The 2 biblical women behind Elizabeth's greeting to Our Lady show us why the Rosary is really a weapon.
When I was in high school—back before I knew the Blessed Mother at all—I had a habit of praying rage-Rosaries. Or perhaps it was agony-Rosaries? As a teenager, I had all the emotions, usually at the same time. And any time those feelings began to wreak havoc on my soul, I stormed out of the house sobbing and prayed a tormented Rosary on my way to church. It was so common an occurrence, I actually wrote a college essay on it: the soothing repetition of Hail Marys as I drove that oh-so-familiar route to the chapel where I could weep in peace.
At the time, the Rosary struck me as a sort of security blanket, something I could cling to for comfort while repeating the familiar words of Gabriel and Elizabeth that I found so soothing. It felt something like being a toddler, clinging to my mother and rubbing the fabric of her skirt between my fingers while I cried.
It still does. But years of Rosaries and one major revelation have shed some light for me on just what it is that I’m praying in the Hail Mary. Being a prayer largely drawn from Scripture, it clearly has layers of meaning to occupy my mind forever. There’s the comfort of drawing close to my Mother, the memento mori recited on each rosary bead, the mysteries that draw us deeper into the life of Christ.
And then there are Elizabeth’s words. “Blessed are you among women,” she cried at the Visitation, and we nod sagely, knowing that Mary was, indeed, a very holy woman. And Elizabeth meant that, surely. But she was also quoting a phrase found twice in the Old Testament: once spoken of Judith (Jdt 13:18) and once of Jael (Jgs 4:17-22, 5:24).
For those who aren’t experts in bellicose women of the Old Testament, some story-telling is in order. Jael was the wife of Heber, an ally of General Sisera who was at war with Israel. When Sisera fled to her tent, she gave him a drink, invited him to go to sleep, and drove a tent peg through his temple.
Judith, meanwhile, was a widow renowned for her beauty. When the Judahites were besieged and thought all hope was lost, she put on her most impressive finery and walked down to Holofernes, the general of the opposing army. Having won his confidence, she plied him with wine and chopped off his head after he passed out. She returned to her hometown with the head of Israel’s enemy in a sack and handed it over to the officials so they could launch an attack against the invaders.
Both Jael and Judith were praised by their compatriots as women who struck at the head of the enemy and liberated Israel by the strength of their arm. This is the connection Elizabeth was making when she saw the Blessed Mother. Before her stood a powerful woman whose son would strike at the head of the ancient Enemy, as it was foretold in Genesis (3:15). But by cooperating in his mission, by bringing him into the world, Mary, too, was striking at the Enemy’s head.
When Elizabeth looked at the little slip of a village girl standing in front of her, she saw a warrior, a queen who would fight on behalf of her people. Mary is our sweet, tender mother, but she can also be a mama bear when her children are threatened. Elizabeth saw this, the power latent within the Mother of God. She knew that Mary was more than a mere vessel: She was the Queen Mother who would intercede for her people with prayers of crushing strength. She would fight the Enemy and defeat him by her intercession. She is a force to be reckoned with.
In these troubling times of sin and scandal within our Church, this is exactly what we need: the Mother of God, Warrior Queen, interceding for us. We need our Mother fighting against the evil that has taken root, fighting to save her children. This is why we continue to pray in the face of great wickedness: not just because murmuring pious niceties calms us but because prayer changes things. Prayer calls upon a woman whose power far overshadows that of Judith and Jael, a woman even more intent on destroying the Enemy, and begs her to intercede before the throne of God for the healing of survivors and the purification of our Church.
The Rosary is still a source of comfort to me, though I cry far less often as an adult than I did as a teenager. But it’s more than Mary’s apron strings to me now: it’s a weapon, a tool that calls the Blessed Mother to fight beside me as we battle horrific evil. May Our Lady of the Rosary, Warrior Queen, intercede for us and for our Church, that the devil would be defeated and all evil rooted out.