Hail Mary

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Madonna by Batoni, an example of Marian art

Hail Mary is a Christian prayer to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Most of the prayer comes from the Gospel of Luke. Some things were also added to the prayer during the 13th century (the 1200s). When a person says a Hail Mary, he asks Mary to intercede (or get involved) for him with God.

In Roman Catholicism, the Hail Mary makes up the most important part of the Rosary. The Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox also use the prayer. So do many other groups within Christianity, including Anglicans, Independent Catholics, and Old Catholics. Some Protestant denominations also use the Hail Mary.

Hail Mary in the Bible[change | change source]

The Hail Mary uses two phrases from Saint Luke's Gospel. The first is "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou amongst women" (Luke 1:28). The second is "Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb" (Luke 1:42).

When the Hail Mary was first created, it was much shorter than it is now. In Western Europe, in the mid-13th century (the mid-1200s), the prayer used only the first few words of the first phrase. The word "Mary" was also added after the word "Hail". The entire prayer was "Hail Mary, full of grace." We know this from Saint Thomas Aquinas's writings about the prayer.[1]

In the first phrase from Saint Luke's Gospel, the Angel Gabriel is greeting Mary. This phrase (like all of Saint Luke's Gospel) was first written in Koine Greek. The first word of greeting, χαῖρε, chaíre, is translated "Hail". It really means "Rejoice", "Be glad". This was a normal greeting in Koine Greek. It is still spoken that way in Modern Greek. For this reason, both "Hail" and "Rejoice" are good English translations of the word.

The word κεχαριτωμένη, (kecharitōménē) is usually translated as "full of grace". However, the word can be translated in different ways. In Koine Greek grammar, the word is a feminine version of the verb χαριτόω[2] charitóō. This verb means "to show, or bestow with, grace". In the way this phrase is written (called the passive voice), the phrase means "to have grace shown, or bestowed upon, one". The verb is also written in the intensive form, so we know the translation is "full of grace".[3]

The text also appears in the story of the annunciation from the apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Matthew, in chapter 9.

The prayer in Eastern (Greek) tradition[change | change source]

The Hail Mary prayer used by the Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Churches is written: :Θεοτόκε Παρθένε, χαῖρε, κεχαριτωμένη Μαρία, ὁ Κύριος μετὰ σοῦ. εὐλογημένη σὺ ἐν γυναιξί, καὶ εὐλογημένος ὁ καρπὸς τῆς κοιλίας σου, ὅτι Σωτήρα ἔτεκες τῶν ψυχῶν ἡμῶν.[4] This means:

Theotokos Virgin, rejoice, Mary full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, for you have borne the Saviour of our souls.

The same thing can be translated differently into English:

Mother of God and Virgin, rejoice, Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, for thou hast given birth to the Saviour of our souls.

This version of the prayer uses the phrases from the Bible. It also adds "Theotokos Virgin" at the beginning; the name "Mary"; and "for you have borne the Saviour of our souls" at the end.

The prayer in Western (Latin) tradition[change | change source]

There are different ideas about when the Hail Mary was changed. The Catholic Encyclopedia[5] says that the Hail Mary was not used in this form before about 1050. However, a later story says that today'sHail Mary was written by Ildephonsus of Toledo, who lived in the 7th century. The story says that he used the angel's greeting only, without the things that were added later.

Saint Thomas Aquinas said that by the mid-thirteenth century, the West had only added one word to the Biblical verses the prayer came from. This word was the name "Mary", which made it clear that she was the "full of grace" person the prayer talked to. However, around the same time, the name "Jesus" was also added. This made it clear that Jesus was "the fruit of thy [Mary's] womb".

This means that the Western version of the Hail Mary did not come from the Greek version. Even the earliest Western forms did not say anything like "Mother of God and Virgin" or "for thou hast given birth to the Saviour of our souls", which are part of the Greek version.

Before the 16th century, the Hail Mary greeted and praised Mary. However, around the time of the Council of Trent, new words were added. These new words asked Mary for help: "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen." The Dutch Jesuit Petrus Canisius had added a shorter version of this sentence to his Catechism in 1555. His words were: Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners.[6] Eleven years later, this sentence was included in the Catechism of the Council of Trent of 1566.[7]

This is the last change that has been made to the Hail Mary. In Latin, the prayer is written this way (the macrons are given for pronunciation only and do not occur in the Latin language):

Pronunciation of the Hail Mary (Ave Maria) in Latin.
Avē Marīa, grātia plēna, Dominus tēcum. Benedicta tū in mulieribus, et benedictus frūctus ventris tuī, Iēsus.[8]
Sancta Marīa, Māter Deī, ōrā prō nōbīs peccātōribus, nunc et in hōrā mortis nostræ. Āmēn.
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. Amen.

