Sr Hyacinthe considers various ways in the Scriptures that Mary can be our hope today.
Sr Hyacinthe Defos du Rau OP
One much loved Catholic prayer to Mary is the Hail, Holy Queen. This beautiful prayer to Our Lady is traditionally prayed at the end of the Rosary. It is the English translation of the Salve Regina, an ancient hymn, dating probably from the 11th Century. The Salve Regina is still widely sung in the Church, especially as the last hymn of the day in religious communities of monks and nuns. In the Hail, Holy Queen, we call for Mary’s help and prayers for us and invoke her as ‘Our life, our sweetness, and our hope.’
How is Mary ‘our hope’? Perhaps we can look at this strange title under two aspects. First, she is our hope, perhaps because she is our Mother: Mother of Christ, and so Mother of the Body of Christ the Church. At the moment of Jesus’ death she is given to the care of the Beloved Disciple by Jesus himself when he says: “Here is your mother.” (John 19:27). The early Patristic writers saw this as a type of her motherhood of the whole Church and developed this idea accordingly.
When at baptism we were made one with Jesus, and so adopted into the family of God, we not only received God as our Father, but we believe that we also received Mary as our Mother. And so, just as we can turn to our mum to get things done, and ask of our dad things we want, that perhaps we wouldn’t get so easily if not for her, we can turn to our Mother Mary and ask her to pray for us, knowing how close she is to God. She is called, after all, the Mother of God! Our hope is in our Mother, in her ability to obtain things and get things done for her beloved children. This is why we pray to her.
Second, she is our hope perhaps because she is human: simply and only human. She is not God, she is not divine, she is no higher type of being than we are. She is like us; she is one of us. We know that Jesus is also fully human. Yet he is also fully divine. Mary is just a woman. When we look at Mary, think about her life, the way that she completely gave herself to God in every aspects and dimension of her life – body and soul, faith and love, joy and suffering – we may think that this is something we cannot possibly do ourselves. Yet Mary’s own words in the Magnificat, which is her song of praise in Luke 1:46-55, contradict this line of thinking. The Magnificat tells us that her life is not self-made, but God-made. It is not primarily about what she has achieved, but about what God has achieved in and through her. Her song begins with these words:
My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.
In the Magnificat, Mary tells us that God has done all these things for her, that he is the one to be praised and exalted for the wonders of his works in her. From now on, she will be called blessed by ‘all generations’ because of the Lord’s favour for her. By meditating on the rest of the Magnificat, we discover that while the Lord is the subject of all the verbs, the doer of all the actions, the fulfiller of all the promises, we can only understand his purpose if we also, are active in our application of his vision for what the kingdom should look like:
His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
From the Magnificat, we see that Mary is our hope because God is her hope. She is our model as a human being of how to receive God’s grace, salvation and favour, with a total and unmitigated YES! In the Magnificat, we see hope realised, promises fulfilled, justice restored, mercy poured out, because one woman, one human person, opened herself entirely to the grace and salvation of God. That same hope is available to us. For the grace that Mary received is not just for herself, but for the whole of humanity which she represents. She is our hope. In her we see what God can do for us and in us, and will do for us and in us, if, like her, we make ourselves entirely available to him.
The goal of hope – justice, salvation, life, flourishing and happiness, would all be impossible to reach, if God had not made what is impossible to us possible through Mary’s agreeing to give birth to Jesus. The angel Gabriel says to Mary at the Annunciation: ‘Nothing will be impossible with God’ (Lk 1:37) and St Paul tells us in Philippians 4:13: ‘I can do all things through him who strengthens me.’ In other words, God himself provides the help and the means to reach him, and to fulfil the hope that he himself gives us.
Hope, as expressed in the Magnificat of Our Lady, is not only a longing for God as the one I desire, but also a relying on God as the one who saves, the one who enables, the one who always fulfils his promises. When I say: ‘I hope in God’, it is both longing and reliance, desire and trust. Longing for and reliance on God are expressed powerfully throughout the Scripture, and especially in the Psalms, which is the book of the Bible that mentions hope the most. It is not a passive hope, but a hope that transforms me. This type of hope enables me to act courageously so as to make a difference in the world, as Mary did, offering herself to God, for him to bring about salvation, justice, love and mercy in the world, in the person of Jesus Christ.
Sr Hyacinthe Defos du Rau OP is a Dominican Sister and Formation for Mission Team Leader based in Portsmouth Diocese.
She is also a member of the God who Speaks National Planning Team.
All Scripture quotes are from the NRSV