True Devotion to Mary

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Pray the Angelus

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By Br. Stephen, MIC

I had a friend in college who prepared for his freshman year by practicing staying up late—sometimes till after midnight. Since college involves a great deal of work and not a few late nights, he reasoned, why not learn beforehand how such a demanding schedule will affect your body and mind?

Another student in the same class, who stayed in my room, prepared for freshman year by doing almost the opposite. He was rarely seen outside the dorm after 10 P.M. Instead, he woke up every day at 6 A.M. and fell into a morning routine: prayer, exercise, and a quick shower, just to get ready for the day. 

The reason he began at 6 A.M., he would say, was the Angelus prayer. Somehow, the fact that this traditional Catholic prayer was usually said at 6 A.M., 12 noon, and 6 P.M. was enough to motivate him, as soon as his alarm went off, to bolt upright and quietly start the familiar words, "The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary..." By the time he reached "And the Word was made flesh...", he knew he had to be awake enough to genuflect and not fall over. If he had trouble with that (which was rare), he would go back to bed and sleep for another hour or so. His daily devotion, however, motivated me as well, and to this day, I pray the Angelus as soon as I wake up in the morning (even if it's not exactly 6 A.M.).

Having prayed the Angelus at least since my college days, I've had almost 10 years to reflect on the simple words, "The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary, and she conceived by the Holy Spirit." The whole mystery of Jesus' Incarnation is contained in this sentence. All three persons of the Blessed Trinity are acting in it: The Father sends the angel, the angel declares The Word, and The Word will be conceived in Mary by the Holy Spirit. The grace is offered on God's initiative: it is only for the Virgin to respond.

"Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done unto me according to your word." These are some of the most beautiful words in all of Scripture. They are the words of Mary, responding to the angel's declaration. Mary gives, in fact, the perfect response, the response we all should imitate when we respond to God's grace: "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord: I belong wholly to Him. Let Him use me to accomplish the purpose for which He made me." 

In her Diary, St. Faustina records a "Conversation of the Merciful God with a Suffering Soul." In this conversation, she heard Jesus calling this prayer, "Let your will be done to me," a swift path to sanctity. He said, "These words, spoken from the depths of one's heart, can raise a soul to the summit of sanctity in a short time. In such a soul I delight. Such a soul gives Me glory" (Diary, 1487). We can be sure that the Virgin Mary knew this path to sanctity better than anyone else: By her constant surrender to the will of God, she was perfectly prepared for the supreme human role He planned for her: to become His Mother.

Why did God desire such a response? Couldn't He do whatever He wanted, with or without our cooperation? It's true that God could do whatever He wanted. However, in making a truly free will apart from His own, He gave the possibility of refusing His will, of an eternal "no." But He gave something more: the possibility of an eternal "yes", a perfect response of love for His love. 

God does not impose His will on us as a programmer imposes his program on the machine. God rather proposes His will to us. Indeed, one could say, using the analogy of marriage, God proposes to us. He proposes to us an everlasting relationship of love, not only "till death do us part" but lasting even after death, for all eternity.

When Mary accepts the Creator's proposal to form this unique relationship, then the third part of the Angelus comes about: "And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt amongst us." Grace comes first, then its effect. First, the angel declares, then the virgin conceives. When that exceptional grace enters into Mary's soul, Jesus is conceived in her womb. When grace enters into our souls, also, Christ is, in some mysterious way, conceived there. We, His Church, are meant to bring Him into the world visibly, in ourselves.

The third-century Doctor of the Church, St. Athanasius, wrote, "God became man so that man might become God." The path by which we increasingly participate in God's interior life and exterior action is called theosis, or "divinization." Participating in God's pure act of love, we somehow participate in His very Being. By our words and works of mercy, we show ourselves members of His Mystical Body, living images of divine Mercy. Every single time we accept God's love and obey His will, Jesus, Divine Mercy Incarnate, comes into the world and dwells among us in a new way.

When Jesus comes into the world in a new way, He always does so through Mary. This was St. Louis de Montfort's great insight in his book, True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, that "it was through the Blessed Virgin Mary that Jesus Christ came into the world, and it is through Her that He must reign in the world." 

Jesus, as the God-Man, is always and everywhere the fruit of Mary. And her unique role in God's plan for salvation is to bring Jesus continually into the world through us. This is why we pray: "Pray for us, O holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ." We ask her to pray for us, and to make us worthy of the promise of divinization, of the promise of Jesus coming into the world through Mary and through us.

To Jesus, through Mary!

Illustration: Detail, "The Annunciation" by Philippe de Champaigne (c. 1644), Metropolitan Museum of Art, public domain.

The Angelus
The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary: 
And she conceived by the Holy Spirit.
Hail Mary...

Behold the handmaid of the Lord:
Be it done unto me according to your word.
Hail Mary...

And the Word was made Flesh:
And dwelt amongst us.
Hail Mary...

Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God,
that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. 

Let us pray:
Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts; that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection, through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen. 

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