The Hail Mary Explained for Protestants Part 5: The Requested Intersession

Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone in good spirits? He should sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint (him) with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven. Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful.

James 5:13-16

The fifth in my series explaining why the Hail Mary is a prayer for all Christians not just Catholics.

Hail Mary, full of grace the Lord is with thee
Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners.
Now, and at the hour of our death, Amen.

In part 1 the Angelic Salutation, we talked about how the opening words of the Hail Mary, taken directly from the greeting of the Angel Gabriel, signifies not only the importance of Mary as the very first Christian but her position relative to the heavenly host.

In Part 2 the Human confirmation, we noted how the words of the Angel to Mary taken directly Elizabeth’s greeting from scripture signifies the confirmation of the angel’s message and that in addition to the angels it is for man both born and unborn to honor Mary in every generation.

In Part 3: The Holy Name: We noted both the power of the Holy Name of Jesus but that the Hail Mary in direct worship of Jesus, invokes his holy name.

In Part 4: The Maternal Observation: We talked scripturally on Mary’s place as mother of God and disciple of Christ.

So now let’s continue with part 5: The Requested intercession

As per part four our task here is two-fold, to confirm that these words are true and proper, followed by the significance of the words being prayed themselves.  The words being “Pray for us sinners”

At first glance this would seem rather easy, “pray for us sinners” would seem an innocuous term.  We are of course all sinners who need prayer and any look at a Bible concordance will find the word “pray” and “prayer” all over the place in scripture.

But there is one catch to this that I’ve heard from just about every sort of Protestant that I’ve met.  It’s the idea that you should go directly to Christ with your prayer rather than asking Mary to pray for you.  Why would one ask for Mary to intercede when you can pray directly to Jesus Christ?  The point being that such prayer raises Mary beyond her station and in some way lessons Christ.

A look at scripture leads however to the following point

Intercessory Prayer is not only legitimate but biblical

This might shock some but if you look at scripture it should not as the direct prayer standard is not always used.  There is a hint of this in Jesus Last Supper discourse when he prays in John 17:20-21: (emphasis mine)

“I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.

This indicates the task of the disciples of Christ and that those who follow after him will have a key impact in the faith and belief in other, in other words that they will intercede on their behalf.  But that’s only an oblique reference, if you look in scripture you will find examples of this both in the old testament where Pharaoh asks Moses to intercede in prayer:

Then Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Pray the LORD to remove the frogs from me and my subjects, and I will let the people go to offer sacrifice to the LORD.”

Moses answered Pharaoh, “Do me the favor of appointing the time when I am to pray for you and your servants and your subjects, that the frogs may be taken away from you and your houses and be left only in the river.”

Exodus 8:4-5

Well, then,” said Pharaoh, “I will let you go to offer sacrifice to the LORD, your God, in the desert, provided that you do not go too far away and that you pray for me.”

Moses answered, “As soon as I leave your presence I will pray to the LORD that the flies may depart tomorrow from Pharaoh and his servants and his subjects. Pharaoh, however, must not play false again by refusing to let the people go to offer sacrifice to the LORD.”

When Moses left Pharaoh’s presence, he prayed to the LORD; and the LORD did as Moses had asked. He removed the flies from Pharaoh and his servants and subjects. Not one remained.

Exodus 8:24-27

What is Pharaoh doing?  He is asking Moses for intercessory prayer.  And Pharaoh is not alone in asking for such prayer of Moses

You have the people of Israel asking it of Samuel:

They said to Samuel, “Pray to the LORD your God for us, your servants, that we may not die for having added to all our other sins the evil of asking for a king.”

1 Samuel 12:19

The Elder Uzziah asks it of Judith

Then Uzziah said to her: “All that you have said was spoken with good sense, and no one can gainsay your words.  Not today only is your wisdom made evident, but from your earliest years all the people have recognized your prudence, which corresponds to the worthy dispositions of your heart.

