Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Rejoice, Mary!

Mary is an important figure during Advent. And she shows us how to be joyful.
At the Annunciation, Gabriel’s first word to Mary is chaïré, a Greek word meaning “rejoice.” The angel invites Mary to rejoice, because God has chosen her for a most special mission. But if Gabriel is telling Mary to rejoice, why is the most popular Marian prayer called the “Hail Mary” and not the “Rejoice Mary”? It’s because of the way the Gospels were translated into Latin. The Latin Vulgate Bible, translated by St. Jerome, used the words “Ave Maria.” In Latin, “ave” is a greeting. The Latin Bible was used extensively in the church in the West (mainly Europe), and became the basis for the prayer we know as the Hail Mary. Western writers also liked to contrast Eve (or Eva in Latin) with Mary, using a play on words of changing Eva into Ave.
In the Eastern church, however, the people could read Greek so they had a better sense of the invitation to joy that Gabriel was extending to Mary. Many of the Greek Fathers of the Church wrote about joy in connection with the Annunciation. The famous Marian hymn of the East, called the Akathist Hymn, constantly uses the refrain “rejoice” in relation to the Annunciation.