The Hail Mary: A Hecker Reflection
This is the seventeenth in a series of previously unpublished reflections from the 1854 spiritual notebook of Paulist Founder, Servant of God Father Isaac T. Hecker. The reflection series is being made pubic in conjunction with Father Hecker's cause for canonization. Father Paul Robichaud, CSP, Paulist historian and postulator for Father Hecker’s cause for sainthood, offers a response to Father Hecker’s reflection.
The Hail Mary: A Hecker Reflection
Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with you.
With God’s fiat the world was created; but with Mary’s fiat God himself became man, and the lost world was saved.
Blessed are You among women. And blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
An archangel visited her, the Holy Spirit overshadowed her, the Almighty God descended into her womb. When it was told to her to visit her cousin, she could have used all of this as an excuse. But no, she thought only of her nothingness. She therefore hastened to visit her cousin. Indeed, she was the handmaid of the Lord.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
The mother of God becomes the refuge of sinners, the servant of all. What heart is not overpowered with joy. If we are to have the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we must become like her Son, for to gain the affection of a person, we must become like the object of their love.
St. Vincent (de Paul) says of the Hail Mary that an angel began it when he saluted the Blessed Virgin Mary; that St. Elizabeth continued it when visited by her cousin; and that we the Church complete it, so that every Hail Mary is inspired by the Holy Spirit.
A Response from Father Paul Robichaud, CSP
With the recent feast of the Assumption, it seemed appropriate to publish Father Hecker’s short reflection on the Hail Mary. The prayer is in three sections. The first two sections taken from the Gospel of Luke, first appeared in the Roman liturgy in the seventh century. Here it served as an offertory prayer celebrating the Annunciation both on the feast day (March 25) and on the Fourth Sunday of Advent. It became a popular devotional prayer throughout the medieval Church beginning in the eleventh century and the emergence of various forms of the rosary in the twelfth century increased its popularity. The Lukan greetings of the angel Gabriel and Elizabeth seemed incomplete as most prayers contain a petition in their closing. In a sermon preached on the Annunciation in 1427, St. Bernadine of Siena added the words “pray for us.” This was expanded into its present form and approved for universal use by Pope Saint Pius V in 1568.
Father Hecker reflects on the three parts of the prayer. The greeting of the Angel Gabriel (Luke 1:28) reminds us of the importance of Mary’s “yes” in salvation history. Father Hecker parallels her “fiat” or “let it be done” to similar words spoken by God the Father in the creation. Here he links the creation of the world to the new creation of the Incarnation. To demonstrate that the “Hail Mary” is a living prayer of the church, the prayer according to Father Hecker and St. Vincent de Paul, continues in the greeting of Elizabeth Luke 1:42 and the petitionary prayer of the present and future Church. Father Hecker then adds that when we pray to the Blessed Mother for protection, we should accompany our petition with an effort to be more like her Son. The prayer while focused on the Virgin Mary also becomes a Christ centered prayer for it encourages us to be more like the Christ.
About Father Isaac Hecker’s 1854 Spiritual Notebook:
Servant of God, Father Isaac Hecker wrote these spiritual notes as a young Redemptorist priest about 1854 and they have never been published. Hecker was 34 years old at the time, and had been ordained a priest for five years. He loved his work as a Catholic evangelist. The Redemptorist mission band had expanded out of the New York state area to the south and west, and the band’s national reputation grew. Hecker had begun to focus his attention on Protestants who came out to hear them. To this purpose Hecker began to write in 1854 his invitation to Protestant America to consider the Catholic Church, “Questions of the Soul” which would make him a national figure in the American church.
Hecker collected and organized these notes that include writings and stories from St. Alphonsus Liguori, the Jesuit spiritual writer Louis Lallemant and his disciple Jean Surin, the German mystic John Tauler, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Jane de Chantal among others. These notes were a resource for retreat work and spiritual direction and show Hecker’s growing proficiency in traditional Catholic spirituality some ten years after his conversion to the Catholic faith. They are composed of short thematic reflections.