A Necessary Doctrine and Erudition for Any Christian Man
Set forth by the Kings Majesty of England, &c.
Introduction by the Reverend T.A. Lacey
London: R. Browning, 1895.
THE SALUTATION OF THE ANGEL TO THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY.
HAIL, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, Blessed art thou among women; and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.
FOR the better understanding of this salutation of the angel, made to the blessed virgin Mary, ye shall first consider, how it was decreed of the whole Trinity, that after the fall of our first father Adam, (by which mankind was so long in the great indignation of God, and exiled out of heaven,) the second Person, the everlasting Son of the Father everlasting, should take upon him the nature of man; and so as he was perfect God, should be perfect man, to redeem mankind from the power of the Devil, and to reconcile the same again to his Lord God. And for this purpose, (as St. Luke in his Gospel declareth,) in the sixth month after St. Elisabeth was conceived with St. John the Baptist, the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin, which was despoused or ensured to a man, whose name was Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin's name was Mary. And when this angel came unto the said virgin, he said these words: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women. And when the virgin, hearing these words, was troubled with them, and mused with herself what manner of salutation it should be, the angel said to her, Fear not, Mary, be not abashed, for thou hast found favour in the sight of God. Lo, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord shall give unto him the seat of David his father: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and his kingdom shall have no end. Then said Mary to the angel, How can this be done, for I have not knowledge of man? And the angel answering said unto her The Holy Ghost shall come from above into thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: and therefore that holy one that shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And, lo, thy cousin Elisabeth hath also conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month sith she conceived, which was called the barren woman: for there is nothing unpossible to God. To this Mary answered, Lo, I am the handmaid of our Lord; be it done unto me as thou hast spoken. And then forthwith, upon the departure of the angel, Mary, being newly conceived with the most blessed child Jesus, went up into the mountains with speed into a city of Juda; and came to the house of Zachary, and saluted Elisabeth. And as soon as Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the child sprang in her womb, and forthwith Elisabeth was replenished with the Holy Ghost, and cried with a great voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women; and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whereof cometh this, that the mother of my Lord cometh to me? For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation was in mine ears, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed art thou that diddest believe : for all things that have been spoken to thee from our Lord shall be performed.
Secondly, it is to be noted, that the angel Gabriel, which spake to the virgin, was an high angel, and an high messenger. And truly it was convenient that he should be so: for he came with the highest message that ever was sent, which was the entreaty and league of peace between God and man. And therefore the first word of his salutation, that is to say, Hail, or Be joyful, was very convenient for the same: for he came with the message of joy. And so said the other angel, which at the birth of our Saviour appeared to the shepherds. I shew to you (said he) great joy that shall be to all the people. And surely, considering the effects that ensued upon his high message, all mankind had great cause to joy. For man, being in the indignation and displeasure of God, was hereby reconciled. Man, being in the bonds of the Devil, was hereby delivered. Man, being exiled and banished out of heaven, was hereby restored thither again.
These be such matters of joy and comfort to us, that there never was or shall be nor can be any like. And not only for this purpose he began with this high word of comfort, but also for he perceived that the virgin being alone, would be much abashed and astonied at his marvellous and sudden coming unto her. And therefore he thought it expedient, first of all to utter the word of joy and comfort, which might put away all fear from the blessed virgin. And he called her full of grace; by God endued so plenteously, because she should conceive and bear him that was the very plentitude and fulness of grace, the Lord of grace, by whom is all grace, and without whom is no grace. And this is the singular grace by which she is called, not only the mother of man, but also the mother of God.
Thirdly, by these words, the Lord is with thee, is declared why the angel called her full of grace: for surely our Lord is not with them that be not in grace, nor tarrieth with them that be void of grace, and be in sin. For there is a separation and divorce between the sinful soul and our Lord; as the Wise Man saith, Perverse thoughts make a separation and a divorce from God.
Fourthly, by these words, Blessed art thou among women, was meant, that there was never woman so blessed. And truly she may well be called so, most blessed among all women: for she had great and high prerogatives, which none other woman ever had, hath, or shall have. Is not this an high prerogative, that of all women she was chosen to be mother to the Son of God? And what excellent honour was she put to, when, notwithstanding the decree was made of his nativity by the whole Trinity, yet the thing was not done and accomplished without or before her consent was granted, for the which so solemn a messenger was sent? And also how high grace was this, that after the default made through the persuasion of the first woman, our mother Eve, by whom Adam was brought into disobedience, this blessed virgin was elect to be the instrument of our reparation, in that she was chosen to bear the Saviour and Redeemer of the world? And is not this a wonderful prerogative, to see a virgin to be a mother, .and conceive her child without sin? We may worthily say that she is the most blessed of all other women. And to the intent that all good Christian men should repute and take her so, behold the providence of God, that would by another witness confirm the same: for even the very same words that the angel spake, the blessed matron St. Elisabeth spake also ; and where the angel made an end, there she began.
The angel made an end of his salutation with these words: Blessed art thou among women. The blessed matron began her salutation with the same words, declaring that she was inspired with the same Spirit that sent the angel, and they were both ministers to the holy Trinity, the one from heaven, the other in earth. And afterward she added these words, saying, And blessed is the fruit of thy womb. These be not the words of the angel, but of St. Elisabeth : for when the virgin Mary came to salute her, the said Elisabeth, being inspired with the Holy Ghost, and knowing that the virgin Mary was conceived, spake these words of the fruit that the virgin should bring forth.
And there is also another wonderful thing to be noted. For, as it appeareth in the Gospel, the child in St. Elisabeth's womb, that is to say, St. John Baptist, (which yet had scant life,) gave testimony to this fruit, that this fruit should save mm and all the world, and as a prophet he leaped for joy in his mother's womb ; and although he could not then speak, yet nevertheless he declared by such signs and tokens as he could, that blessed was the fruit of that womb : and worthily called the fruit of her womb, in that the substance of the nature of man, which our Saviour Christ took upon him, was taken of the substance and nature of the most blessed virgin, and in her womb ; and so is called the fruit of her womb. And well he may be called the blessed fruit, which hath saved us, and given us life, contrary to the cursed fruit which Eve gave to Adam, by which we were destroyed and brought to death. But blessed is the fruit of this womb, which is the fruit of life everlasting.
And it is to be noted, that although this salutation be not a prayer of petition, supplication, or request or suit; yet nevertheless the church hath used to adjoin it to the end of the Paternoster, as an hymn or a prayer of laud and praise, partly of our Lord and Saviour Jesu Christ, for our redemption, and partly of the blessed virgin for her humble consent given and expressed to the angel at this salutation. Lauds, praise and thanks are in this Ave Maria principally given and yielded to our Lord, as to the author of our redemption: but therewithal the virgin lacketh not her lauds, praise, and thanks for her excellent and singular virtues, and chiefly for that she believed and humbly consented, according to the saying of the holy matron St. Elisabeth, when she said unto this virgin, Blessed art thou that diddest give trust and credence to the angel's words: for all things that have been spoken unto thee shall be performed.