How the Hail Mary Came About

26 March 2007. Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord
Luke 1, 26-38. The Hail Mary

Catholic devotion to Mary exists all over the world and at time, take a distorted role, but its origins and basic impulse are sound and solidly rooted. Mary was chosen by God to be the mother of Jesus. Reserving a place for her in our faith is not an end in itself, but she reminds us that salvation is not just about ideas. She was the physical mother of the Savior and also his first disciple. She shows us who Jesus is — fully human, as well as divine. She reveals to us who we will be — human beings but partakers in the very life of God, truly children of God.

In the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, we will look closely at the most important prayer dedicated wholly to our Mother that expresses the basic simplicity and devotion to Mary. The Hail Mary begins with a passage from Luke (1, 28) as the Angel Gabriel appears to a Jewish girl, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you’. When the early Christians translated the Greek Scripture to Latin, the Church fathers translated it into, “Ave, gratia plena!” meaning, “Hail! Full of Grace!” This became the common way to repeat this passage, and thus made its way into common prayer. The second part is also from Luke (1, 42), when Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, greeted her. “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of Thy womb, Jesus.” In the evolving life of the Church, people see the connection between these two passages and thus brought them together as every Christian came to greet Mary themselves.

What is the evidence of these? First, the greetings became part of one prayer in the 4th Sunday of Advent in the liturgy in Rome, and it is also found in a shard of an Egyptian pottery in the 6th century. Many prayers to Mary already existed at the very early history of Christianity, that in the late 3rd century, a Christian church was dedicated to her in Alexandria, Egypt. In the 11th century, the prayer appeared in what they call, the “Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary” which contains themes in the life of Mary, with the frequent repetition of “Ave Maria, gratia plena. Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus.”

What about the 2nd part? People realized that the first part was a greeting and every greeting was attached with a prayer or intention appealing Mary’s help. In Florence 1498, a Dominican heretic, Girolamo Savonarola, was burned. In his writing appeared the 2nd part of the prayer (except for the word, nostrae) which was very orthodox. It made its way to being the official Ave Maria approved by the Church and placed in the Church book, the Roman breviary. Pope Pius V published the breviary in 1568 that standardized the church prayer in the chaotic world of the Reformation.

It did not take long for the Ave Maria to make its way to popular devotions and the arts. One of these devotions was the rosary which was the laity’s way of following the monk’s 150 Psalms. They were also repeating the Pater Noster by the fifties and the hundreds as they mimic the Psalms in the monastery (note that most of the ordinary folks were uneducated, so to recite these oral prayers repeatedly became the counterpart of the Psalms recited by the monks within the monastery walls).

All of these prayers have one definite purpose: greeting Mary who leads us to Christ. Mary became popular to us because she was one of us. The basic impulse is the recognition that we can turn to Mary any time, all the time.

*Gladys and James Vibar’s Wedding Photo. James is my relative.

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