By Amanda Pizzolatto (Rated G)
Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Translated to English, it says, “Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee”. Thus begins one of the most well-known, and possibly most debated, prayers in the history of the Church. It is also one of the shortest, though technically the shortest is basically saying a saint’s name followed by ‘pray for us’. Besides that, it is one of the few prayers that included phrases from the Bible. The angel Gabriel tells Mary, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee,” and her cousin Elizabeth tells her, “Blessed are thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb”. Yes, the last part of the Ave, “holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death,” was added later as a response to certain heresies that claim that Mary didn’t give birth to Jesus as God, but even then it is still Biblical. And since the very first words were uttered by an angel, the prayer has a great power attached to it. As with the Our Father, this is also one of the few prayers that was divine in origin. While the Son of God Himself composed the Our Father, it was the Father through an angel and the Holy Spirit who moved Elizabeth to speak those words. The Lord on High has chosen these words to honor the woman He has chosen to bear His Son, and they deserve a closer look.
The early Fathers of the Church were quite fond of the word Ave, first and foremost. It is the Latin word for ‘hail’ or ‘hello’, but if you were to spell it backwards, you would get Eva, the name of the first woman. This is where they had such a lot of fun. By spelling it backwards, it symbolized the return to the Lord, the overturn of sin, the reversing of Eve’s fall. While Christ was the new Adam, Mary was the new Eve. Christ rose on the Cross to undo Adam’s fall, and Mary cradled the body of her dead Son, the fruit of her womb, to undo Eve’s plucking of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil. The symbolism is strong with this one.
Gabriel continued his salutation with, “full of grace, the Lord is with thee”. Hail, thou who has been chosen from all eternity to become the woman who brings the Most High into the world. Hail thou who has kept thy virginal purity and thy soul clean from sin. It is this phrase that many point to when the Immaculate Conception of our Lady is called into question. But how can she be immaculately conceived when we are all born with original sin? Yet it would make sense that God would want a holy womb for His Son’s coming, and as both Adam and Eve were created without sin but chose to sin, it would also make sense for the two who were to reverse its effects to be born without it as well. Not only that, but they were to live in a world full of sin, while Adam and Eve had only the animals to care for. To remain pure and holy and unsinful is a Godly feat in and of itself, as one can tell you, remaining kind and holy in a rotten, angry world is very hard indeed. As such, our Lady would need all the help and grace she could get from God, to be used like a giant force field, in order to remain spotless. God just decided to give that to her from the very beginning. He knew that was the best route and went with it.
Now, Elizabeth doesn’t just tell Mary upon her arrival, “blessed are thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,” but it is used as both a statement to affirm Mary’s motherhood and a confirmation of Gabriel’s words, being blessed by God. Elizabeth continues on to ask why the Mother of her Lord has come to see her, for which we get the Magnificat as the answer, and in which we get the prophecy that all generations will call Mary blessed. And blessed she is for she gets to carry the Son of God within her womb and care for Him during His growing years.
The final part of the prayer, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death,” was indeed added much later, so it was not quite the same Ave used when the Rosary was first constructed. Even then, there were other variations on the Ave before we were given the unified, final version that we have become so accustomed to today. Some used a different line from the Bible, others added a phrase they created, but they all started the same, with Gabriel’s salutation. A wondrous greeting indeed from God Himself to the woman He chose from all mankind to bear His Son. And since God Himself wrote that for her, it makes it all the more beautiful.