Thursday, March 15, 2007

Protestants IV: Can Protestants hail Mary?

protestants and the rosary, conclusion

There are three basic prayers in the Rosary: the Our Father ("Our Father, who art in heaven..."), the Gloria ("Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit...") and the Hail Mary.

The first two are not controversial: in fact, many Protestants say them quite routinely, especially in weekly church services.

Even for Protestants who might otherwise be comfortable with the repetitive and meditative aspects of the rosary, however, the "Hail Mary" may still give them pause. I've already outlined some of the reasons why. Here's what the prayer says:

AVE MARIA, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.

"HAIL, MARY, full of grace; the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen."


One of the classic Catholic stories of Protestants "discovering" the rosary shows the Protestant suddenly realizing that the first words of the "Hail Mary" prayer come straight out of the Gospel of Luke. "Aha!" crows the Catholic, "See? It's right out of the Bible!"

Well, sort of. :)

Certainly it's partly true that this comes out of Scripture. "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee... blessed art thou among women" is the angel Gabriel's salutation to Mary, who has been chosen as the mother of Christ (Luke 1:28).

The second phrase is also a direct quote from the Bible. "Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb" is the greeting spoken by Mary's cousin Elizabeth when Mary comes to visit her (Luke 1:42).

Protestants, however, point out that the first of these is a greeting spoken by an angel, not a human being. The second is spoken directly to Mary's face by someone she knew on earth. Neither of them is presented as something ordinary believers in later times are supposed to go around repeating -- in contrast, for instance, to the things Christians are directly admonished to do, such as praying after the model of the Our Father, or washing one another's feet.

If the question is whether it's legitimate to use someone else's words to express greetings or praise, of course the answer is yes. But this doesn't answer the question a Protestant would raise: Is there a reason for greeting or praising the Virgin Mary at all? Even Protestants who are comfortable with the idea of asking saints in heaven to pray for us (as we do our friends on earth) might feel this reminds them too strongly of the praise and worship given to God.

There may never be a "Protestant rosary," as such, since as we've seen there are several aspects of the rosary that Protestants may continue to be uncomfortable with.

But I do think there are ways of recognizing Mary's role in salvation history that Protestants and Catholics can agree on, and perhaps pray about. In that sense, and with proper understanding on all sides, perhaps Protestants can find ways to appreciate Mary after all.


I find myself thinking here of the Angelus, a prayer formula that has traditionally been said by devout Catholics at the ringing of a bell at dawn, noon, and sunset (familiar from references like the 19th-century painting "The Angelus" by Jean-Fran├žois Millet, which shows field workers pausing to pray). While the Angelus grew out of an older custom of saying three Hail Marys at sunset, dawn, and noon, other words were soon added.

In the version I learned, it goes like this:

"The Angel of the Lord appeared unto Mary,
and she was filled with the Holy Spirit.

("Hail, Mary, full of grace..... etc.)

"Behold the Handmaid of the Lord.
Be it done to me according to Thy Word.

("Hail, Mary, full of grace..... etc.)

"And the Word was made flesh
and dwelt among us.

("Hail, Mary, full of grace..... etc.)

"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."

other posts in this series:

Part I: Protestants and the Rosary
Part II: Worship, honor, and the Virgin Mary
Part III: Addressing saints

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