Sermon: A Reflection on Our Lady in Advent
December 16, 2009
The following sermon was given during a recent Rorate Mass by Rev. Mr. John Rickert, FSSP. Deacon Rickert currently teaches at St. Gregory’s Academy in Elmhurst, PA.
The Angelic Salutation
Thou has found favor with God. ( Luke 1:30 )
As a culture we do not attribute much significance to particular numbers, and yet certain numbers do stand out as being especially symbolic or significant. The number 7, for example, signifies fullness, completion, or perfection, and is regarded by some, in some sense, as a happy or “lucky” number. And we see this both in the secular world and in religious themes. For example, Rome is the city of 7 hills and had 7 kings. There are, traditionally, 7 seas and 7 wonders of the world, and 7 liberal arts. In the Bible, we find a 7-day week with the 7th day being the Sabbath. In the New Testament, Our Lord multiplies 7 loaves of bread and yields 7 baskets of superabundance. In the Apocalypse, in particular, there are 7 churches, lamps, spirits, and seals, to name only a few. And, of course, we must mention the 7 Sacraments and the 7 gifts of the Holy Ghost. There are 7 petitions in the Our Father. As we said, 7 often times signifies fullness, perfection.
Now, in the “Hail, Mary” we see 7 salutations:
Full of grace
The Lord is with thee
Blessed art thou among women
And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus
Mother of God
This prayer is so familiar to all of us, we may simply take it for granted and not give enough thought to all that it is saying. Let us take some time to ponder each of these salutations.
The Rorate Mass
The Rorate Mass is said by candlelight.
1. Hail, Mary. The angel salutes her. The ordinary form of greeting is “peace – shalom”. We see this several times after the Resurrection of Our Lord: when He appears to His apostles He says, “Peace be with you,” shalom. But the verb used here is a salutation. It is also used, in 1 mockery, by those who crown the Lord with thorns and say, “Hail, King of the Jews.” The primary meaning of the word used here, though, is “to rejoice.” So, one could say that the angel is telling Mary to rejoice and be glad, because he brings a message of great joy. Let’s not forget this. We look at the world today, and it’s very bleak and and apprehensive.
Are we conforming to that spirit of the world, because it is submerged in its own gloom, or instead to the spirit of joy that comes from knowing of salvation, and who brings it?
2. Full of grace – gratia plena. One of the oldest translations of the Bible that we have is into the language called Syriac, which is very closely related to the language that Jesus spoke on a daily basis, Aramaic. This translation we have in Syriac is important because of its antiquity and because of its Semitic understanding. Now, this version of the New Testament translates this phrase as “malyuth-taybuthá” which means, “full of grace,” but even more literally means “full of goodness.” Next to Our Lord, no one is as full of grace or goodness as Mary is. The greatness of Mary is surpassed only by the greatness of God Himself. Another point to mention here is that Mary is the daughter of St. Anne. Now, the name “Anne,” which is “Hannah” in Hebrew, means… grace. So, not only is Mary the Mother of Grace, she is the daughter of Grace: She is full of grace.
3. The Lord is with thee. And the Lord is with us. That is what we hear also today. For, the epistle tells us, “His name shall be ‘Emmanuel,’” which means “God with us.” It is crucial to understand something about the Hebrew way of thinking here, and this point is comes up many times through the course of the Bible. In Hebrew, the word davar means both word and thing, and we see this in today’s Gospel reading. The Gospel says, “Non erit impossibile apud Deum omne verbum.” Some translations say, “No word shall be impossible with God,” and others say, “Nothing shall be impossible.” ( Luke 1:37 )Either translation is acceptable, because, for the Hebrew mind, 2 word and thing are equivalent, and as a result of this, name and identity become equivalent.
This is especially clear in the book of Exodus. When Moses asks for God’s name, God tells him, “I am WHO AM.” Moses asks for God’s name, and God replies by telling Moses Who He is. So, back to today’s reading, God is with us, Emmanuel, Who was first with her: The Lord is with thee. One other observation: We can see there is no inconsistency in the message. The child of Mary is Emmanuel, because He is truly God-with-us, and He is Jesus, because He is the Savior. The different names bring out different aspects of one and the same reality.
4. Blessed art thou among women. In all of the New Testament, only two people are directly called blessed in addition to Our Lord Himself. There are descriptions of categories of people who are blessed, of course, such as the Beatitudes – blessed are the meek, blessed are the pure of heart, and so on – as well as other occasional designations – for example, blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it. But in all the New Testament, only two particular people are called blessed: St. Peter when he confesses the divinity of Christ, and Mary, as we see here. In the Old Testament, there is a very striking passage where someone is called blessed: Judith in the book of Judith 13:18. 1 “O daughter, you are blessed by the Most High God above all other women on earth; and blessed be the Lord God, who created the heavens and the earth, who has guided you to cut off the head of the leader of our enemies. Your praise will never depart from the hearts of those who remember the power of God. May God grant this to be a perpetual honor to you, and may he reward you with blessings… you averted our ruin, walking in the straight path before our God.” And all the people said, “Amen! Amen!”