For translations from the Latin into various languages, see Wikisource.

The prayer in Syriac Orthodox tradition[change | change source]

The Syriac Orthodox Church uses a different version of the Hail Mary. This version is much closer to today's Western form than the Greek form.

In this prayer, a leader starts the prayer and others say the rest:[9]

  • Leader: Hail Mary, full of grace,
  • People: Our Lord is with Thee. Blessed art Thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of Thy womb, our Lord, Jesus Christ. O Virgin Saint Mary, O Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at all times, and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Usage in the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches[change | change source]

In the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches, the Hail Mary is very common. It is said in the Greek form, or in translations from the Greek form. The prayer is not said quite as often as in the West. However, it is well-known and is still used a lot. It also appears in several canons of prayer. It is usually sung three times at the end of Vespers during an All-Night Vigil. It is also said many times during daily prayers.

Variant Slavonic versions[change | change source]

There are two different versions of the Hail Mary in Church Slavonic:

Богородице дѣво радѹйсѧ
ωбрадованнаѧ Марїе
Господь съ тобою
благословена ты въ женахъ,
и благословенъ плодъ чрева твоегω,
Якω родила еси Христа Спаса,
Избавителѧ дѹшамъ нашимъ.
Theotokos Virgin, rejoice, (or, Rejoice, O Virgin Theotokos)
Mary full of grace,
the Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
for thou hast borne Christ the Saviour,
the Deliverer of our souls.
Богородице дѣво, радѹйсѧ,
Благодатнаѧ Марїе,
Господь съ тобою:
благословена Ты въ женахъ,
и благословенъ плодъ чрева Твоегω;
якω Спаса родила еси дѹшъ нашихъ.
Theotokos Virgin, rejoice, (or, Rejoice, O Virgin Theotokos)
Mary full of grace,
The Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb,
for thou hast borne the Saviour of our souls

The first version is older. The Old Believers still use this version. So do people who follow the Ruthenian recension (like the Ukrainian Greek-Catholic Church and the Ruthenian Catholic Church). The second version was created in 1656, as part of the liturgical reforms put in place by Patriarch Nikon of Moscow. This version is used by the Russian Orthodox Church, the Serbian Orthodox Church, the Bulgarian Orthodox Church and the Ukrainian Orthodox Church).

Usage in the Roman Catholic Church[change | change source]

The Hail Mary is the most important part of the Rosary. The Rosary is a way of praying. It is used a lot by Latin Rite (Western) Catholics. It is also used in the East (but only by Latinised Ukrainian and Maronite Catholics). The Rosary has four sets of five Mysteries. Each of the Mysteries has to do with things that happened in Jesus's life. This includes things that happened during Jesus's childhood (Joyful Mysteries); his public ministry (Luminous Mysteries); the Passion, including his crucifixion (Sorrowful Mysteries); and his Resurrection onwards (Glorious Mysteries). Each of these Mysteries is prayed as a decade (a unit of ten). For each decade, a person prays one Our Father (Pater Noster or The Lord's Prayer), ten Hail Marys, and one 'Glory Be' (Gloria Patri) (Doxology).

The Hail Mary is also the most important part of the Angelus. This is a devotion that many Catholics say three times every day. Some Anglicans and Lutherans say the Angelus too.

Anglican use of the Hail Mary[change | change source]

Anglo-Catholics also use the Hail Mary in devotional practice. Traditional Anglo-Catholics use the prayer in mostly the same way as the Roman Catholics. Both groups use the Rosary and say the Angelus. Anglican churches often have statues of the Virgin Mary. Many Anglicans use devotional prayers like the Hail Mary. However, in different areas, the prayer may be used differently. This is because the Catholic and Anglican Churches have some different beliefs.