The people, however, were so tortured with thirst that they forced us to speak to them as we did, and to bind ourselves by an oath that we cannot break.  But now, God-fearing woman that you are, pray for us that the Lord may send rain to fill up our cisterns, lest we be weakened still further.”

Judith 8:28-31

And even the Lord God himself commands it of the friends of Job

And it came to pass after the LORD had spoken these words to Job, that the LORD said to Eliphaz the Temanite, “I am angry with you and with your two friends; for you have not spoken rightly concerning me, as has my servant Job.

Now, therefore, take seven bullocks and seven rams, and go to my servant Job, and offer up a holocaust for yourselves; and let my servant Job pray for you; for his prayer I will accept, not to punish you severely. For you have not spoken rightly concerning me, as has my servant Job.”

Then Eliphaz the Temanite, and Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite, went and did as the LORD had commanded them. And the LORD accepted the intercession of Job.

Job 42:7-9

And this isn’t limited to the Old Testament In the new we see Simon the magician’s plea to Peter 

Repent of this wickedness of yours and pray to the Lord that, if possible, your intention may be forgiven.  For I see that you are filled with bitter gall and are in the bonds of iniquity.”

Simon said in reply, “Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me.”

Acts 8:22-24

And Paul asking the Thessalonians

Finally, brothers, pray for us, so that the word of the Lord may speed forward and be glorified, as it did among you, and that we may be delivered from perverse and wicked people, for not all have faith.

2 Thessalonians 3:1-2

the Colossians

Persevere in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving; at the same time, pray for us, too, that God may open a door to us for the word, to speak of the mystery of Christ, for which I am in prison,

Colossians 4:2-3

and the Ephesians

With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit. To that end, be watchful with all perseverance and supplication for all the holy ones and also for me, that speech may be given me to open my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel for which I am an ambassador in chains, so that I may have the courage to speak as I must.

Ephesians 18-20

…to pray for him.

All of these things are requests for intercessory prayer a request that a person other than themselves intercede with God.

Now of course there is nothing wrong with a prayer directed toward Christ and if you have been to a Catholic Mass you would see that it’s the norm, in fact will note that just about every opening prayer at every Catholic Mass. ends with some variation of:

“..We ask this through Jesus Christ your son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, One God forever and Ever Amen.”

But oddly enough when Christ teaches the disciples how to pray in both the Gospel of Matthew:

“This is how you are to pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.  Give us today our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and do not subject us to the final test, but deliver us from the evil one.

Matt 11:9-13

And the Gospel of Luke

He said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.  Give us each day our daily bread and forgive us our sins for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us, and do not subject us to the final test.”

Luke 11:2-4

he gives them what we call the Our Father or The Lord’s Prayer.  This is the base prayer of Christianity yet in it Jesus, rather than directing the disciples to pray through him, directs that they pray directly to the Father.

Now it’s also true that Christ says in John’s Gospel to ask things of the father in his name:

On that day you will not question me about anything. Amen, amen, I say to you, whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you.  Until now you have not asked anything in my name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be complete.  “I have told you this in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures but I will tell you clearly about the Father.  On that day you will ask in my name, and I do not tell you that I will ask the Father for you.

John 16:23-26

Yet there is not, nor was there any modification to the prayer that Christ gave bypassing him.

What does this mean?  It means in scripture when it comes to prayer we have a lack of exclusivity.  Paul’s request for the people to pray for him doesn’t exclude his praying to God himself any more than his prayers for them excludes it. Likewise the prayer of the Our Father doesn’t exclude prayer in Jesus name or vice versa.  Nor do the prayer requests in the Old Testament suggest that the people making these requests are not to pray as well.

In other words they’re all legitimate.  The prayer directly to the Father is legitimate, the prayer in the name of Jesus is legitimate and the prayer for another is legitimate.

Ironically in the Hail Mary is that in this one prayer we see an example of All three forms of prayer.:

In the words:  “the Lord is with thee” we invoke God the father.

