Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Common Greeting?

Earlier this week, the gospels for mass recounted the Annunciation of Mary, where the Angel Gabriel appeared to her in Nazareth. The readings recalled to my mind an occasion a couple of years ago, when I was taking a class offered by the Archdiocese and taught by a priest. One of the other students in the class, a convert, asked the instructor a question about the greeting of the angel to Mary. He responded that it was just a common greeting for the time, and had no special meaning!

I just shook my head and bit my tongue. I was picking my battles carefully in these classes, and I didn’t want to spend my ammo fighting over secondary territory (not that Mary’s singular grace is secondary; rather, the question that was asked was an aside and not directly relevant to the primary topic covered by the class).

I followed up with the other student after class. “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you,” is anything but a standard greeting, especially given Mary’s reaction: “She was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.” The NAB translation of “full of grace” is “favored one.” I understand that neither phrase fully captures the meaning of the Greek term (which I won’t attempt to spell). Mary certainly didn’t seem to think that it was just a common greeting. Neither did the fathers of the Church. Neither does the Church (capital “C”) today. But that it how it was stated by a priest placed in a position of authority (i.e., instructing a diocese-sponsored class) by my local church.

We have no choice but to look to our local churches for sacraments and liturgy. Occasions such as the one just recounted make it tempting to look elsewhere for teaching. I hate that I have to apply a filter of orthodoxy to everything that comes to me from a source that should be reliable, especially since I know that I am far from infallible. I can only imagine that priests and catechists must be frustrated to know that anything they say might be compared against a more authoritative Church document. As a sometimes catechist, however, I want to present the Truth, and if I say something that is not in agreement with Church teaching, I hope and pray that somebody will correct me.

We must remember in our prayers those who pass the faith on to others, that the Holy Spirit will place words of truth in their mouths and grant them the humility to accept correction.