The true meaning of the Hail Mary

The true meaning of the Hail Mary

There are words that are passed throughout time, from mouth to mouth, for years, centuries, uttered by a million different voices, in many different languages. The words of prayers for example, written by men and women inspired by God a long time ago, and said since then, whispered, shouted by countless devotees that looked for comfort during difficult times in them, or that just wanted to express their faith raising them with their own voice.

Sometimes these words are repeated so often that they lose some of their original meaning. We became used to saying those words, or hearing someone else saying them, that the sound if the words itself becomes even more important than what they want to convey. The signifier becomes more important than the signified, or anyway the latter is a bit misinterpreted, taken for granted. This is not a good thing, especially if the words we are talking about are the ones of a prayer.

Pope Francis comes to our rescue. Specifically, with his book “Mary. Mother of all” (San Paolo publisher), recently released, the Holy Father lets us in his prayers and thoughts addressed to Mary on one side, while helps us better understand, or just remember, the true meaning of the words of the most famous and old prayer dedicated to Jesus’ mother: the Hail Mary.

The image of Mary has always been deeply loved and invoked by Christians. She is not only a symbol of God’s will to make peace with men, after mankind lost its grace and was cast out of Eden because of a woman, Eve. Mary is the new Eve, the second chance granted to men to show they deserve God’s love and trust; she was born with no sin, and chosen to conceive God’s Son without knowing the contamination of flesh. A modest maid, a common girl, called to carry out a big and terrible duty, and who accepted that duty with humility and submission, aware of the pain it would cause her. In this free choice to give herself to God entirely, to make herself a submissive instrument of His mysterious and large plan, Mary takes the role of model and example for all of us.

But there is more than that. Just because of her brave choice, that is becoming the mother of the Savior, Mary also took the role of mediator between men and God. Her being mother, not only for Jesus but for all men, makes her more suitable than ever to forward our anxieties and pains to God’s attention, so that He can decide to come to our rescue in His endless goodness and mercy.

The Ave Maria prayer spread over the years

That is why the Hail Mary became one of the most popular and famous prayers, heart of the Rosary practice, dedicated to Mary entirely as well, and many other devotional practices.

Let’s think for example to the devotion of the three Hail Marys. This very popular Marian prayer was created by Saint Mechtilde of Hackeborn, a Benedictine sister that lived between 1240 and 1298. Saint Mechtilde had already received Mary’s visits in other occasions, and encouraged by this favor from Jesus mother, she asked her to comfort her during her final moments.

Mary accepted, but as sign of devotion and commitment from her, she asked her to say a special Hail Mary three times everyday, which had the goal to praise the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and give thanks for all the wonderful gifts that adorned Mary.

The first Hail Mary would be addressed to God Father: in His omnipotence and omniscience, he took the humblest of girls and gave her a power that was almost the same as His, making her omnipotent in heaven and earth.

The second Hail Mary would honor Jesus, the Son of God: he instilled awareness and wisdom in Mary, which were unconceivable for any other human being, allowing her to enjoy the view of the Holy Trinity and share their light.

The third Hail Mary would be addressed to the Holy Spirit that made Mary as full of love as It is, making her good, sweet and gentle above all other women and men of all times. In exchange for this devotional act, Mary would grant Saint Mechtilde her presence, her light and all of her divine love at the time of her death.

Each one of the three prayers is addressed to one of the characteristics given to Mary by the Holy Trinity:

The power given by God Father.

The wisdom and knowledge given by the Son.

The love and mercy of the Holy Spirit.

With this devotional practice, Mary is acknowledged of an excellence without equals in terms of power, wisdom and mercy. Mary is named by the Church as Powerful Virgin, Mother of Mercy and Seat of Wisdom.

The devotional practice of saying the Hail Mary three times is common still today. With it, we want to honor the Holy Mother, and possibly ask for her mediation to obtain a grace or a special favor from God. In fact, just like Mary promised her help to Saint Mechtilde at the time of her death, the same way she renovates her promise for life and death to those who will say the three Hail Marys everyday.

Devotion of the Three Hail Mary

This is how the devotion of the three Hail Marys is composed:

Mary, my Mother, free me from falling into mortal sin.

  1. By the power granted you by the Eternal Father,

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. Amen

  1. By the wisdom granted you by the Son

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. Amen

  1. By the love granted you by the Holy Spirit

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. Amen

 Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, and now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen

But let’s go back to the Hail Mary.

holy mary ring silver
Hail Mary prayer ring in 925 silver, adjustable

The prayer as we know it and say it today first appeared in Brescia in 1498, in the collection Triumphi, sonetti, canzon e laude de la Gloriosa Madre de Dio Vergine Maria, a work dedicated to Mary by Gasparino Borro, a priest of the order of the Servants of Mary. In 1568 Pope Pius V, in the Liturgy of the Hours, forced all priests to say the Our Father followed by a Hail Mary at the beginning of every hour of the Divine Office.

