Hail Mary, full of grace,
the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art 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.
The ‘Hail Mary‘ is made up of two parts. The first four lines are taken from the Bible:
‘Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee’ is a translation of the Angel Gabriel’s greeting to Mary at the Annunciation, found in Luke 1: 28. The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible translates this as: ‘Greetings, favoured one! The Lord is with you.‘
‘Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb‘ also comes from Luke’s gospel. In Luke 1: 42, Elizabeth greets her cousin Mary with these words as her unborn child, John the Baptist, leaps in her womb.
The first line of the second part of the prayer makes reference to an idea which was accepted at the Council of Ephesus in 431AD. This Council rejected arguments from followers of a theologian called Nestorius that Mary could be called ‘Mother of Christ’ but not ‘Mother of God’. The Council felt that this implied Jesus Christ was not truly God.
Instead, it adopted as a title for Mary the Greek term, Theotokos, meaning ‘Birth-giver of God’.
A curious term, when we reflect that God is eternal and outside of time and space. Nevertheless, an important title which asserts that from the first moment of his conception Jesus was truly human (in that he possessed body & soul) and truly divine (in that he was God).
This idea that a mere human could somehow ‘mother‘ the divine is mind-blowing. In order to save the human race from its own sinfulness, God is born of a woman; he is brought kicking and screaming into a world he created.
The last section of the ‘Hail Mary‘ reminds the one who prays it of their own mortality. It asks for Mary’s intercession at the moment of death.
The prayer of the saints – in other words, those we believe to be in heaven – is part of the fabric of Catholic Christianity. As a family which extends through time and space, across heaven and earth, we pray all the time for one another as a sign of our love and communion. It seems natural to ask those in heaven to do the same.
All of us, God’s created children, have been invited to pester the Lord with prayer for the things we need. (Read the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18: 1-8).
Why not ask the ‘Birth-giver of God’ then, the one whom the Bible says is ‘blessed among woman‘, to pray for us when we are about to die?