THE HAIL MARY PRAYER IS BIBLICAL
Many of our brethren from other Christian denominations claim that the ‘Hail Mary’ prayer is not based on the Bible. But we know as Catholics that the prayer is a popular devotion in the Church and the chief prayer in the Rosary. Could this powerful prayer not be based on the Word of God? In fact it is. And here is an outline of why and how the prayer is based on the Word of God.
The prayer: HAIL MARY, FULL OF GRACE, THE LORD IS WITH YOU, BLESSED ARE YOU AMONG WOMEN AND BLESSED IS THE FRUIT OF YOUR WOMB, JESUS (1st Part)
HOLY MARY MOTHER OF GOD, PRAY FOR US SINNERS, NOW AND AT THE HOUR OF OUR DEATH (2nd Part) AMEN
Let us break the prayer into parts to know the importance of every word in the prayer.
“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you”
In the gospel according to Luke, the angel Gabriel made a greeting to Mary, a virgin betrothed to Joseph, with the words: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!”- Luke 1: 28 (RSV). Making this greeting was the very first step towards the salvation of humankind! This is a direct scripture quoted in the prayer, adding the name ‘Mary’ after ‘Hail’, and we too greet Mother Mary with the same words. Satan obviously dislikes the greeting since he is continually reminded of his failure and God’s victory through the new Eve! ‘When the dragon saw that it had been thrown down to the earth, it pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child’- Revelation 12: 13 (NAB)*. No wonder, Satan has always attacked Mary in all the generations of Church history and continues to do so even today.
*This text which originally refers to the Church fits well for Mary. The Fathers of the Church have seen here the figure of Mary.
“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb”
- ‘And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”’- Luke 1: 41-42 (RSV). The words quoted in prayer are again directly from scripture. Thus Elizabeth became the first person to call Mary “Blessed”.
- Having known the call to her vocation partially, despite the challenges of the time, Mary freely contributed to surrender her life to the will of God – “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word”- Luke 1: 38 (RSV). This act of unconditional faith by Mary made Elizabeth call her “Blessed” the second time – “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled”- Luke 1: 45 (NAB)
- In her response of praise and thanksgiving, Mary said “for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed”- Luke 1: 48 (NRSV) Our Mother said that she will be called ‘Blessed’ by all generations from that point on. In fact we see the fulfillment of the same in that generation itself. During Jesus’ preaching a woman from the crowd said to him, “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed”- Luke 11: 27 (NAB) She well deserved to be called blessed not just because she bore and nursed Jesus as her Son- but also for the real fact that Jesus further emphasizes- that she “heard the Word of God and observed it” (Luke 11: 28) evident through her words “let it be to me according to your word”- Luke 1: 38b (RSV) Bearing Jesus in her womb and nursing him was the proof of the fulfillment of her surrender. What began in that generation has continued ever since.
Thus, in the Catholic Church from generation to generation we have called Mother Mary ‘Blessed’, every time we have recited the words “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” through the ‘Hail Mary’ prayer. And therefore, in this generation, the onus of calling her ‘Blessed’ lies with us. If we give up on calling her ‘Blessed’, who else will? And if we do not call her ‘Blessed’, it is we Catholics who are going against the Holy Scriptures and slowly drifting away from the fullness of truth! Read More>>
At the end of the words ‘and blessed is the fruit of your womb’, we add “Jesus”. Why do we have the name of the Lord being added to the first part of the prayer?