The Hail Mary is today one of the most famous and popular with the Our Father, the one that is most carved on prayer rings and bracelets. The Rosary is still a popular devotional practice in the whole world, and the Rosary chain often goes beyond the practice of the prayer itself, becoming a lucky charm, a protection against evil, a way to feel Mary always by our side.

This is how Pope Francis guides us through the rediscovery of this wonderful prayer:

Archangel Gabriel speaks to Mary and calls her “full of grace” (Lc 1,28). The same way we address Mary when we pray to her: Hail Mary, full of grace.

Pope Francis explains the meaning of this opening: in Mary“there is no room for sin, because God chose her since the beginning of time as mother of Jesus, and preserved her from the original sin.”

Speaking to Mary again, Gabriel adds: “The Lord is with thee”

Pope Francis explains that, as the Lord was with Mary, the same way he can be with all of us, if we are willing to welcome His word and follow His precepts.

“It is like God became man in us, He comes to live in us, because he lives in those who love him and follow his Word. It is not easy to understand, but yes, it is very easy to feel it in the heart […] We think Jesus incarnation is a fact that only belongs to the past, that does not involve us personally? Believing in Jesus means offering him our flesh, with Mary’s humility and courage.”

The angel goes on, and tells her: Blessed art thou amongst women”

We know how Mary was a humble and modest girl, probably incapable of fully understanding God’s plan, the destiny He had in mind for her. And yet, she did not hesitate to accept it. What makes her so special, so blessed among women? Exactly her simplicity.

To the question about how Mary chose to follow her faith, Pope Francis replies: “She lived it in the simplicity of the thousands of daily things to do and worries of every mother, such as provide food, clothes, take care of the house… Precisely this normal existence of Mary was the ground where a special relationship and a deep dialog between her and God took place, and also between her and his Son.”

The prayer goes on: “And blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus”

Mary did not just agreed that God’s Son became flesh and blood in her womb. “She conceived faith first, then the Lord” Pope Francis adds. Hers was not a passive choice, she accepted the Holy spirit in her heart first, then in her womb. “Just as she receives the power of the Holy Spirit but then gives flesh and blood to the Son of God growing inside her on a physical level, on a spiritual level she welcomes the grace and returns it with faith.”

The second part of the prayer Hail Mary opens with a new invocation to Mary, called now: “Holy Mary, Mother of God”

As we mentioned before, her being Mother of Jesus makes her a unique mediator between us men and God. Pope Francis says: “She precedes us and always confirms us in faith, in vocation and in the mission. With her example of humility and availability to God’s will, she helps us translate our faith into a Gospel announcement, joyful and with no borders.”

Even the request “Pray for us sinners“, she works as mediator between us and God, as mother of all men, infinitely good and merciful, careful to our needs, always ready to guide us. Pope Francis says: “This is the gift of advice. Those mothers who have this gift, ask that for your children. The gift of giving advice to children is a gift of God.”

The Pope closes his explanation of the Hail Mary going over the last verse: “Now and at the hour of our death”

The Pope says we have to entrust ourselves to her “so that She, being mother of our firstborn brother Jesus, can teach us how to have the same motherly spirit towards our brothers, with the sincere ability to welcome, to forgive, to give strength and to instill trust and hope. That is what a mother does.”

Following Mary’s example, that is, accepting the burden God chose for us, we are already walking down a grueling path, but which will grant us salvation; in every moment, now and at the hour of our death, our celestial Mother will be there by our side.

This concept of Mary as mother of all was further enhanced by Pope Francis along his whole pontificate. In particular in 2013, at the end of the Holy Mass celebrated on October 13th in Saint Peter for the Marian Day, he consecrated the whole world to the Madonna of Fatima. This consecration is reported in the Pope’s book dedicated to Mary “Mary. Mother of all”.

Act of entrustment to the Virgin of Fatima

Blessed Virgin Mary of Fatima, with renewed gratitude for your motherly presence

we join in the voice of all generations that call you blessed.

We celebrate in you the great works of God, who never tires of lowering himself

in mercy over humanity,

afflicted by evil and wounded by sin,

to heal and to save it.

Accept with the benevolence of a Mother

this act of entrustment that we make in faith today,

rosary madonna fatima centenary from the apparition
Rosary centenary Our Lady of Fatima’s appearance

before this your image, beloved to us.

We are certain that each one of us is precious in your eyes

and that nothing in our hearts has estranged you.

May that we allow your sweet gaze

to reach us and the perpetual warmth of your smile.

Guard our life with your embrace:

bless and strengthen every desire for good;

give new life and nourishment to faith;

sustain and enlighten hope;

awaken and animate charity;

guide us all on the path to holiness.

Teach us your own special love for the little and the poor,

for the excluded and the suffering,

for sinners and the wounded of heart: gather all people under you protection

and give us all to your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus.