The ‘Hail Mary’, also known as the Ave Maria in Latin, is seen as the main Marian Prayer. Like ‘The Lord’s Prayer’, the ‘Hail Mary’ is one of the rare prayers that is known by every Christian worldwide, and that exists in every language. It is customary to say the ‘Hail Mary’ many times a week. It is also the first prayer that comes to mind when we want to dedicate a prayer to the Virgin Mary. But where does it come from?
The ‘Hail Mary’ prayer is well known across the globe: it is translated into various languages.
In the olden days, the official language of prayer was Latin, and the ‘Hail Mary’ was called Ave Maria. What makes this iconic prayer of Catholic tradition special is that it is composed of two parts: praise and supplication. The first half of the prayer praises the Virgin Mary, while the second half is a supplication to Her. Each part has its own distinct history.
“Hail Mary, full of grace,
the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.”
This whole part has roots in the Gospel of Luke.
The two first verses originate from The Annunciation. They are the words of Gabriel the Archangel: “And he came to her and said: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Luke 1:26-38). St. Gabriel greeted Mary with respect and trust when he came to announce the birth of Jesus Christ. She, in turn, changed the face of the world by accepting God’s plan for her.
The second part of the praise comes from The Visitation, also recorded in the Gospel of Luke. The last two verses are the words of Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, who exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:42)
“Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.
The second half of the ‘Hail Mary’ is a supplication. We are making a demand to God through the intermediary of the Virgin Mary, asking Her that she intercedes for our salvation. The supplication does not come from the Scriptures, and it appears later on in Christian prayers.
The part of the ‘Hail Mary’ dedicated to praise appears quite early in the Christian tradition. In the 4th century, the Liturgy of St. James includes these words: “Hail, Mary, highly favoured: the Lord is with You; blessed are you among women, and blessed the fruit of your womb, for you bore the Saviour of our souls”. The praise of Mary in its current liturgical form appears in the 8th century: it also features in the writings of John of Damascus.
In Western Countries, the first half of the ‘Hail Mary’ is officially included in Latin liturgy by Pope Gregory I in the 6th century. However, it was only popularized under the name Ave Maria in the 11th century, when it became the prayer of the people.
The second half of the ‘Hail Mary’ appears between the 13th and the 14th century. The golden age of protestantism did not allow for the cult of the Virgin Mary to develop. Protestants rejected prayers to the Mother of Jesus. However, the 16th century saw the emergence of the Counter-Reformation, a movement initiated by the Catholic religion in response to the Protestant Reformation. During that time, the resurgence of the Catholic tradition brought about the revival of the Cult of the Virgin Mary and the wide popularisation of the ‘Hail Mary’. The ‘Hail Mary’ became the most famous prayer to the Mother of Jesus. It was written and said in Latin (Ave Maria) and it would be later translated into vernacular languages.
Hozana offers hundreds of spiritual programs, including programs to help you pray to the Virgin Mary. You can learn to practice daily prayer and enrich your oratory content by joining prayer communities: pray a novena to Our Lady of Fatima any time you want, or dedicate a month to the consecration of the Blessed Virgin Mary.