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Do you know what the Western Christian equivalent to the Jesus Prayer is? The Hail Mary. That is our Jesus Prayer…..

Do you know what the Western Christian equivalent to the Jesus Prayer is? The Hail Mary. That is our Jesus Prayer…..

As life continues full, I’m not yet able to resume writing here – which I miss! But I just had to say something about yesterday’s feast day honoring Our Lady of the Rosary.

The other week in one of my classes, we were covering the history of the Jesus Prayer in the Eastern Christian world. The Jesus prayer – some variation of “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me” – grew out of a monastic tradition of “arrow prayers,” i.e. short passages from Scripture that would used in repetition to laser-focus mind and heart in petitioning for divine aid.

In the East, it was the Jesus Prayer that towered over all other arrow prayers, especially because it placed in the center of the arrow the all-powerful Name of Jesus, in whom is the whole of God’s rich mercy poured out for us sinners. The idea was to allow this prayer, by constantly repeating it throughout the day, to become a ceaseless refrain of the heart opening itself to God.

I said to my class, “Do you know what the Western Christian equivalent to the Jesus Prayer is? The Hail Mary. That is our Jesus Prayer.”

The whole of this prayer is centered on the Name of Jesus. It begins with the greeting of the Archangel Gabriel – “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you.” Gabriel was sent by God to Mary to gain her consent to conceive God’s Son, and Gabriel was the first to utter the Name God had chosen for himself — “this is my name forever” (Ex. 3:15):

Jesus, “God saves.”

The prayer then continues with the words of Elizabeth who, filled with the Holy Spirit, declares Mary and Jesus both to be “blessed” — bearers of God’s creative and re-creative word.

So in these first words of the Hail Mary, we are invited to join Sts. Gabriel and Elizabeth in addressing Mary and Jesus — or Jesus in Mary — wreathing the Incarnation of God in joy, wonder and awe. To do this is to open afresh the Gates those sacred events first opened.

Then the prayer crescendos by uttering, into this new moment of history, the Holy Name of Jesus. A name Gabriel revealed to Mary. Here is the center and hinge of the Hail Mary, because it is the center and hinge of all existence. The same Jesus of whom St. Paul says:

He is the image of the invisible God,
the first-born of all creatures.
In him everything in heaven and on earth was created,
things visible and invisible.

All were created through him;
all were created for him.
He is before all else that is.
In him everything continues in being.

The Name of Jesus alone contains and gives what it signifies, unleashes all the fullness of God into the world. When we pray that Name in faith, we invoke everything God has to offer humanity.

Note also, it is the mention of this Name that pivots the whole prayer from the Incarnation of God in Mary’s womb in Nazareth toward the blessed “Mother of God” in heaven. There, she shares in the fullness of her Son’s risen glory, and shares in his ceaseless intercession before the Father for “us sinners.”

From heaven, Mary continues to facilitate what she first modeled for us on earth: the ongoing consent of Virgin-Mother Church — us — who now wails in pain as she conceives, labors and delivers God’s Son into history – “until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to perfect humanity, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4:13).

How blessed are we, as we cry aloud amid the pains of labor, to have this rhythmic prayer accompany us. With it, we enter with Mary, in prayer, into the great mystery of our core vocation: to give flesh to God, as members of his Body, bringing him into the world by frequently repeating those words that first gave God flesh: “let it be done to me according to your word.”


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