Fr. Desire Salako sent me Christmas greetings from Liberia with the good news that, with the money we gave him as a parish gift they have been able to get their solar-powered generator and are also digging their well. I am happy to share with you Fr. Salako’s message and photographs of these two projects. We are still holding the money for his parish truck until he gives us the “okay” to send it.
I received on Monday the money for the solar and the well. I have just finish to install the solar. It is working under the sun of Africa. Thanks! May God bless you!
We are working hard to dig the well. By the grace of God, at Christmas, water will flow. You offer me water, may God’s blessing be poured out on you. Merry Christmas to you and the entire community of Immaculate. I miss the community. Thanks!
We closed in the Seminary-College yesterday. I will start the pastoral of Christmas by the visit of my outstations. Here the weather is dry with dust. It is what we call Harmattan. The weather announces in Africa Christmas. There is joy on the faces of people. Here too, we are waiting for our Lord: the same in Newton and here in Liberia.
After the “Our Father”, the “Hail Mary” is the most the familiar prayer to us as Catholics, so familiar that we take it for granted that the prayer has always existed as we say it now. This, however, is not so. The elaboration of the Angel Gabriel’s greeting to Mary at the Annunciation, “Hail [Mary], full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women,” into a full fledged prayer of petition, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen,” came out of the life of the Church. It was not until the Roman Breviary issued in 1568 (following the Council of Trent) that the Catholic Church gave official recognition to the form of the Ave Maria known so well to us.
It is a prayer in three parts. 1) Gabriel’s greeting (Luke 1:28), 2) St. Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary, “And blessed is the fruit of thy womb [Jesus]” (Luke 1:42), and 3) The Church’s prayer of petition.
In explaining the Church’s addition of the prayer of petition to the greeting of Our Lady the Catechism of the Council of Trent states the following:
Most rightly has the Holy Church of God added to this thanksgiving, petition also and the invocation of the most holy Mother of God, thereby implying that we should piously and suppliantly have recourse to her in order that by her intercession she may reconcile God with us sinners and obtain for us the blessings which we need both for this present life and for the life which has no end.
In searching for the origins of the Hail Mary in the first millennium of the Church we find it in the growth of personal devotion to the Mother of God among the faithful. It is not until the turn of the millennium, however, that we have evidence of the devotional formula clearly being used by Catholics. For example, Abbot Baldwin, a Cistercian monk who became the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1184, wrote of the Ave Maria:
To this salutation of the Angel, by which we daily greet the Most Blessed Virgin, with such devotion as we may, we are accustomed to add the words, ‘and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,’ by which clause Elizabeth at a later time, on hearing the Virgin’s salutation to her, caught up and completed, as it were, the Angel’s words, saying: ‘Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.’
Since the Ave Maria was a solemn greeting of an august personage, in these centuries people said it with a gesture of reverence, for example, bending the knee in genuflection. It is recorded of King St. Louis of France (13th Century): “Without counting his other prayers the holy King knelt down each evening fifty times and each time he stood upright then knelt again and repeated slowly an Ave Maria.” The Dominican nun St. Margaret (+1292), daughter of the King of Hungary, outdid St. Louis: on certain days she recited the Ave Maria a thousand times with a thousand prostrations.
The final prayer of petition close to the one in use now appears to have come out of Italy in the later part of the 15th Century, although there was a great variability in the wording of a final prayer of petition to the Ave Maria in the various languages of Catholic Europe. Until the 1568 Breviary, the Hail Mary officially ended with, “…and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus.”*
The figure of Our Lady stands out very prominently in these days of Advent. Her two great privileges, upon which all of the other honors and titles we give to Mary are based, the IMMACULATE CONCEPTION and the DIVINE MATERNITY shine luminously in this preparation phase of the Christmas Cycle.
In our spiritual preparation for the Christmas Feast it might be helpful for us to consider the hymns of Mary. The first hymn to consider is the one sung by Our Lady herself, her Canticle of Praise in St. Luke’s Gospel—the Magnificat. Here we see the purity of Mary’s heart as she gives God the praise for fulfilling the scriptural promises of redemption. I recommend committing Our Lady’s Magnificat to memory. Here is a translation from a musical setting to the Magnificat which I remember singing in the Seminary schola:
My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour; for He hath regarded the lowliness of His handmaiden, And, behold, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
For He that is mighty hath magnified me, and holy is His Name, and His mercy is on those who fear Him throughout all generations.
He hath shone the strength of His arm; He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts;
He hath put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted the humble and meek. He hath filled the hungry with good things and the rich he hath sent empty away.
He remembering His mercy hath holpen His servant Israel, as He promised to our Forefathers, Abraham and his seed forever.
In the liturgy of the Divine Office the Magnificat is sung every evening at Vespers, making use of the inspired words of Mary to thank God for another day of redemption. The Magnificat is also an especially beautiful prayer to recite as a private thanksgiving upon receiving Holy Communion.
Another hymn of Our Lady is the Marian Antiphon used from the First Sunday of Advent until February 2nd, the Alma Redemptoris. Here is a translation of that Antiphon:
Loving Mother of the Redeemer, Gate of
Heaven and Star of the Sea, come quickly to the
aid of thy people, fallen indeed but striving to
stand again. To the wonderment of Nature
thou wert the Mother of thy Holy Creator
without ceasing to be a virgin, and heard from
Gabriel that greeting “Hail”. Have pity on us
A third hymn of Our Lady for our meditation is one of the Marian hymns sung throughout the year on the feast-days of Our Lady, including the feast we have just celebrated, the Immaculate Conception. It is titled O Gloriosa Virginum.
O Most Glorious of Virgins, exalted among the stars, thou didst nurse at the breast the Little One who created thee.
Thou dost give back to us through thy loving Child what Eve through God’s curse had lost for us: thou openest the gates of heaven that Eve’s sorrowing children may enter.
Thou art the Royal Door for the heavenly King and the Shining Palace for the light from above.
Rejoice, ransomed world, that through the Virgin life has been given to us.
This hymn was the particular favorite of St. Anthony of Padua and it was the hymn he tried to sing on his deathbed, June 13th, A.D. 1231.