The Angel of the Lord brought to tidings to Mary / And she conceived by the Holy Spirit.” The first versicle is a summary of Luke 1.26–38 which describes the encounter between the angel Gabriel and Mary. The will and purposes of God are conveyed by Gabriel. This conversation with Mary is an encounter and engagement between the will of God and the free-will of Mary.
“Behold the handmaid of the Lord / Let it be to me according to your word.” The second versicle is Mary’s final response to the angel (Lk. 1.28). Mary has made a choice with the whole of her being. These words are the culmination of an active and affirmatory yes to the purposes and promises of God. Mary’s desire to serve God answers the desire and longing of her people for a messiah.
“The Word was made flesh / And dwelt among us.” The third versicle (Jn. 1.13a) affirms the same mystery described in the Nicene Creed as “he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary, and was made man.”
The prayer “Hail Mary” follows after each versicle. It begins with God’s greeting to Mary through the intermediary of an angel – “Hail Mary full of grace the Lord is with you.” (Lk. 1.28b) In response to being greeted by Mary, Elizabeth who is moved by the stirrings of her unborn child and the Holy Spirit exclaims “Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” (Lk. 1.42b) So the first part of the prayer “Hail Mary” is a resounding affirmation of the origin of grace.
The second part of the “Hail Mary” takes us to the Cross. “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.” From the Cross Jesus commended Mary to the care of the beloved disciple (Jn. 19.25–27). Since that time Mary became the Mother of us all. Her singular desire is that we come to love and serve her Son as did she. In recognition of this the Tradition invites us to pray to, and with, Mary. Her constant prayer for us all is for our conversion to Christ. This is true of all the saints, among whom she is chief. So when we pray this part of the “Hail Mary” we are in fact praying to, and with, all the communion of saints for our conversion to Christ.
Father Mark Greenaway-Robbins