A short study of the Angelic Salutation
Michael Westhead | The Daily Knight
“Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.” Luke 1:28 Many people across the generations have pondered these words, and the first to do so was Mary herself. No doubt she thought within herself what manner of salutation this should be on account of her eminent knowledge of God and the scriptures. As a temple virgin, Mary was trained by the best scholars of her day and learned the holy scriptures well. In those days many, if not most, Israelites living in and around Jerusalem did not know the Hebrew language (or not well enough) to interpret the ancient scriptures. So, they used the Septuagint (LXX). This was a Greek language translation of the old testament compiled by 72 scholars, completed during the 2-3rd centuries BC, and would have been used along with Hebrew texts in the ‘classroom’. That the Hebrew language was poorly understood is evidenced by the fact that Saint Paul had to explain the meaning of the Hebrew name Melchizedek in his letter to the Hebrews.
The New Testament likewise was composed in Greek and the greeting of the angel reads as follows:
Χαιρε , κεχαριτωμενη · ο κυριος μετα σου , ευλογημενη συ εν γυναιξιν Luke 1:28
It’s the greeting, Χαιρε (chaire), that is most of interest. This word, translated ‘Hail’, only occurs as a salutation a few times in the Old Testament, invariably in connection with the coming Messiah. Zechariah 9:9 states:
“Rejoice (Χαιρε/chaire) greatly, O daughter of Sion; proclaim [it] aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, the King is coming to thee, just, and a Saviour; he is meek and riding on an ass, and a young foal.”
This prophetic salutation proclaims the messianic message in connection with the daughter of Sion, the daughter of Jerusalem. This theme will be repeated in the subsequent passages along with details of the messiahs identity and life. For instance, in the above excerpt we find the palm Sunday prophecy fulfilled by Jesus as He descended the Mount of Olives.
Again this greeting occurs in Zephaniah 3:14-19 while revealing ever little more of the messiah’s true identity:
“Rejoice (Χαιρε/chaire), O daughter of Sion; cry aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem; rejoice and delight thyself with all thine heart, O daughter of Jerusalem... the Lord, the King of Israel, is in the midst of thee...”
Connecting this mysterious daughter of Jerusalem with the Messiah, Zephaniah uses the peculiar phrase in the midst of thee. This phrase frequently describes God’s position among His people in the Old Testament and it similarly qualifies Jesus in the New. However, the Hebrew word used here, בְּקִרְ (beqir), has a far more ancient meaning as it is used in Genesis 25:22. There, it literally translates as ‘in her womb’ and is in reference to Rebecca’s miraculous conception of Jacob and Esau. Since God was the only savior in the Old Testament, as well as the Lord and King of Israel, it would have been certainly worth pondering just how he would enter the womb of the Virgin Mary, placing a finite existence on the infinite God.
Furthermore, Jeremiah writes in lamentations, “Rejoice (Χαιρε/chaire) and be glad, O daughter of Idumea, that dwellest in the land: yet the cup of the Lord shall pass through to thee”- a striking image that foreshadows the words of Christ at His last Supper – “The cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?”
The last occurrence is in the prophet Joel. Through his writings we find that this messiah will restore creation to a primordial state along with evidence that Mary understood all of these things.
“Fear not, O land, be glad and rejoice: for the Lord hath done great things...rejoice, and be joyful in the Lord your God: because he hath given you a teacher of justice, and he will make the early and the latter rain to come down to you as in the beginning.” Joel 2:21, 23
Interestingly, here are found some of the words of Mary’s Magnificat, the Lord hath done great things to me, signifying her knowledge and acceptance of what the Lord had accomplished in her. But, her knowledge and wisdom in regard to the scriptures is even more profound. When comparing these passages to the original Hebrew scriptures the word replaced by Χαιρε is רָנִּ֥י (ranni) meaning to shout for joy. And, רָנִּ֥י (ranni) is found in one other salient passage, namely Isaias 54:1-5.
“Give praise ( רָנִּ֥י /ranni), O barren one, that bearest not: sing forth praise, and make a joyful noise, thou that didst not travail with child: for many are the children of the desolate, more than of her that hath a husband, saith the Lord... and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles, and shall inhabit the desolate cities. Fear not, for thou shalt not be confounded, nor blush... For he that made thee shall rule over thee, the Lord of hosts is his name: and thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, shall be called the God of all the earth.” Isaias 54:1-5 abridged.
Indeed, the prophet Isaias is supplying some of the details towards his mysterious proclamation that a virgin shall conceive with these words and links it to the seed of the woman in Genesis 3. Furthermore, in the words thou shalt not be confounded, nor blush can be understood that this will be no ordinary conception since this euphemism positively excludes the conjugal act. Thus, at the moment the Archangel spoke to her, Mary was confronting the reality of who she is while simultaneously receiving word that the long-awaited messiah is come. She is the Woman of Genesis, the Daughter of Israel, the great and miraculous Virgin Mother of the Living. And she kept all these words in her heart.
Our Lady Seat of Wisdom, pray for us!