Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Fr. Antonio Royo Marin's Commentary on the Hail Mary, pt. 1: "Hail"

Among all Marian devotions, the first place incontestably belongs to the most beautiful salutation of the Hail Mary, repeated hundreds of times by all those devoted to the Virgin, above all during the recitation of the holy Rosary and which, most importantly, constitutes the Rosary's material aspect [see posts on Fr. Marin's commentary on the Rosary elsewhere]. We are going to explain the meaning of this prayer through exegesis and an examination of its spiritual content.

As is known, the Hail Mary, such as we know and pray it today, consists in two parts. The first part is formed by those words of the angel at the Annunciation: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee (Lk. 1:28), to which have been added the words pronounced by Saint Elizabeth when she was visited by Mary: Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb (Lk. 1:42). The Church has added the name of Mary at the beginning and the name of Jesus at the end. The first part is a salutation to Mary, very rich in doctrinal content, and in which nothing is asked. It is a sublime hymn of praise, absolutely disinterested.

The second part began to appear in the Church in the 14th century, but its use was not made universal until St. Pius V promulgated the Roman Breviary in 1568, mandating that it be recited at the beginning of each hour of the Divine Office, immediately following the Our Father. This part begins with the salutation to Mary accompanied by her most exalted title: Holy Mary, Mother of God, and immediately it is asked that she pray for us during the present moments of our life and, above all, at the terrible moment of our death: Pray for us, sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Hardly can there be said more things of such great importance in less words.

We are going to examine now, word for word, this most beautiful prayer.


1. Exegesis. The angel begins by greeting Mary: Hail (Mary). The Latin word Ave is a conventional translation of the Greek χαῖρε, which signifies a greeting that literally means "to be full of cheer" or "well off" [translator's note: Fr. Marin says simply "alégrate," but I've included the expanded definition provided by]. This is a Greek greeting (cf. Mk. 15:18: "And they began to salute him: Hail, king of the Jews"). The angel probably employed a Hebrew formula of salutation: Shalon leka, which can be translated as peace be with you. This is the regular greeting of Jesus in the Gospel, of Saint Paul in his letters, and it has prevailed in the Catholic liturgy: Pax vobis, or peace be with you. In Spanish, the word "Hail" ("Ave") does not have any significance aside from being a greeting. We might think of these first words as saying: Rejoice, Mary, or as it is said in French, I greet you, Mary.

2. Theology. The theological explanation of the angel's salutation to Mary was described by the Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas (cf. In salutationem angelicam, [article 1]) [translator's note: I've included the full article for the reader's benefit]:
We must now consider concerning the first part of this prayer that in ancient times it was no small event when Angels appeared to men; and that man should show them reverence was especially praiseworthy. Thus, it is written to the praise of Abraham that he received the Angels with all courtesy and showed them reverence. But that an Angel should show reverence to a man was never heard of until the Angel reverently greeted the Blessed Virgin saying: “Hail.” 
In olden times an Angel would not show reverence to a man, but a man would deeply revere an Angel. This is because Angels are greater than men, and indeed in three ways: 
First, they are greater than men in dignity. This is because the Angel is of a spiritual nature: “You make your angels spirits” [Ps 103:4]. But, on the other hand, man is of a corruptible nature, for Abraham said: “I will speak to my Lord, whereas I am dust and ashes” [Gen 18:27]. It was not fitting, therefore, that a spiritual and incorruptible creature should show reverence to one that is corruptible as is a man. 
Secondly, an Angel is closer to God. The Angel, indeed, is of the family of God, and as it were stands ever by Him: “Thousands of thousands ministered to Him, and ten thousand times a hundred thousand stood before Him” [Dan 7:10]. Man, on the other hand, is rather a stranger and afar off from God because of sin: “I have gone afar off” [Ps 44:8]. Therefore, it is fitting that man should reverence an Angel who is an intimate and one of the household of the King. 
Then, thirdly, the Angels far exceed men in the fullness of the splendor of divine grace. For Angels participate in the highest degree in the divine light: “Is there any numbering of His soldiers? And upon whom shall not His light arise?”[Job 25:3]. Hence, the Angels always appear among men clothed in light, but men on the contrary, although they partake somewhat of the light of grace, nevertheless do so in a much slighter degree and with a certain obscurity. It was, therefore, not fitting that an Angel should show reverence to a man until it should come to pass that one would be found in human nature who exceeded the Angels in these three points in which we have seen that they excel over men—and this was the Blessed Virgin. To show that she excelled the Angels in these, the Angel desired to show her reverence, and so he said: “Ave (Hail).” [trans. by Joseph B. Collins (New York 1939); available here:]
From his comments on the first part of the Hail Mary, we shall see with the Angelic Doctor that Mary effectively far exceeded the angels in those three things.

A contemporary author has insisted on the significance of the angelic salutation, writing piously and rightly (Fr. Javier Barcon, S.J., Learn to Pray (Bilbao 1954), p. 91):
It is a salutation similar to the one by which Christ was saluted by His Apostles after His Resurrection. A salutation of love, of confidence, of joy, of veneration. 
"God saves thee," it says: God protects thee, loves thee, sends you His joy and His holy peace. 
"God saves thee" is the salutation with which we invoke the Virgin in the most beautiful prayer of the Salve Regina
It is the salutation with which many still greet each other when they enter Catholic houses: "Hail Mary." 
It is the salutation with which the poor beg for alms from the door of the houses in many regions of Spain: "Hail Mary." 
It is the salutation with which the Virgin is invoked still in many parts for a peaceful night, singing: "Hail Mary, most pure." 
It is the salutation with which in many orders religious greet each other or with which they salute the Virgin at the beginning of the hour or when they begin their work. 
It is a salutation whose spirit the Christian house remembers to keep while conversing: "God bless you; may God grant us a good day, may you go with God, may you remain with God, farewell [Adiós]" [translator's note: most of these translations do not work since there are no English equivalents to more richly religious language]. These words always keep present the idea of God and the desire to do all things relying upon God and to see the providence of God within all things, guiding them. 
This salutation, so beautiful and devout, opposes those greetings and conversations of the purely natural order, which never speak of God.

Source: Fr. Antonio Royo Marín, La Virgen María, trans. by R. Grablin (Madrid, Spain: BAC, 1996), 442-444.

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