Screwtape: I am not in the least interested in knowing how many people in England have been killed by bombs. In what state of mind they died, I can learn from the office at this end. That they were going to die sometime, I knew already.
C S. Lewis The Screwtape Letters #24
Q: It’s two days before your unfortunate encounter with a Nausicaan sword. You have that long to make whatever changes you wish. If you can avoid getting stabbed through the heart this time, which I doubt, I will take you back to what you think of as the present. And you can go on with your life with a real heart.
Capt Picard: Then I won’t die?
Q: Of course you’ll die. It’ll just be at a later time.
Star Trek TNG Tapestry 1993
The sixth and penultimate part of my series on the Hail Mary explaining why it 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.
in Part 5: The Requested intercession We noted the legitimacy of intercessory prayer, its history in scripture and how Mary’s intercession always leads to Christ
So now let’s continue with part 6: The Timely Intervention.
The final line of the Hail Mary is in a sense derivative of the previous line. Unlike other parts this line doesn’t assert a particular fact (The Lord is with thee) , the status of Mary ( Holy Mary) or a particular request (Pray for us). It instead notes and requests that the prayers of the Blessed Mother be made at two particular times.
The first being now!
The importance of now is discussed in the Old Testament:
if the wicked man turns away from all the sins he committed, if he keeps all my statutes and does what is right and just, he shall surely live, he shall not die. None of the crimes he committed shall be remembered against him; he shall live because of the virtue he has practiced.
Do I indeed derive any pleasure from the death of the wicked? says the Lord GOD. Do I not rather rejoice when he turns from his evil way that he may live? And if the virtuous man turns from the path of virtue to do evil, the same kind of abominable things that the wicked man does, can he do this and still live? None of his virtuous deeds shall be remembered, because he has broken faith and committed sin; because of this, he shall die.
You say, “The LORD’S way is not fair!” Hear now, house of Israel: Is it my way that is unfair, or rather, are not your ways unfair? When a virtuous man turns away from virtue to commit iniquity, and dies, it is because of the iniquity he committed that he must die.
But if a wicked man, turning from the wickedness he has committed, does what is right and just, he shall preserve his life; since he has turned away from all the sins which he committed, he shall surely live, he shall not die.
N0te that the standard that is being used, for good or ill is the standard of now. Paul also uses that very same standard in his 1st letter to the Corinthians:
Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor practicing homosexuals nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. That is what some of you used to be; but now you have had yourselves washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
1 Corinthians 6:9-11
Note the Paul lists a multiple of mortal sins. Since that will get a man burned for all eternity. He also notes that these sins have been committed by the very same Corinthians that he is writing to. Yet as far as he is concerned, they are all in the past, washed away by the blood of Christ. No matter what the past might be the now is what matters.
In this Paul is echoing Christ on the sermon on the mount on the importance of now
Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?
So do not worry and say, ‘What are we to eat?’ or ‘What are we to drink?’ or ‘What are we to wear?’ All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides. Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.
The past is already over, the future hasn’t happened, the only time that matters is the now. The present is the moment when both sin and virtue takes place. It’s the place where the enemy deploys his temptation and it’s the moment when we need help the most.
What better time to ask for the intercession of the Mother of God?
But that’s only one of the two times specified the second is the most important…the hour of our death.
Lord Jesus Christ! thou son of God and Son of the Virgin Mary, God and Man! Thou who in fear sweated blood for us on the Mount of Olives in order to bring peace and to offer Thy Most Holy Death to God, Thy Heavenly Father, for the salvation of this dying person…if it be however that by his sins he merits eternal damnation, then may it be deflected from him. This, O Eternal Father, though Our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Dear Son, Who liveth and reigneth in the union with Thee and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.
Prayer for the dying Pieta Prayer book
While it might seem odd to say the hour of our death is in fact the most important moment of our lives. It is the final opportunity for any soul to make peace with God and obtain his mercy. It is the moment when we make the final choice between God’s mercy and his justice.
Christ talked of the hour of death and storing up treasure for it in this parable
Then he said to the crowd, “Take care to guard against all greed, for though one may be rich, one’s life does not consist of possessions.”
Then he told them a parable. “There was a rich man whose land produced a bountiful harvest. He asked himself, ‘What shall I do, for I do not have space to store my harvest?’
And he said, ‘This is what I shall do: I shall tear down my barns and build larger ones. There I shall store all my grain and other goods and I shall say to myself, “Now as for you, you have so many good things stored up for many years, rest, eat, drink, be merry!”
But God said to him, ‘You fool, this night your life will be demanded of you; and the things you have prepared, to whom will they belong?’ Thus will it be for the one who stores up treasure for himself but is not rich in what matters to God.”
Likewise St Paul was very conscious of this and wrote of it in his first letter to the Corinthians:
Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified.
and wrote to Timothy of finishing the race as he prepared to die
For I am already being poured out like a libation, and the time of my departure is at hand.
I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith. From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me, which the Lord, the just judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me, but to all who have longed for his appearance.
But it is on the cross itself that Christ demonstrated the effectiveness of prayer at the hour of death:
Now one of the criminals hanging there reviled Jesus, saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us.”
The other, however, rebuking him, said in reply, “Have you no fear of God, for you are subject to the same condemnation? And indeed, we have been condemned justly, for the sentence we received corresponds to our crimes, but this man has done nothing criminal.”
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied to him, “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”
This confirms the words of Sirach
Call no man happy before his death, for by how he ends, a man is known.
And it was by this prayer at the hour of death, that statement of faith and plea of mercy which Christ answered that made St. Dismus who he is.
The Hour of our death is our last chance to accept the outreached hand of God, it is the final gasp that we get that final chance of repentance.
And that’s what those closing words in the Hail Mary do. Those words, following Christ’s advice store up treasure in heaven for that time, treasure that will not tarnish, treasure that at the hour of death is called upon to obtain that requested intercession at the final time that it can be effective. At a time when perhaps we’re not capable of asking for it.
In asking for Mary to pray for us now, we ask Mary to pray with us, in asking for Mary to pray for us at the hour of our death we are asking her to pray for us.
At both times it is a most timely intervention, an intervention that every Christian should be happy to have, particular when we do not know the day or the hour when that time will come.
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