The Catholic Defender: The Hail Mary Prayer
The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end.” But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God.” Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. Luke 1:26-38
The Hail Mary prayer is the most popular Marian prayer.
It is the par excellence of intercessory prayer calling upon the Lord for supplication, petitions, and thanksgiving.
The Hail Mary is very central to devotions such as the holy Rosary and the Angelus.
To break down the Hail Mary Prayer, it is important to understand the biblical foundations.
The prayer of the saints have always been seen as important (James 5:16, Revelation 5:8, 8:3, and Hebrews 12:1) as well as intercessory prayer. Some argue that Jesus is the only mediator, advocate, and intercessor between God and man so they reject the intercession of the Saints. But that goes directly against the very character of God.
1 Timothy 2:1-6 states, “First of all, then, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity. This is good and pleasing to God our savior, who wills everyone to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth. For there is one God. There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself as ransom for all.”
Jesus used a lot of metaphors depicting who He is before God and man. In His person He has two natures, He is God the Son, equal to the Father in substance and nature. His human element certainly submissive to the Father’s will.
In the Gospel of St. John, Jesus uses 26 times the “I Am” using seven metaphors indicating who Jesus is: I am the bread of life (John 6:35), I am the light of the world (John 8:12), I am the gate (John 10:7, 9), I am the Good Shepherd (John 10:11), I am the resurrection and the life (John 11:25), I am the way and the truth and the life (John 14:6), I am the true vine (15:1).
Jesus said, “Amen, amen, I say to you, before Abraham came to be, I Am.” John 8:58 Clearly, Jesus is identifying Himself as having divine origin with God His Father (Exodus 3:13-14). What gives the heavenly host, Mary, the Saints, the Angels any kind of life, any kind of special knowledge, special ability comes from and through the power of God and most certainly through Jesus as the Mediator between God and man.
The Virgin Mary has no power outside that given her by Jesus. 1 Corinthians 2:9 states, “What eye has not seen, and ear has not heard, and what has not entered the human heart, what God has prepared for those who love him, this God has revealed to us through the Spirit.”
The living church, the Church Militant, is a body “no longer strangers and sojourners, but fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone.” Ephesians 2:19-20
These “holy ones” are united with those who are together at the gold altar of God who offer prayers with the incense before God (Revelation 8:4) which is a pleasing fragrance to our God (Ephesians 5:1).
Mary, as the Mother of Jesus, takes the historic position of the Queens of God’s people who intercede before the King on behalf of the people (1 Kings 19-20). Mary is not in competition with Jesus nor is she a back door offering another way to heaven. Mary’s whole message is also found in St. John, “Do whatever he tells you”(John 2:5). At Lourdes, France Our Lady identified herself as “I am the Immaculate Conception”, this is not equating herself as “I am” with who Jesus is, but she is identifying her position in Christ Jesus.
People misinterpret 1 Thessalonians 4:15, “Indeed, we tell you this, on the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself, with a word of command, with the voice of an archangel and with the trumpet of God will come down from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.”
This is depicting the resurrection of the body. 1 Corinthians 15:51-53 states,“Behold, I tell you a mystery. We shall not all fall asleep, but we will all be changed, in an instant, in the blink of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.” Like Christ, we will have glorified bodies that will be joined together with our soul.
When a person dies, the soul lives on and goes where they are destined. Purgatory is a state of the saved and will inherit eternal happiness in heaven. The damned will go to hell trapped forever in the despair and misery of their final choice. God is the God of the living, not the dead (Mark 12:27, Luke 20:38).
It is through the Lord Jesus Christ that all of the graces flow and He chooses to use the Virgin Mary, the Saints, and the angels in accordance to His will. We have the apostolic teaching that I have touched upon that covers 2,000 years of faith handed down from the Lord, to His Apostles, and down to us through His Church.
With all this being said, the Hail Mary prayer is the par excellence to intercessory prayer.
The opening word of greeting, χαῖρε, chaíre, here translated “Hail,” literally has the meaning “rejoice” or “be glad.” Today, it is also known to be used to flag down taxi drivers in New York City. It is not a word associated with worship.
Luke 1:28 is where the greeting was given towards Mary by the angel Gabriel. The angel gives his greeting “χαῖρε” and the Church knows specifically who the angel is addressing adds the name “Mary” to the greeting. Hence, the beginning of the Hail Mary prayer.
Full of grace
The word κεχαριτωμένη, (kecharitōménē), here translated as “full of grace,” the word is the feminine present perfect passive voice participle of the verb χαριτόω, charitóō, which means “to show, or bestow with, grace” and, in the passive voice, “to have grace shown, or bestowed upon, one.”
St. Luke gives this story of the angel Gabriel’s greeting to Mary with the “Hail, full of grace” which implies that Mary is full of God. John 1:14 gives principally the same description towards Jesus, “And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we saw his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.”
Mary also shared in this glory given to Jesus because she was chosen to be Jesus Mother, full of grace. These two were not affected by the fall of Adam and Eve by the plan of God. Jesus is full of grace because He is God, Mary is full of grace by a singular special grace given to her by God.
The Lord is with you
For those who accuse Catholics of worshiping Mary, this is very important. We are claiming that the Virgin Mary is with the Lord, she is not the Lord herself. This part of the Hail Mary prayer is taken from Luke 1:28 with the recognition of Gabriel.
1 Peter 5:10 states, “The God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory through Christ Jesus will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you after you have suffered a little.”
What the angel acknowledged for Mary, is also promised to us in a future tense. Because we recognize Mary to be with Jesus, we also petition her to pray for us who are children of the promise. We are the offspring of the woman (Revelation 12:17).
Blessed are you among women
At the greeting of Mary, St. Elizabeth exclaimed, “Most blessed are you among women” (Luke 1:42) as she recognized that the words of the angel given to Mary were true. Mary is blessed for her faith and obedience to the will of God.
Judith in the Old Testament is a type of Mary because of her faith and in what she had down. Judith literally by her hand saved the Israelite from certain destruction, yet, God worked a miracle through her. Judith 15:10 states, “With your own hand you have done all this: you have done good to Israel, and God is pleased with what you have wrought. May you be blessed by the Lord Almighty forever and ever!”
Likewise, because of Mary’s Yes, and her obedience to do God’s will, through her love of God, by her hand, she brought into the world the King of Kings who won the war. Mary spoke of herself, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.”
Mary is identifying herself with the Queen of Psalms 45 (vs 10) whom the Lord promised, “I will make your name renowned through all generations; thus nations shall praise you forever.” Psalms 45:18
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus.
The second part of St. Elizabeth’s exultation to Mary (Luke 1:42) is a total recognition of Jesus. Vs 43 states, “And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me.”In the Old Testament, the people did not speak the name of God boldly, they referred to God as “Adoni” meaning, “my Lord”.
Fruit is an important word here as well, Psalms 1:3 tells us that people who study the teaching of the Lord, “They are like a tree planted near streams of water, that yields it’s fruit in season; it’s leaves never wither; whatever they do prospers.”
Jesus is the root source of the running water, He is the fruit (through Mary) that all the world has the opportunity of Grace. Mary is blessed tremendously because of the fruit of her womb, her Son, Jesus Christ. Mary is blessed because she believed what the Lord was telling her and she followed that word through that grace. Jesus would say blessed are they who hear the Word of the Lord and keep it, so like Mary, the Saints, we all can be saved.
Jesus came to liberate us from sin and bondage, to set the captives free, the Messiah has come.
Devoted to the Virgin Mary, Saint Peter Canisius is credited with adding to the Hail Mary the sentence Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners.
The second part of the Hail Mary prayer begins with a recognition of Mary. Mary is holy because she is blessed, she was obedient, she is full of grace. Mary is the model for all God’s people, as His creatures, to live in holiness.
St. Peter tells us, “Like obedient children, do not act in compliance with the desires of your former ignorance but, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, ‘Be holy because I am holy.” 1 Peter 1:14-15
Hebrews 12:14 states, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for that holiness without which no one will see the Lord”. We are called to be holy, to place God up above all things. To live by the fruit of the Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control” Galatians 5:22
We do this by following the teaching of Christ through His Catholic Church, we have the Lord’s authority handed down, His Sacred Tradition, and the Sacred Scripture.
Mother of God
The Israelite worshiped Pagan gods that displeased the Lord. The Babylonians worshiped a woman called “Ishtar“, she was the goddess of love and war. Prostitution was a part of the temple worship. She was known to have had many lovers.
Contrast this with the Blessed Virgin Mary who represents chastity, modesty, faithfulness, and love of God. She is the purest of God’s creation. Unlike Ishtar and other female goddesses who were worshiped and called “God the Mother“, the Blessed Virgin Mary is called Mother of God. Not because she is a goddess, she is not, but because Catholics recognize Jesus as Divine. He is truly God and man.
St. Irenaeus referred to Mary as the “Ark of the New Covenant”. He made the typology between Eve and Mary “Against Heresies” as St. Paul did with Adam and Jesus (Romans 5:12). This reveals the perspective and role Mary had in the early Church.
At the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D., the Church gave the title “Theotokos” (Mother of God) to proclaim that Jesus is God, that Mary was not simply the mother of the human part of Jesus, but his whole person with two natures, divine and human.
Pray for us sinners
Now we are getting to the purpose and heart of the Hail Mary prayer, we are asking the Mother of Jesus to pray for us, to intercede for us, not circumventing Jesus, but through Him.
1 John 1:8 states, “If we say, ‘We are without sin,’ we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”
1 John 1:10 states, “If we say, ‘We have not sinned,’ we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
We all need his help, Romans 3:23, “all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God.” What brings us into His glory is to be united with Jesus through His Church (John 17:22).
now and at the hour of our death
We all need to face it, we are all going to die at one time or another, we are all destined, but this is not our end. We first die to ourselves, learning to pick up our cross and follow Jesus.
Now is important! 2 Corinthians 6:1-2 states, “Working together, then, we appeal to you not to receive the grace of God in vain. For he says, ‘In an acceptable time I heard you, and on the day of salvation I helped you.’ Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”
“Death is swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Corinthians 15: 54-56
Through the power of the Sacraments, God’s grace is given through supernatural faith. The prayer of Mary and the Saints are powerful because God is all powerful who listens to His children.
This is all very true. May the Lord bless you all and keep you in the palm of his hand. (Isaiah 49:16)
Hail Mary full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed are thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus. Holy Mary Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death Amen.