How Did the “Hail Mary” Prayer Come to Be?

A little bit of history surrounding the composition of the “Hail Mary”.

Newsdesk (03/09/2023 10:39, Gaudium Press) The “Hail Mary”, the Marian prayer par excellence, is made up of two parts (according to the post-Tridentine Roman Catholic Version), which took a millennium (from the 6th to the 16th century) to be combined in its entirety, as we know it today[1].

The first part of the prayer

The first part of the prayer is the union of two passages found in the Gospel of St. Luke: the words of the Angel St. Gabriel and the greeting of St. Elizabeth.

The story of the Incarnation of the Man-God begins with the appearance of the Angel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin and the announcement made by the heavenly herald: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee” (Lk 1:28). This greeting, besides being a prayer from the Angel to Mary, is above all a greeting from God Himself to Our Lady, through His Angel (cf. CCC no. 2676).

Also in the first part of the prayer, there is the passage taken from Mary’s visit to Elizabeth, her cousin: “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb” (Lk 1:42). With this greeting, Elizabeth is considered by the Church to be the first in a long sequence to proclaim Mary blessed (cf. CCC no. 2676).

Severus of Antioch (+538) is believed to have been responsible for uniting the two passages mentioned above into a single prayer.[2]

In the 13th century, Pope Urban IV (1261) took the initiative of putting the word “Mary” at the beginning of the prayer, to indicate to whom the greeting “Hail [Mary], full of grace” was addressed; and the word “Jesus” at the end, to specify the meaning of the phrase “the fruit of your womb”.[3] However, despite the excellent initiative, the official recognition of this complement was only made two centuries later.

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The second part

At the beginning of the “second part” of the prayer, we find the proclamation of one of the Marian dogmas: Mary as “Mother of God”. In fact, this truth of faith was acclaimed and defined in the first centuries of the Church, in opposition to the false doctrines of Nestorius, who claimed that there were two persons in Christ, one human and the other divine; and that, as a result, Mary would only be the mother of the “human person”, but not the “mother of God”.[4] In the meantime, Pope St. Celestine I, in the first century of the Church, proclaimed that Mary was the “Mother of God”.

However, in a definitive way, Pope St. Celestine I, at the Council of Ephesus, defined the following truth about Mary’s Divine Maternity: “If anyone does not confess that the Emmanuel is God in the true sense and that, therefore, the holy Virgin is deiparous (since she begot according to the flesh the Word who is from God and came to be flesh), let him be anathema” (cf. DH 252).

Centuries later, when the official Catechism of the Council of Trent was promulgated, the petition “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen” was included in the “Hail Mary” prayer.

The recognition of this second part, as well as the word “Jesus” in the first, was only ratified in the 14th century, on the occasion of the universal reform of the Roman Breviary, promulgated by Pope St. Pius V in 1568.[6]

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Thus, concerning the Virgin Mary, the “Hail Mary” prayer is the trustworthy recognition given to her by the Scriptures and the Tradition of the Church.

Let us therefore have recourse to her, our Mother and Mediatrix of all graces!

By Denis Sant’ana.

[1] Cf. Cf. RADIOGRAFÍA DEL AVEMARÍA. Orígenes y explicación de esta plegaria. Disponível em: Acesso em: 26 de jul. 2023.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] CHANTREL, Joseph Charles Félix. Histoire Populaire des Papes. 10 e. d. Paris: Dillet, 1863, v. 4, p. 39.

[5] THURSTON, Herbert. Hail Mary. Trad. Luz María Hernández Medina. New York: Robert Appleton Company, p. 1910.

[6] Cf. MARIN, Antonio Royo. La Virgen María Teología y espiritualidades marianas.2. ed. Madrid: BAC, 1997, p. 456.

Compiled by Roberta MacEwan


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