BY PAT GOHN
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that Mary, the Mother of God, is truly our Mother “in the order of grace” (see CCC, 698). This knowledge is at the heart of the Ave Maria, the Hail Mary prayer that many Catholics learn as children. Despite its simplicity captured in 41 words, the Church emphasizes the prayer’s power and place in Christian devotion. Consider what St. Louis de Montfort taught: “The salvation of the whole world began with the Hail Mary. Hence, the salvation of each person is also attached to this prayer.”
The Catechism offers a beautiful line-by-line teaching on the Hail Mary. Find it in paragraphs 2676-2677. Here is a short summary.
“HAIL MARY, FULL OF GRACE, THE LORD IS WITH YOU.”
These words, and the ones that follow, are biblically based. They capture short, yet powerful, portions of the Annunciation and Visitation accounts in Luke’s Gospel.
Using “Hail Mary,” we pray by repeating the very words of God, spoken through the angel Gabriel to Mary. They announce God’s delight and favor (see Luke 1:28).
“Our prayer dares to take up this greeting to Mary with the regard God had for the lowliness of His humble servant and to exult in the joy He finds in her,” (CCC, 2676).
God Himself acknowledges that Mary is full of grace: “filled [with] the presence of Him who is the source of grace,” (CCC, 2676). These words reveal the dogma of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. Her very being is full of grace and free of sin (see CCC, 490-491).
“BLESSED ARE YOU AMONG WOMEN, AND BLESSED IS THE FRUIT OF YOUR WOMB, JESUS.”
These words are inspired by the Holy Spirit. They are the words Elizabeth spoke to Mary at the Visitation (see Luke 1:42). Since that time, countless saints through the ages have called Mary “blessed.” Her example of faith is a model for us, and a source of blessing for us–too.
“Mary is ‘blessed among women’ because she believed in the fulfillment of the Lord’s word. Abraham, because of his faith, became a blessing for all the nations of the earth. Mary, because of her faith, became the mother of believers, through whom all nations of the earth receive Him who is God’s own blessing: Jesus, the ‘fruit of thy womb'” (CCC, 2767).
Since Jesus is always at the heart of every Christian prayer, this is true for the Hail Mary. The prayer “reaches its high point,” says the Catechism, in the words: “Blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus” (see CCC, 435).
“HOLY MARY, MOTHER OF GOD”
These words bear witness to the Church’s dogma naming Mary, “Mother of God.” This is traceable both to the events in Luke that the prayer references and in the teaching of the early Church Council at Ephesus in 431.
“Called in the Gospels ‘the mother of Jesus,’ Mary is acclaimed by Elizabeth, at the prompting of the Spirit and even before the birth of her son, as ‘the mother of my Lord.’ In fact, the One whom she conceived as man by the Holy Spirit, who truly became her Son according to the flesh, was none other than the Father’s eternal son, the second person of the Holy Trinity. Hence the Church confesses that Mary is truly ‘Mother of God'” (Theotokos) (CCC, 495, 2677).
“PRAY FOR US SINNERS NOW AND AT THE HOUR OF OUR DEATH. AMEN.”
This last petition remembers Mary’s prayers and presence at the crucifixion of Jesus. It declares the Church’s confidence in Mary’s intercession, help, and protection. Just as she prayed at the death of Jesus, Christians invoke her aid to do the same for them.
“By asking Mary to pray for us, we acknowledge ourselves to be poor sinners and we address ourselves to the “Mother of Mercy,” the All-Holy One. We give ourselves over to her now, in the Today of our lives. And our trust broadens further, already at the present moment, to surrender ‘the hour of our death’ wholly to her care. May she be there as she was at her son’s death on the cross. May she welcome us as our mother at the hour of our passing to lead us to her son, Jesus, in paradise” (CCC, 2677).
The Hail Mary is true Christian prayer. We rejoice with God in what He has done in and through our Mother in giving us Jesus. And we invoke her help in our daily life, and at our death.
Mary is implicitly tied to Christ’s work of salvation from beginning to end. If you want to dwell deeply on the life of Jesus and Mary, pray the 20 mysteries of the Rosary. The Catechism calls the Rosary “the epitome of the whole Gospel” (CCC, 971).
Pat Gohn is the editor of Catechist magazine. This article originally appeared in Catholic Digest, from her column, “From the Catechism”.
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