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The Hail Mary: Turning to Our Heavenly Mother in Prayer

By: Mitch Finley

The Hail Mary: Turning to Our Heavenly Mother in Prayer by Mitch Finley

Hail, Mary, full of grace,
the Lord is with thee (you).
Blessed art thou (are you) among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy (your) womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

The Hail Mary is recited more times than any other prayer in the Rosary and is the prayer that we most commonly associate with the Rosary. As we know it today, the Hail Mary consists of three sentences, two of which are scriptural greetings, and the last of which is a petition. Like the Our Father, the familiar version of the Hail Mary uses the archaic words “thee,” “thy,” and “art thou” rather than the more contemporary if also more pedestrian terms “you,” “your,” and “are.” The older version of the prayer may suggest more of a sense of holiness and mystery, but you should feel free to use whichever version is more comfortable for you.

“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee (you).” When we say the first part of the Hail Mary, we echo the greeting of the angel Gabriel to Mary in the infancy narrative recorded in the Gospel of Luke. When the angel appeared to Mary, he said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you. . . . [Y]ou have found favor with God” (1:28, 30). When we greet Mary in this way, we acknowledge the special grace that God bestowed upon Mary in asking her to be the mother of his Son.

“Blessed art thou (are you) among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy (your) womb, Jesus.” Up until the name “Jesus,” these are the very words that Mary’s cousin Elizabeth spoke to her upon her arrival (see Luke 1:42). In using this greeting and adding Jesus’ name, we share Elizabeth’s excitement that God’s plan of salvation is unfolding through Mary, and we recognize—along with Elizabeth—that Mary is indeed the mother of our Lord.

“Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.” This last line is the actual prayer, or petition, of the Hail Mary, which didn’t officially become part of the prayer until sometime in the sixteenth century. Individuals occasionally added their own similar supplications, such as this one from the fourteenth century, which the Catholic Encyclopedia notes has been incorrectly attributed to Dante: “Oh blessed Virgin, pray to God for us always, that he may pardon us and give us grace, so to live here below that he may reward us with paradise at our death.” The form of the prayer that we use today was included in the Roman Breviary in 1568. The Catechism of the Council of Trent attributed the addition of that final line to the church itself, writing,

Most rightly has the Holy Church of God added to this thanksgiving, petition also, and the invocation of the most holy Mother of God, thereby implying that we should piously and suppliantly have recourse to her in order that by her intercession she may reconcile God with us sinners and obtain for us the blessing we need both for this present life and for the life which has no end.

And that is what we do in this prayer, whatever the precise origins of the words themselves may be. Just as we instinctively turn to our earthly mothers for help when we make mistakes, we as sinners ask Mary, our heavenly mother, to intercede for us with God, our Father.

Excerpted from The Rosary Handbook: A Guide for Newcomers, Old-Timers, and Those In Between by Mitch Finley (The Word Among Us Press, 2007). Available at wau.org/books

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