A Brief History of the Hail Mary

The Hail Mary is a traditional Catholic prayer and the cornerstone prayer of the Rosary. It’s a scripture-based prayer that asks for Mary’s intercession. Traditionally the Hail Mary is known as the Ave Maria or Ave for short. It’s a beautiful little prayer and might be the most popular prayer after the Lord’s prayer.

Hail, Mary, full of grace,
the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou amongst 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.

Structure of the Hail Mary

The Hail Mary is comprised starts with two verses from the book of Luke:

“Hail Mary Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee” (Luke 1:28) 

The annunciation

This first verse is from The Annunciation when the angel Gabrial visited the Virgin Mary. To tell her she would conceive and be the mother of Jesus.

Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb(Luke 1:42)

The visitation

The second verse is from The Visitation. The visitation was when the Virgin Mary, who was pregnant with Jesus, went to go visit St. Elizabeth, who was pregnant with John The Baptist. At the Virgin Mary’s visitation, the baby in St. Elizabeth’s womb leaped with joy at being in the presence of Jesus.

The Salutation of the Blessed Virgin

Around the year 1050, there was an interest in certain versicles and responsories occurring in the Little Office or Cursus of the Blessed Virgin, which was part of a liturgical devotion to Mary. These versicles and responsories were gaining popularity among the monastic orders of the time.

It was around this time that there was a rise in Marian devotions. With the Rosary, the Hail Mary developed over time and repetition.

By the mid-13th century, the Hail Mary consisted of only the two verses from Luke.

“Hail Mary, Full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art though among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.”

At this stage in the development, of the Hail Mary, the prayer was known as the “Salutation of the Blessed Virgin.” Since it was made of the two greetings to the Virgin Mary in the Gospels. This was the prayer that was said during the early rosary for each bead in a decade.

The Petition

The second half of the Haily Mary, known as the petition, was added by the Catholic Church.

“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”

When exactly is hard to say. But we know by the Catechism of the Council of Trent in the year 1566 that the Hail Mary as we know it today was finalized.

Here’s what the Catechism of Trent says about the Hail Mary:

“The first part of the Angelical Salutation. When we say by way of prayer: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women,” we render to God the highest praise and return him most grateful thanks, because he accumulated all his heavenly gifts on the Most Holy Virgin; and to the Virgin herself, for this her singular felicity, we present our respectful and fervent congratulations.

“To this form of thanksgiving the church of God has wisely added prayers to, and an invocation of, the most holy Mother of God, by which we piously and humbly fly to her patronage, in order that, by interposing her intercession, she may conciliate the friendship of God to us miserable sinners, and may obtain for us those blessings which we stand in need of in this life and in the life to come. Exiled children of Eve, who dwell in this vale of tears, should we not earnestly beseech the Mother of mercy, the advocate of the faithful, to pray for us? Should we not earnestly implore her help and assistance?”

The Hail Mary has a short but sweet history. Starting out as a combination of Bible verses. And over hundreds of years evolving into the prayer, we know today. I love that it is composed mostly of greetings to the blessed mother. It’s like with every Hail Mary we say we are greeting and honoring the mother of our Lord.

Hail Mary in Latin

Ave Maria, gratia plena,
Dominus tecum.
Benedicta tu in mulieribus,
et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus.

Sancta Maria, Mater Dei,
ora pro nobis peccatoribus,
nunc et in hora mortis nostrae.

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