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O Clement, O Loving, O Sweet Virgin Mary

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By Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC (Aug 11, 2018)
Catholic tradition holds August as the month of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. To begin this month, Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC, is sharing reflections and insights on the great prayer "Hail, Holy Queen." We continue with the eleventh line: "O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary!"

Why these three titles out of all others at this point in the prayer?

Once again, the prayer returns to the theme of Mary as our advocate in a judicial sense. So there's clemency, which means, according to the dictionary, "mild or merciful in disposition or character; lenient; compassionate." Obviously it's not just something juridical. There's love. "O clement, O loving." She's our mother. Our relationship with God and Mary through the Mystical Body of Christ is not just a contractual relationship. It's not just something impersonal; it's very personal — a matter of love. Then "sweet" once again appeals to her tenderness. She's so kind. She's going to advocate for us and plead our cause the way that a mother would do it, so she's going to be on our side with great care and tenderness.

And actually that sweetness has shown up twice in this prayer. "Our life, our sweetness, and our hope."

Right, exactly. In this prayer, there's a certain appeal to the sweetness of a mother, and the sweetness of this particular mother. She is our consolation in the valley of tears, in the bitterness of the fallen world, just as she was to her Son during His earthly life, and especially during His Passion. She has pull with her divine Son and the whole Holy Trinity because, in a certain sense, God takes delight in her sweetness. God takes delight in her femininity and tenderness. Why not make an appeal to that?

At the same time, she's not immune to the bitterness of this valley of tears. Over the years, saints and scholars have studied the name of Mary, asking, "What does the name of Mary mean?" One common conclusion is that the roots of the word mean "bitter." This emphasizes that, although her name is great (as the Church reiterates when we celebrate the Holy Name of Mary on Sept. 12), there's always a certain tinge of sadness to the name of Mary because she's Our Lady of Sorrows. She had to go through so much suffering and interior torture. There's a bittersweetness to Mary, just as there is in the life of Jesus, who experienced both the Crucifixion and the Resurrection, both persecution and glory.

Mary is not the Just Judge. Why does her clemency matter?

That part of the prayer reminds us of the Queen Mother, the gebirah, in the Old Testament, who was a powerful intercessor in the court of her son, the Davidic king. Although she is not God, Mary is the mother of our Divine Judge. He loves her so much
and He is so humble that He actually gives her a huge say in the distribution of His graces and mercy. The Kingdom of Heaven is a family. He's not going to exclude her. It's because of His goodness that He actually allows her to have a say, to have influence. That works out well for us because we can then appeal to her motherhood.

Why three titles for Mary? Why the repetition?

In a lot of our prayers, we tend to say things three times. She would have heard us the first time. We could have used just one word, but it shows the seriousness of it, that we're really, really earnestly seeking to get her attention. We're tugging at her maternal apron, so to speak. "Look, look, look at us, turn! Help!"

Also, the usual repetition of three throughout our prayer would seem to be some sort of reference to the Trinity or to honor the Trinity. When we think about prayers such as the "Holy, Holy, Holy" or "Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One," there's a certain reference to divine perfections. Obviously Mary's not going to have these perfections in a divine way. But she can have a share in them that can be manifested through her role as the New Eve and the Mother of All the Living. Since she's going to be advocating for us with the Holy Trinity, why not make an appeal to something that each divine Person might have in a particular way? In some sense, clemency is a manifestation of a perfection of the Father, loving is a manifestation of a perfection of the Son, and sweetness, of the Holy Spirit. It's like instead of saying, "Mother, intercede for us before the Holy Trinity," we say in a different way, maybe a poetic way or a prayerful way, "Mother, intercede for us
before the All Clement One, the All Loving One, the All Sweet One."

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