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This is the first of four reflections that ponder
the connection between four phrases of the Hail Mary and the Advent season.
Permission to publish these reflections has been
graciously granted by Our Sunday Visitor newspaper (200 Noll Plaza;
Huntington, IN 46750; 1-800-348-2440, x 2; www.osv.com).
Marys Gift of Self Points the
"Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with Thee"
by Carl E. Olson
The First Sunday of Advent, November 28, 2004
advent is a coming; it literally means "to come to."
The season of Advent anticipates the comingor comingsof the
Son: in his Incarnation two thousand years ago, in his future return in
glory, and in the mystery of the sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states,
"When the Church celebrates the liturgy of Advent each year,
she makes present this ancient expectancy of the Messiah, for by sharing
in the long preparation for the Saviours first coming, the faithful
renew their ardent desire for his second coming" (CCC 524). So Advent
is ultimately concerned with the Sons coming in glory, when he shall
"judge the living and the dead."
The Coming of Marys Son and Savior
This might sound a bit unusual. After all, isnt Advent about preparing
for Christmas? And isnt Christmas about celebrating the birth of
the baby Jesus? It is, of course, but there are other questions to ask:
Why was that baby born in a manger twenty centuries ago? Why is he coming
againas a grown and glorified Kingand what does it mean for
us? Are we more comfortable with a babe in a manger than with a conquering
King? What is our place in all of these events?
Pondering our place in salvation history brings us to the feet of Mary,
the mother of the Savior. Introducing Redemptoris Mater, his encyclical
devoted to the Blessed Mother, Pope John Paul II writes, "The Mother
of the Redeemer has a precise place in the plan of salvation, for when
the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under
the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive
adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of
his Son into our hearts, crying, Abba! Father!' (Gal.
4:4-6)." Here, in a nutshell, is the essence of Advent. God initiates;
Mary responds. God offers; mankind receives. This is the way of love and
As the sinless, holy Mother of God, Mary is a unique creature. But her
perfection and holiness do not make her aloof or inaccessible. Instead,
the Mother of the Savior is a mother for everyone. She draws us near,
desiring to reveal the fullness of her Son to the Church and to the entire
world. It is fitting, then, that these reflections on the four weeks of
Advent will draw upon the "Hail Mary" (dividing it into four
parts) in contemplating the past, present, and future advents of the Lord
Mary is the perfect example of one who is prepared for the coming of God.
Young, poor, and unassuming, she would becomeby her free choicethe
Mother of God. Faithful to Gods promise, she embraced the first
advent of her Son before it occurred. The Holy Father describes Mary as
"the one who in the night of the Advent expectation began
to shine like a true Morning Star . . . For just as this star,
together with the dawn, precedes the rising of the sun, so
Mary from the time of her Immaculate Conception preceded the coming of
the Savior, the rising of the Sun of Justice in the history
of the human race" (RM 3).
Graceful Greeting for Grace-filled Lady
The simple words of the "Hail Mary" form a profound commentary
on the coming of salvation, judgment, death, and eternal life. Formed
from phrases found in Lukes Gospel and the ancient tradition of
the Church, the "Hail Mary" is like a snapshot taken of the
Virgin from the perspective of heaven, then offered to those willing to
consider the depths of its beauty and truth.
It begins with the words spoken at the Annunciation. The angel declared,
"Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you!" (RSVCE). In Redemptoris
Mater, John Paul II begins his reflections on this marvelous remark
by emphasizing that the plan of salvation, which is a plan of grace beyond
words, means God sent forth his Son, "born of woman . . . so that
we might receive adoption as sons." This announcement by the angel
introduces Mary into the mystery of Christ. She is blessed by God "in
a special and exceptional degree," a reality recognized by her cousin
Elizabeth, who calls her "blessed among women" (Lk 1:42).
As the Catechism notes, "Full of grace, Mary is wholly given
over to him who has come to dwell in her and whom she is about to give
to the world" (CCC 2676). Marys "Yes" to God articulates
the complete gift of herself to the God of Israel. "The grace with
which she is filled," John Paul observes, "is the presence of
him who is the source of all grace." And Christmas is about the gift
of that source, the greatest gift ever given. It is salvation in Christ
through sharing in supernatural, Trinitarian life. Put another way, it
means coming into intimate, life-transforming communion with God, the
Source of all that is good, true, and holy. Its the same communion
received in the Blessed Sacrament. Its the same Lord who will come
in glory to judge the living and the dead.
The Coming (Again) of the Incarnate One
The Annunciationthe announcement of grace and favor on the young
maiden Marymarks the first time that the reality of the Incarnation
was made known. Mary is "full of grace," the Holy Father writes,
"because it is precisely in her that the Incarnation of the Word,
the hypostatic union of the Son of God with human nature, is accomplished
and fulfilled" (RM 9). Because Mary gave herself to God, God gives
himself to mankind. The Son of God became the Son of Man so that by grace
we might become what he alone is by nature: a true son.
Imagine the awe and wonder that Mary felt as the angel addressed her as
"Full of Grace." Advent is a time to contemplate and experience
the same awesome, wondrous power in the coming of our Lord. It is a call
to awaken, to look up, and to rejoice. In the words of St. Paul, from
todays epistle: "Brothers and sisters: You know the time; it
is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer
now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at
Towards the Fulfillment of the Kingdom
Advent is a season of hope and preparation. For
what? The return of the Christ-child as Christ the triumphant King. Which
is why the Gospel reading on this first Sunday of Advent is taken from
the Olivet Discourse. In it Jesus talks about another advent, his coming
in glory: "Therefore, stay awake! For you do not know on which day
your Lord will come. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known
the hour of night when the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake
and not let his house be broken into. So too, you also must be prepared,
for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come."
During Advent there is a continual connection made between the first coming
of the Son and his second coming. Yet the term "second coming"
can be misleading since the Sons return is really a completion and
fulfillment of his birth two thousand years ago, not some unrelated and
disconnected event. In his Advent reflection in 2001, John Paul II highlighted
the continuity between the two comings, writing, "Christ is the Alpha
and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Thanks to him, the history of
humanity proceeds as a pilgrimage toward the fulfilment of the Kingdom
which he inaugurated with his Incarnation and victory over sin and death."
For this reason, he explained, "Advent is synonymous with hope:
not the vain waiting for a faceless god, but concrete and certain trust
in the return of him who has already visited us . . ."
Catholics are sometimes reluctant to talk about the return of Christ.
Perhaps they think the topic is the property of certain Evangelical Protestants
whose focus on the "rapture" and Christs return can seem
obsessive and imbalanced. Advent provides the right balance by rooting
the return of our Lord in the Incarnation. "At his first coming he
was wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger," wrote St. Cyril of
Jerusalem in the fourth century, "at his second coming he will be
robed in vestments of heavenly light." May hope, preparation, joy,
and light fill our hearts during Advent.
Olson is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com.
He is the co-author of The
Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code and author
Catholics Be "Left Behind"?
He resides in a top secret location in the Northwest somewhere between Portland,
Oregon and Sacramento, California.
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