One of my favorite Catholic images is that of the Blessed Virgin Mary holding the child Jesus, standing on the globe crowned with twelve stars, trampling a serpent under her feet and offering the rosary to the world.
This image from the twelfth chapter of the Book of Revelation captures the majesty and power of the Virgin and her Son. It captures the role they play in the battle against the ancient foe, the dragon.
Mary is a great warrior in the ongoing battle, and the Hail Mary prayer, when broken down into separate phrases can be a g great meditation and identification with the battles that Mary fights with us and for us.
When we say, “Hail Mary full of grace” we acknowledge that her Immaculate Conception was powered and initiated by a full outpouring of God’s grace into her life at the moment of her conception. This fullness of grace is what helps to defeat evil in the world. It is as if the desert of evil is flooded with the water of God’s grace. It is as if the darkness of the night is filled with the glorious light of morning. It is Mary’s grace-fullness that overwhelms evil as a tidal wave of God’s goodness and mercy.
When we say, “The Lord is with you” we are reminded that the battle against evil is never fought in our own strength, but only as we put on “the full armor of God.” It is only as the Lord is by our side that we can hope to participate in this battle.
The next phrase, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb Jesus” reminds us that the Hail Mary is a Christ centered prayer. At the heart of the prayer is the powerful and blessed name of Jesus. The name of Jesus is like a pivot for the whole prayer. It is the still point in the middle of the prayer. It is the point at which we focus on Jesus as the one who defeated Satan once and for all in his cross and resurrection. We sing “At the Name of Jesus Every Knee Shall Bow”, and St Paul teaches that at the name of Jesus every knee in heaven and on earth will bend. This name of Jesus at the heart of the Hail Mary is the name by which demons flee and Satan is vanquished.
Next we say, “Holy Mary, Mother of God” and as we do so we are reminded that Mary is Mother of God not because God Almighty has a mother, but because Jesus is God Almighty in human flesh in human history. It is by the incarnation of the Son of God who took flesh of the Immaculate Virgin that we are redeemed and the evil in our lives and in the world is conquered.
Then we recite, “Pray for us now and in the hour of our death.” Death is not just our physical death. It is possible that the soul can die through mortal sin, and so we ask our Mother to pray for us not only at the hour of our physical death, but as we face every aspect of death. The wages of sin is death. Satan and his demons bring death wherever they go. They love to kill, maim, distort and destroy. Therefore as we ask for her prayers “at the hour of our death” we invoke her prayers to help us overcome every type of death through the power of her son’s glorious resurrection.
Finally we say “Amen.” Which is to say, “So Be It!”