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.
The Hail Mary -- the heart of the Rosary and
of the Angelus, and one of the prayers most
associated with Catholics -- stems from the first chapter
of Luke's Gospel, more specifically, the 28th verse's record of the
archangel Gabriel's encounter with the Virgin at the Annunciation --
And the angel
being come in, said unto her: Hail,
full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.
-- and the fortieth to fiftieth verses' account of the Visitation -- the meeting of Our Lady
and St. Elizabeth, the mother of St. John the Baptist, while they both
were pregnant with their sons:
And she entered
into the house of Zachary, and saluted Elizabeth. And it came to pass,
that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in
her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost: And she
with a loud voice, and said: Blessed
art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And
whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For
behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the
infant in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed art thou that hast
believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken
to thee by the Lord.
And Mary said: My soul doth magnify the Lord. And my spirit hath
rejoiced in God my Saviour. Because He hath regarded the humility of
His handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me
blessed. Because He that is mighty, hath done great things to me;
and holy is His name. And His mercy is from generation unto
generations, to them that fear Him.
Lord Christ's Holy Name was added to the Ave by St.
Bernardine of Siena, and the petition to the Virgin to pray "for us
sinners now and at the hour of our death" was added by at least 1495,
appearing first in print in Girolamo Savonarola's "Esposizione sopra
l’Ave Maria." But even before the Ave came to its finalized modern
form, Gabriel's greeting to Mary was prayed, a practice formalized
first by St. Mechtilde.
St. Mechtilde was born to a noble family in Saxony, around the year
1241. Very sickly at birth and not expected to survive, she was rushed
to be baptized. The priest, though, reassured her family by telling
them, "What do you fear? This child most certainly will not die, but
she will become a saintly religious in whom God will work many wonders,
and she will end her days in a good old age."
The priest's words proved prophetic, and Mechtilde followed her older
sister, Gertrude, into the Benedictine convent in Helfta. There, she
entrusted with the care of another Gertrude -- a five-year old girl who
would become known as St. Gertrude the Great. The young St. Gertrude
grew up to co-write a book -- Liber
Specialis Gratiae ("The Book of Special Grace") -- about
Mechtilde's life and the blessings with which God endowed her. The book
finished when St. Mechtilde became aware of it. While she was hearing
Mass a mysterious voice made one of the culprits known to her and at
the same time asked her this question: "What shall be her reward for
what she has written?"
Very much astonished St. Mechtilde asked her friend if she
had been in the habit of writing down what she told her. She, not
wanting to acknowledge it, made some excuse, telling the Saint to ask
our Lord about it. St. Mechtilde, having thus been made aware of the
truth, was so grieved as to be inconsolable. She therefore went to our
Lord, her ordinary refuge, and told Him confidingly of her sorrow. Our
Lord appeared to her at once, holding the book on His Heart with His
right hand. He kissed it, and said to her: "All that is found written
in this book has flowed from My divine Heart, and will return to it."
St. Mechtilde asked our Lord if now she should cease
communicating to others the graces she received from
God. Our Lord answered: "Give Me to others with the
liberality of My generous Heart. Give Me to others according to My
goodness and not according to thine."
She answered: "What will they do with this book after my
death and what good will result from its being
written?" The Lord replied: "All those that seek Me therein
with a true heart shall rejoice; those that love Me will be more
inflamed with My love; and those in sorrow shall be consoled."
Mechtilde again asked what name the book should bear, and
our Lord answered: "They shall call it The Book of Special Grace." So
our Lord Himself approved of the book being written and also watched
over it, so that no error should appear in it.
This book, which
you can read under the title "Love of the Sacred Heart" in this site's Catholic Library, recounts Mechtilde's
temporal blessings, such as the beautiful voice for which she became
known as "the Nightingale of Helfta," and, especially, the insights and
was granted as a great mystic and, above all, as a lover of the Sacred Heart.
In one of those visions, she was told by Our Lady, "I request you to
say, every day, Three Hail Marys in honour of the power, wisdom and
love with which the Holy Trinity deigned to fill my heart. If you do
that I promise you final perseverance."
The Virgin told her that for "any soul who faithfully prays the Three
Hail Marys, I will appear at the hour of death in a splendor of beauty
so extraordinary that it will fill the soul with heavenly consolation."
More specifically, she said,
The first Hail
Mary will be in honor of God the Father, Whose omnipotence raised my
soul so high above every other creature that, after God, I have the
greatest power in Heaven and on earth. In the hour of your death, I
will use that power of God the Father to keep any hostile power from
The second Hail Mary will be in honor of God the Son, Who
communicated His inscrutable wisdom to me. In the hour of your death, I
will fill your soul with the light of that wisdom so that all the
darkness of ignorance and error will be dispelled.
The third Hail Mary will be in honor of God the Holy Ghost,
Who filled my soul with the sweetness of His love and tenderness and
mercy... In your last hour, I will then change the bitterness of death
into Divine sweetness and delight.
SS. Anthony of Padua, Bonaventure, Alphonsus Liguori, John Vianney,
Leonard of Port Maurice, Gerard of Majella, Gemma Galgani, and many
other Saints adopted the practice.
How to Make the
Three Hail Marys Devotion
To make this devotion, mentally praise the Most Holy Trinity, and
simply pray three Aves. Do this once in the morning upon rising, and
then again in the evening before bed, preferably after making your Nightly Examination of Conscience.
To pray it as St. Alphonsus Liguori did, after each of the morning
Aves, add "O my Mother, preserve me from mortal sin during this day";
after each of the evening Aves, add "O my Mother, preserve me from
mortal sin during this night."