In the words:  “Blessed is the fruit of your womb Jesus”  We invoke Jesus Christ & proclaim his Holy Name

and now in the words:  “Pray for us sinners” We seek intercessory prayer.  The same intercessory prayer that we often ask of one another asked of Mary, the mother of God.

This is not only keeping with the precedent of scripture but is consistent with the history of Christianity from its very start as evidenced in the Letter of James that we quoted at the beginning of this Chapter.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful.

James 5:16

Having established that intercessory prayer is not a problem the question becomes:  “Why make the intercession to “pray for us sinners” through her and does such intercession elevate her beyond her place or decrease Christ?”

There are two points to make here.  First of all consider again the examples above from the Old Testament and even the example of Simon.  In each of them the person who is asked to pray is considered a holy person, one close to God, and as we already established in Chapter one as being marked by God and submitted to by an angel.

God has already elevated her, thus no amount of prayer though her can top that.

But it’s the second point which completes the thought began in our last chapter concerning the Wedding at Cana that really seals the deal on Mary as an intercessor.   To repeat the passage:

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana in Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples were also invited to the wedding.

When the wine ran short, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” (And) Jesus said to her, “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.”

His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons.

Jesus told them, “Fill the jars with water.” So they filled them to the brim. Then he told them, “Draw some out now and take it to the headwaiter.” So they took it. And when the headwaiter tasted the water that had become wine, without knowing where it came from  (although the servers who had drawn the water knew) the headwaiter called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves good wine first, and then when people have drunk freely, an inferior one; but you have kept the good wine until now.”

Jesus did this as the beginning of his signs in Cana in Galilee and so revealed his glory, and his disciples began to believe in him.

John 2:1-11

Last time I mentioned there were three significant things about this passage two of which we left for this section.

2.  Mary humbly places the matter before Christ

We see that in verse 3 Mary tell Jesus of the problem, in verse 4 Jesus plainly notes that this is really not his business, so how does Mary react:

His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he tells you.”

What is important about this answer firstly is what she doesn’t say to her son:

She doesn’t play the “Honor thy Father & thy mother” card.

She doesn’t press upon him the embarrassment of the couple and plead their case.

She doesn’t note her importance before God already established by an Angel & the Holy Spirit.

She doesn’t insist in any way the he do what she asks.

No she has already placed the petition at the feet of the Word Incarnate and simply trusts him to his will.  Then she instructs the servers to obey that will.

Mary is not God, she does not see the future,  She doesn’t know if Jesus will choose to act, she doesn’t know if he will choose not to act, she simply trust in him and asks us to obey.

That is a perfect example of the Humility of Mary in Intercession for us.  Taking our prayer and putting it before her son our Lord Jesus Christ for his divine disposition and asking us to Obey it.

The 2nd Point is more subtle:

The end result of Mary’s Intercession is to bring people to belief in her son.

The first instinct is to say that Jesus direct intervention on behalf of the couple is the most critical result of Mary’s action, but in doing so we miss the star of the show.

It is the very last phrase that makes of the passage, verse 11b that really tells the story:

and his disciples began to believe in him.

 Here we have the ultimate end result of going to Mary.  that the wine doesn’t run out and embarrass the newlyweds is nice but you’ll note their reaction is not noted because it’s not what counts.  What counts is because of the sequence of events.

Mary asks for God’s Intercession

Mary asks for man to obey her son

The servants follow the lead of Jesus as Mary told them

Jesus’ disciples begin to believe.

I have heard sermon after sermon where a Catholic priest says that Mary will always lead us to her son, but we don’t need a sermon to know this, we have a direct example in scripture that the intercession of Holy Mary, the Mother of God increases faith in Jesus Christ.

And for Christians that’s what it’s all about.

So in summation we can see:

Requesting Intercessory prayer of one for another, particular a holy one is consistent with Scripture

Mary is an excellent choice for intercessory prayer

Mary as a humble intercessor who brings people closer to her son is directly demonstrated in Scripture

Next chapter:  The Timely intervention