My blood rose

Hail, Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst 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.

Since I recently began praying the Rosary daily I have pondered on the prayer most recited therein. It begins in the same way that the angel appeared to our Lady, greeting her (Hail) with a special name (full of grace), but what from him is declaration is from us acknowledgement – the Lord is with thee – and for us this continues into Elizabeth’s words: blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.

Parts of the Catholic world see discouraged the expression which says to ‘bless the Lord’, as in Benedicamus Domino or the chorus “Come bless the Lord, all you ye servants of the Lord”, but here Elizabeth is blessing our Lord even in the passive voice. What, then, does it mean to bless? Is it not the condescending action it has come to be by all appearances? In fact, and this surprised me, blessing is bloodier than that – literally!

The word bless comes from an Old English tradition, referring to the life-force, which translated a Scriptural word for sacrifice, but this word also means worship, so bless was made equivalent to benedicere, the literal Latin for ‘speaking well’. So are we not to speak well to our Lord? If we were to bless the Lord as the Priest might bless us, the expression probably would be Benedicamus Dominum, with a nominative object instead of a dative one…probably.

More to it, the fact that Elizabeth refers to the fruit of our Lady’s womb as Lord by way of calling Mary his mother proves the Apostle Paul right that “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ unless he is under the influence of the Holy Spirit”, and we are told that it was “as soon as Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting [that] the child leapt in her womb and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. She gave a loud cry and said…”

So Elizabeth’s words are the response to our Lady’s voice, which channelled the Spirit (here the breath of greeting) even before her Son, the Word himself, said not to worry when a time darker than this would come and we would have to defend ourselves. Even for Elizabeth, then, this was acknowledgement, a gift of the Spirit, on which Mary picked up and said “all generations will call me blessed”.

We do that precisely in the line Holy Mary, Mother of God, in which we are about to ask her to pray for us, sinners: to bless the Lord on behalf of us who are “not worthy that [he] should enter under [our] roof”, whose tongues can’t yet be touched by the white-hot coal that heals the soul. It makes the now which we specify open-ended, i.e. open to the idea of making now now and not years down the line or even tomorrow: open to perpetual prayer, the Rosary’s nature.

Just to be sure, however, we also beg our Lady’s intercession at the hour of our death because it, too, can happen years down the line or tomorrow or even now. Do we really want our last prayer, be it the Rosary or something else, to be our last prayer? No…but yes…that we may be helped to rise to new life in Christ on the last day, just as we would have risen every morning.

May the Lord, whose name is holy and whose mercy is from age to age on those who fear him, breathe the gift of courage into us that, far from fleeing from his Mother, we may run to her daily in this extraordinary year of jubilee for the sake of enriching our minds, restoring our sight and being freed from fetters of sin as from under the feet of Satan.

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