- First of all we correctly identify that the fruit of the womb is “Jesus” as the fulfillment of what the angel Gabriel announced at the annunciation- “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus”- Luke 1: 31 (RSV)
- But what is the significance of the name ‘Jesus’ to us? St. Paul wrote to the congregation at Colossae: “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” – Colossians 3: 17a (RSV) Therefore as Christians we need to do everything in the name of Jesus because his name is above every name (Philippians 2: 9) Verse 10 further expresses this truth: ‘that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth’- Philippians 2: 10 (NAB) Therefore, taking the name of Jesus on our lips either praying for ourselves or for others brings about healing, deliverance and salvation. We read St. Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, making this declaration: “then all of you and all the people of Israel should know that it was in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarean whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead; in his name this man stands before you healed. He is ‘the stone rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.’ There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.”- Acts 4: 10- 12 (NAB)
- Finally, this is how our Catholic Church expresses the importance of the Lord’s name in our prayers: CCC 435: The name of Jesus is at the heart of Christian prayer. All liturgical prayers conclude with the words “through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The Hail Mary reaches its high point in the words “blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” The Eastern prayer of the heart, the Jesus Prayer, says: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Many Christians, such as St. Joan of Arc, have died with the one word “Jesus” on their lips.
We begin the second part of the prayer with these words. The God we worship is Holy and we see this being highlighted all throughout the bible – Ex. Rev. 15: 4 (RSV) Even when Aaron’s sons offered unholy fire at the Tent of the Lord’s presence, they were consumed by fire (Leviticus 10: 1-3) The presence of God is so sacred that it strikes dead those who approach him without the proper holiness. Also, those who are consecrated to serve God especially the priests, must be considered holy – ‘You shall consecrate him [priest], for he offers the bread of your God; he shall be holy to you; for I the Lord, who sanctify you, am holy’- Leviticus 21: 8 (RSV) The Catholic Church has always lived up to this tradition. Even today as said by Pope Paul VI in Mysterium Fidei: CCC 1183, ‘the tabernacle is to be situated “in churches in a most worthy place with the greatest honor”’…When the all holy eternal Son of God was to be born to a woman, could he be born to a woman who was short of the required holiness? The Catholic Church teaches us: CCC 492: The “splendor of an entirely unique holiness” by which Mary is “enriched from the first instant of her conception” comes wholly from Christ: she is “redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son.” The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person “in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” and chose her “in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him in love.”* – (LG 53, 56; Ephesians 1: 3-4) Undoubtedly, Mother Mary was the ‘holy’ living tabernacle of the Lord.
*This election that is given to every disciple of Christ is particularly visible in the case of Mary, and so she is holy par excellence.
“Mother of God”
Our Blessed Mother is called the ‘Mother of God’. Elizabeth full of the Holy Spirit said “And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”- Luke 1: 43 (RSV) When Elizabeth referred to Mary as ‘mother of my Lord’, she indeed acknowledged the very fact that the One whom Mary was carrying in her womb was the ‘Lord’. And the same Lord is the Word who was God (John 1: 1b), who became flesh (John 1: 14a) to dwell with us. St. Paul thus rightly expressed – ‘But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law.’- Galatians 4: 4 (RSV) St. Thomas exclaimed “my Lord and my God!” (John 20: 28) St. Paul also wrote: ‘For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily’ – Colossians 2: 9a (RSV) In conclusion* (considering other scriptural texts in addition), opposing the Nestorian heresy, the Catholic Church confirmed (Council of Ephesus, 431), and continued to believe, that Mary is the mother of the One Person, Jesus Christ, the Son of God who is ‘True God and True Man’ in his human existence. Hence, Mother Mary is rightly honored with the title ‘Mother of God’ (Theotokos)
*The word ‘conclusion’ here refers to only the outcome of the Council of Ephesus, and not the belief. The belief that Mother Mary is the Mother of God already existed prior to the Council.
