The Hail Mary prayer is the oldest prayer given to us, but do we really understand the weight of our words when we pray it?
The Hail Mary prayer is a Catholic classic. As I’m sure many of you have, I’ve repeated this prayer thousands of times. Whether in the Rosary, the Angelus, or just in a moment of silence, this prayer finds its beauty and its comfort in its combination of praise for our Holy Mother and its plea for her intercession. But do we really understand what we are saying when we are praying it? Sometimes when we say a prayer over and over again, the impact of the words is lost on us. So, let’s stop and take a closer look at the meaning behind the words we pray to Mary. Let’s stop and join Elizabeth and the angel Gabriel in praising Blessed Mother Mary and her willingness to play such a pivotal role in God’s plan for our salvation, and praising our God for coming up with such a perfect plan.
Praising our Mother
“Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with you”
The opening line of the prayer is taken directly from the Bible, at the moment in which the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary during the Annunciation (Luke 1:28). We use the same phrase that God addressed Mary through his messenger, exulting in the same joy he found in her. We continue to describe her as, “full of grace,” meaning that by the power of God Mary was preserved from sin so that she could carry Jesus inside of her. Thus, the Lord is with her. She is filled with the presence of Him who is the source of all grace. She is the ark of the covenant, the place where the glory of the Lord dwells, the home of the Holy Spirit. Full of grace, Mary is wholly given over to her God who has come to dwell within her, and also whom she is about to give to the world: our savior, Jesus Christ.
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus”
The second line of this prayer is also directly taken from scripture. After learning she was pregnant, Mary hastened to see her cousin, Elizabeth. As soon as Elizabeth saw her, Elizabeth said this very line of our prayer (Luke 1:41) – she is in awe of the miracle within her sister, encouraging her in the task that God has given her to do. Elizabeth also acknowledges the central point of this prayer: Jesus. Jesus is the fruit of Mary’s womb, the result of her obedient “yes” to God’s invitation to bear His son. As Pope John Paul II explains, “although the Hail Mary is addressed to Our Lady, it is to Jesus that the act of love is ultimately directed.” Through both the words of Elizabeth and the angel Gabriel, we give praise to God for the Incarnation and the mysteries of our faith: that God was born among us, walked with us, died on a cross and rose from the dead for us.
Asking for Intercession
“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now, and at the hour of death, Amen.”
In this last line, we ask Mary to pray for us, acknowledging ourselves to be but poor sinners and offer our petitions at her feet. We ask Mary to pray for us on our behalf to her son, Our Lord, now, and most importantly, at the hour of our death. We recognize her power and her influence as the Mother of God, the God whom we acknowledge as the Most High. He is the only one who can forgive our sins.
This line always reminds me of the words of Saint Louis de Montford,
“Mary is the safest, easiest, shortest, and most perfect way of approaching Jesus.”
We pray to Mary for the same reasons we text our friends asking them to “pray for us”: we desire their intercession when we are going through a tough time. Thus, it is natural that we would ask Mary to pray for us: Mary is our most powerful intercessor. She is our direct connection to the throne room of Jesus, capable of interceding on our behalf by the power of the Holy Spirit.
So, next time you go to say the Hail Mary, meditate on the words as you say them. You are praying the oldest prayer given to us. Gifted to us from God, it was composed for our help and instruction. Heaven is even continually reminding us to pray it via Marian apparitions at Lourdes, Fatima, and other holy sites. It is a powerful tool that includes our entire life from the present, “now,” to our last moments, “the hour of our death.” How blessed will we be if we spend our entire lives asking Mother Mary to intercede for us every step of the way until these moments become the same moment, our last.