Almost every Catholic child and adult convert learns to say the “Hail Mary.” This short prayer forms the basis of the rosary, and it is distinctively Catholic. Today I would like to look at this prayer to reflect on what we actually saying.
“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee” is taken directly from the greeting the Angel Gabriel says to Mary in Luke 1:28. If this salutation was good enough for the Archangel Gabriel, we have no qualms about reusing it ourselves. The second section is a direct quote from Luke 1:42, in the story of the Visitation. When Elizabeth first sees Mary, she cries out “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” Both statements are compliments to Mary, much like when you butter up the person you’re about to ask for a favor.
We address her again as “Holy Mary.” This is both a recognition of her as highly favored by God, and also another attempt to have her look kindly on our request. Then the title “Mother of God” is added. This ancient title was given to Mary at the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. Bishop Nestorius taught that Mary was the Mother of Jesus, but not the Mother of God since God is eternal and could not be born. This caused tremendous concern over our understanding of salvation. Christians understood that for Jesus to SAVE us he had to be God. But for Jesus to save US he had to be human. Also (this is the important part) Jesus had to be fully both God and human at the same time with no division. So you could truly say that Mary is the Mother of not just Jesus, but of God. Some truths are just so true that they defy explanation, and Mary as Mother of God is one of them.
Then we come to the heart of the prayer, our request “pray for us sinners.” Who better to plead your case with Jesus than His own mother? When I pray the Hail Mary by myself, I always include the word “please.” It just seems to me to be good manners. Otherwise it can come across as a command: “PRAY for us!” It helps remind me that this is a request, not an order.
I also think that many of us are subconsciously praying “pray for me” instead of “for us.” This is an important distinction. When we pray the Hail Mary we pray for ALL of us sinners. Not only our friends and neighbors, not only all the people we don’t know, but also for those frustrating drivers on the highway, people in other political parties, crooks, drug-dealers, priests who molest children, etc. We associate them with us in prayer when we ask Mary to pray for us sinners. That is quite bold, and rather humbling.
We are not asking for prayers next week, we desire them NOW. As a person with not much patience, I like this part of the prayer. We are asking for an immediate response to our request. That is really rather bold on our part, and it is the type of boldness that children have with their loving mother. Mary has maternal concern for each of us who are members of her Son’s Body, and so we can presume to be this forward with her.
Finally we ask for Mary’s prayer “at the hour of our death.” Again, we come to Mary not as individuals asking for prayers at the hour of MY death, but as a collective family, requesting prayers for all of us at the hour of OUR death. And then “Amen”, which means, ‘so be it.’ I hope this little review will help you to reflect on the prayer. If so, then please say a Hail Mary for me.