such. But, ultimately, the idea is that the Church recognizes these people as holy, standing in the presence of God. Their intercession therefore is powerful and effective (James 5.16).

Of all the Saints, Mary is our ideal - she is the prototype of what we all may be (though she is unique in other ways) and there is no question whether she is holy. If Scripture commands that we be holy (1 Peter 1.16), then certainly Mary is holy.

Mary is also called Theotokos (God-bearer, literally), or Mother of God. I've already gone into the explanation of this title. But here it is again: If Mary is not the Mother of God, then Jesus is not God. And I do not wish to go there.

(Interestingly, the title Theotokos came about at the Council of Ephesus in A.D. 431. The debate was a christological debate and it concerned whether Mary should be called Christotokos [Christ-bearer, as the mother of merely Jesus' humanity] or Theotokos. The Council decided that to call her merely Christotokos rather than Theotokos would be to separate his inseparable natures.)

That is the Ave Maria - the heart of the Rosary. There is nothing in it that ought to offend. Let me deal next with the Salve Regina (Hail Holy Queen), which is the prayer that normally concludes the Rosary, and which might also offend.

I do not normally pray the Salve Regina for a practical reason more than anything theological - I simply have not memorized the prayer as of yet. I'm still struggling to disentangle the Apostles' and the Nicene Creeds. So be patient with me.

But let's look at it before discussing the concepts of repetitive and meditative prayers.

Salve Regina

Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy,
our life, our sweetness and our hope.
To you do we cry,
poor banished children of Eve.
To you do we send up our sighs,
mourning and weeping in this valley of tears
Turn then, most gracious advocate,
your eyes of mercy toward us,
and after this exile
show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving,
O sweet Virgin Mary.

I will not spend a lot of time defending this prayer. Mainly because I see nothing offensive about it if you read "advocate" primarily as "intercessor," which I do. The only problem I see anyone having with this prayer is the title "Holy Queen" - if we set aside the whole idea of praying to someone other than God, of course.

Mary is our queen because she is the real mother of the real King. She is the queen mother, as it were. Just as Bathsheba was the queen mother of Solomon and interceded or advocated for others to her son Solomon. She is not queen in the sense that she is divine or on an equal footing with the Blessed Trinity. The Church in no way teaches or condones this belief. The Church calls such an idea or practice idolatry.

We must understand Mary properly. We do not worship her. But we respect her more highly than any other creature. The Greek words differentiate our feelings and practices quite adequately: Latria is adoration and is reserved for God alone. Dulia is respect. I show my parents dulia, I show kings and presidents dulia, I show all the Saints dulia. Hyperdulia, (or great respect) however, a universe below what we consider worship (latria), is reserved for Mary. And as the Mother of God, such respect is due her. It is because of her Yes that God became man. All others throughout history have born witness to Christ, but she actually bore him. And as His Throne, she bears Him still. It is right to call her Theotokos, or God-bearer.

I will attempt to address the repetitive and meditative aspects of prayer this prayer in the next post.

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