“Pray for us sinners”
Through the prayers made for sinners, a sinner receives life – ‘If anyone sees his brother sinning, if the sin is not deadly, he should pray to God and he will give him life.’- 1 John 5: 16a (NAB) Intercessory prayers are therefore vital in Christian living. St. James tells us ‘the fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful’ – James 5: 16b (NAB). So, requesting prayers from holy and righteous people is perfectly scriptural. The Catholic Church also teaches us that we can ask the saints to intercede for us: CCC 828: By canonising some of the faithful, i.e., by solemnly proclaiming that they practiced heroic virtue and lived in fidelity to God’s grace, the Church recognizes the power of the spirit of holiness within her and sustains the hope of believers by proposing the saints to them as models and intercessors (LG 40; 48-51) “The saints have always been the source and origin of renewal in the most difficult moments of the Church’s history” (John Paul II, CL 16, 3) We read in scripture about a vision that Maccabeus has, where Onias, a former high priest ‘prays with outstretched arms for the whole Jewish community’ and also prophet Jeremiah ‘who loves his brethren and fervently prays for his people and their holy city’ (2 Maccabees 15: 11- 14). Both Onias and Jeremiah were physically dead at the time – a clear scriptural belief for the intercession of saints! (Also read Luke 9: 29-32; 16:26- 31; 20: 37- 38) Our Blessed Mother is the Saint of all Saints, also interceding for us sinners.
- Our Blessed Mother intercedes for us in every situation of ‘now’. For example, she intervened and interceded to Jesus on behalf of the family hosting the wedding feast at Cana in Galilee. The wine had run out and our Blessed Mother saved the situation in that crisis. She did not perform the miracle, Jesus did, but on her intercession. This happened despite the fact Jesus said “Woman, how does your concern affect me? My hour has not yet come.”- John 2: 4 (NAB) The healing had to come in that very moment of ‘now’ even though it was not the time for Jesus to perform a miracle (John 2: 1, 3, 5, 11). Indeed, our Blessed Mother is a powerful intercessor: ‘His mother said to the servers, “Do whatever he [Jesus] tells you”’- John 2: 5 (NAB)
- The gospel according to Luke tells us ‘During those days Mary set out and travelled to the hill country in haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth’- Luke 1: 39- 40 (NAB) Notice the words in scripture ‘in haste’. The Blessed Mother did not wait for another convenient time but set off immediately after she got the news of Elizabeth’s pregnancy – that very moment of ‘now’. This act of charity of our Mother Mary was very humbling, evident in Elizabeth’s expression, “And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”- Luke 1: 43 (RSV) Moreover, the Blessed Mother brought the Lord’s presence into the life of Elizabeth. She stayed back for 3 months to help and support and then returned home (Luke 1: 56). Her act of charity was total and complete in that situation of ‘now’.
The Church expresses the same faith and confidence that the Blessed Mother will continue to intercede for us in every present situation of our ‘now’ and so bring Jesus to our lives as she has always done.
“And at the hour of our death”
The Lord had foretold his disciples that when his hour would come, all of them will be scattered to their own homes and that he would be left all alone (John 16: 32a) But we see during the passion and crucifixion, his mother was present there. The Blessed Mother risked her own life and was standing by the cross, leading a few others, in praying and supporting her Son at the final moments of his death (John 19: 25) She did not give up praying though sorrow like a sharp sword pierced her heart as prophesized by Simeon (Luke 2: 35). Jesus said to his disciple John “Behold, your mother!” – John 19: 27 (NAB), thus giving his own mother to us individually and the Church. So now, she is our own mother. We now have the same confidence that our Blessed Mother will also pray for us ‘at the hour of our death’ just as she prayed at the foot of the cross without giving up. We can be rest assured that even if we are abandoned by all around us and left all alone; our dear loving mother will always stand by us praying for us. Indeed, what a privilege this is.
CCC 975: “We believe that the Holy Mother of God, the new Eve, Mother of the Church, continues in heaven to exercise her maternal role on behalf of the members of Christ.” (Paul VI, CPG 15) By reciting the ‘Hail Mary’ prayer, Catholics do not worship Mother Mary as some claim. In his human existence, Jesus practiced the whole Law to perfection and had no sin in him (1 Pet 2: 22; Luke 2: 51- 52; Matthew 3: 13- 15; 5: 17- 18). We too need to model our lives on him (1 John 2: 6; 1 Cor 11: 1) We honor Mary as our own mother just as Jesus himself honored her as his own mother. The right word therefore is ‘veneration’ and not ‘worship’.
We address her with the same words which were inspired by the Holy Spirit then, call her with the titles based on scripture and finally ask for her intercession.