Saturday, June 6, 2015

The Hail Mary and the Jesus Prayer: Part 2

In my previous post I began a series on the theological parallels between the Western Hail Mary and the Eastern Jesus Prayer. As I was waking up this morning it struck me that I ought to kick off this exploration by beginning with the central theme of both prayers: the Name and Person of Jesus Christ. At even the most cursory glance it is blatantly obvious that the Jesus Prayer is about invoking the Name and Person of Jesus. But isn't the Hail Mary about invoking the person of Mary, the Mother of God? Isn't the Hail Mary all about beseeching her intercession? The easy answer? Yes and no.

The Hail Mary is certainly about invoking the intercession of the Blessed Mother/Theotokos, but there is a much deeper aspect to this that can be found in the very construct of the prayer itself. The prayer can be divided into two parts: the first I will call "the glories," and the second I will call "the petition:"

1) Glories - Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you! Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb...

2) Petition - Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.

Uniting these two parts is the Name of Jesus. Although I left it out in the quote above for the sake of highlighting this point, the Name of Jesus comes immediately after the phrase "fruit of your womb..." and acts as the link between the the "Glories" and the "Petition." In fact, built into the second part is an implicit reference directly back to the Name and Person of Jesus that appears in the first part. In the "Petition" we refer to Mary as "Mother of God" or "Theotokos." Mary is the Mother of God because she bore Jesus - the Second Person of the Trinity - in her womb, gave birth to Him, raised Him, in short she fully participated in the Divine plan of salvation. By calling her "Mother of God" or "Theotokos" we are submerged directly in the mystery of the Incarnation of Jesus in her womb, and so we are submerged in the mystery of the very Person of Jesus.

Even though the Name of Jesus is not always directly invoked in the most common Byzantine versions of this prayer, it can be assumed or implied because in those versions we still refer to Mary as "Mother of God" or "Theotokos." The person of Jesus is also implied at the end of these versions when we refer to the fruit of Mary's womb as "Savior of our souls." Again, through this phrase we are calling to mind the Divine plan of salvation, Mary's participation in that plan, and the very Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity. "Savior," being one of the titles given to Jesus, can also be considered an implicit invocation of the Holy Name.

For an even broader perspective it is worth pointing out that the Churches of the Syriac tradition have a version of the Hail Mary that is virtually identical to the Western version. There are a few slight differences, but it's practically the same. You can view a version of it here. Again, the central theme is the Name, Person and action of Jesus. Mary simply participates in the saving actions of her Divine Son.

So is the Hail Mary focused on invoking the intercession of the Theotokos? Sure it is! But we only invoke her intercession because of her participation in the saving actions of Jesus. Hence, we call upon the Name of Jesus while at the same time praying for Mary's intercession. Mary points us to her Son as we see in nearly every one of her icons. Therefore, any prayer to her is still a prayer centered on the person of Jesus Christ. Without Him we have no reason to pray to her. May heaven consume us.