Musical settings[change | change source]

Many people have written music for the Hail Mary (also called the Ave Maria). One of the most famous musical versions was created by Charles Gounod in 1859. He added melody and words to Johann Sebastian Bach's first prelude (beginning piece of music) from the Well-Tempered Clavier. Another famous version was created by Antonín Dvořák in 1877. Giuseppe Verdi, a famous composer, wrote another version of the Ave Maria for his 1887 opera Otello. Russian composer César Cui, who was raised Roman Catholic, set the prayer to music at least three different times. The first was as the "Ave Maria," op. 34, in 1886. This was a piece of music written for 1 or 2 women's voices with piano or harmonium. He also used the prayer as part of two of his operas: Le Flibustier (1894) and Mateo Falcone (1907). Mozart, Byrd, Elgar, Verdi, Saint-Saens, Rossini, Brahms and Perosi also set the prayer to music. Many less-famous composers, like J.B. Tresch, also wrote musical versions of the Hail Mary.

In Slavonic, many Eastern European composers set the prayer to music. For example, Rachmaninov, Stravinsky, and Bortniansky all wrote their own versions of the prayer.

During the Renaissance, the Hail Mary very often set to music by composers, like Jacques Arcadelt, Josquin Desprez, Orlando di Lasso, and Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina. Before the Council of Trent, there were actually different versions of the prayer. Because of this, some of the earlier Renaissance pieces have different words than today's Hail Mary. Josquin Desprez, for example, himself set more than one version of the Ave Maria. Here is an example of a text set by Josquin which begins with the first six words above, but continues with a poem in rhymed couplets:

Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum, Virgo serena.
Ave cuius conceptio,
solemni plena gaudio,
celestia, terrestria,
nova replet letitia.
Ave cuius nativitas,
nostra fuit solemnitas,
ut lucifer lux oriens
verum solem preveniens.
Ave pia humilitas,
sine viro fecunditas,
cuius annunciatio
nostra fuit salvatio.
Ave vera virginitas,
immaculata castitas,
cuius purificatio
nostra fuit purgatio.
Ave preclara omnibus
angelicis virtutibus,
cuius fuit assumptio
nostra glorificatio.
O Mater Dei, memento mei. Amen.


Franz Schubert's Ellens dritter Gesang (D839, Op 52 no 6, 1825) is often misidentified as "Schubert's Ave Maria" because it opens with the greeting "Ave Maria" ("Hail Mary"), even though it is not a setting of the traditional Ave Maria prayer. The original text of Schubert's song is from Sir Walter Scott's The Lady of the Lake and was translated into German by Adam Storck. Adding to the confusion, the traditional Ave Maria prayer is often sung to Schubert's melody of Ellens dritter Gesang; and in Walt Disney's Fantasia, the tune is used with yet another text beginning with the phrase.

Even though Protestant Christianity generally avoids any special veneration of Mary, access to the beautiful and culturally significant tradition of Marian music is made easier by replacement texts. These texts replace the words of the standard "Ave Maria," preserving word boundaries and syllable stresses, so that music written for the former text can be sung with the latter. An example is the Christ-centric Ave Redemptor:

Ave redemptor, Domine Jesus:
Cujus ob opus
Superatur mors, enim salvatio
Nunc inundavit super universam terram.
Sancte redemptor, reputata
Fides est nobis peccatoribus,
Nunc et in morte, ad iustitiam.
ENGLISH TRANSLATION
Hail the Redeemer, Lord Jesus,
By whose work
Death is defeated, for salvation
Has now overflowed upon all of the world.
Holy redeemer, our faith
Is reckoned to us sinners,
Now and in death, as righteousness.


The Words[change | change source]

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 death.
Amen.

References[change | change source]

  1. Saint Thomas Aquinas on the Hail Mary
  2. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.04.0057%3Aentry%3D%23113414
  3. When the New Testament was translated into Latin, the translators used the phrase "gratia plena" (full of grace), because Latin did not have one word with the same meaning.
  4. text, with chanting
  5. Thurston, Herbert (1910), "Hail Mary", The Catholic Encyclopedia, VII, New York: Robert Appleton Company, http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/07110b.htm, retrieved 2007-09-19
  6. This sentence appeared for he first time in his catechism of 1555 : Petrus Canisius, CATECHISMI Latini et Germanici, I, ( ed Friedrich Streicher, S P C CATECHISMI Latini et Germanici, I, Roma, Munich, 1933, I, 12
  7. The Catechism of the Council of Trent, Part IV
  8. With Pope John XXIII's edition of the Roman Missal, the use of the letter J in printing Latin was dropped even in liturgical books, which had preserved that usage long after it ceased in the printing of ordinary Latin texts, including documents of the Holy See.
  9. Qawmo (For prayers of all canonical hours)

Other websites[change | change source]