St. Thomas Aquinas examines the reasons why the angel Gabriel showed such reverence to Mary, saying, “Hail!”
In ancient times it was an especially great event when an angel appeared to men, so that men might show them reverence, for they deserve the greatest praise. It was written in praise of Abraham that he received angels hospitably and that he showed them reverence. But it was never heard that an angel showed reverence to a human being until he saluted the Blessed Virgin, saying reverently, “Hail.” The reason why in ancient times the angel did not reverence man, but man the angel, is that the angel was greater than man, in three respects. First, with respect to dignity, since the angel is of a spiritual nature, but man is of a corruptible nature, subject to death and decay. It was not then fitting that a spiri- tual and incorruptible creature should show reverence to a corruptible creature, namely, man.
Second, with respect to closeness with God. For the angel is a close assis- tant to God. But man is like an outsider, put at a distance from God through sin. Thus it was fitting that man should reverence the angel as one close to and familiar with the King. Third, the angel was preeminent because of the fullness of the splendor of divine grace. For angels partake most fully of the divine light. Therefore the angel always appears with light. But men, although they partake something of the light of grace, it is but little, and with obscurity.
For these reasons, it was not fitting that the angel should show reverence to a human being until someone should be found in human nature who exceeded the angels in those three respects. And this was the Blessed Virgin. In order to indicate that she exceeded him in these three things, the angel said, “Hail.” —St. Thomas Aquinas, “On the Angelic Salutation”
Do I show reverence to Mary? Does my attitude toward her display the honor and love that is due to the Mother of God and my mother?
From a hymn ascribed to Venantius Fortunatus: Hail, Mary, you who are “blest, in the message Gabriel brought; blest, by the work the Spirit wrought; from whom the great Desire of earth took human flesh and human birth!”
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