Thursday, December 2, 2010

The Angelus: A Christ-Centered Marian Prayer

I have heard people defend Marian prayers on the grounds that Mary is only revered because of her relationship to Christ, that is, strictly in her role as Mother of God. Nevertheless, I've never been comfortable with Marian devotion, for all the usual reasons - not the least of which is that we have no promise she (or any of the saints) hear us.

I have come to see that the Angelus, on the other hand, can be read in a Christ-centered way. Here is the text:
V. The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.
R. And she conceived by the power of Holy Spirit.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
R. Be it done unto me according to your Word.

Hail Mary...

V. And the Word was made flesh.
R. And dwelt among us.

Hail Mary...

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

Let us pray: Pour forth, we beseech thee, O Lord, Your 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.
The context of the prayer is the remembrance of the Incarnation. We remember (in the versicle and response) and then we respond by asking Mary to pray for us that we may receive the word of God as faithfully as her. Read in this way, the Hail Marys are not prayers to an alternate, more compassionate mediator, but requests to an (the?) exemplar of faithful response to God to pray for us that we may also hear and treasure the words of God.

The lack of a promise that Mary hears our prayers remains as a real problem. There are plenty of standard answers given in any number of Catholic apologetics books or websites. One way of framing this, however, comes from Elizabeth Johnson:
Interpreting invocation of the saints within the companionship model of the communion of saints allows a measure of response to the criticisms rightly levied against its practice in the patronage model. To Reformation commitment that Christ not be overshadowed: the saints are not petitioned as intermediaries with a judgmental Christ but addressed as codisciples in a small act that strengthens bonds of fellowship in grace across the generations. To feminist passion for relationships of mutuality: rather than casting one into the dependent, subordinate position of petitioner typical of patriarchal elitism, invocation activates mutual regard and provides a vehicle for leaning on and being supported by the saving solidarity among all the friends of God and prophets. To postmodern spiritual agnosticism [with its doubts about the specifics of the “afterlife” and the relationship between the living and the dead]: read as symbolic rather than literal address, calling the other by name with a request for prayer is a concrete act by which we join our lives with the prayer of all who have gone before us in common yearning for God. Within the companionship model, invocation of any saint, in Rahner’s luminous words, “is always the invocation of all the saints, i.e., an act by which we take refuge in faith in the all-enfolding community of all the redeemed.” We dive into the whole company of saints through a single categorical deed.
The Angelus can be a way of imaginatively placing yourself in first century Palestine, witnessing the Annunciation and, later, the Visitation, and asking the Blessed Virgin Mary to pray for you. In this way it is a form of imaginative prayer, not a direct address to Mary, which sidesteps the problem of whether she actually hears our prayers. It is by framing it in this way that I've tentatively begun incorporating it into my prayers. Am I merely making arguments for a practice I already want to accept? Maybe, but you do it too.

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About Me

I'm Rachel's husband and Darcy's daddy. I'm a Hoosier, an accountant, and an Episcopalian. Politically, I'm a progressive who believes in the preferential option for the poor. I use the blog as a sort of journal - to interact with my reading and sketch out ideas.