Catholic Culture Podcasts
Catholic Culture Podcasts

Holy Mary, Pray For Us

by Mary Bazzett

Descriptive Title

Common Prayers to Mary


Mary Bazzett recounts the history of some well-known Marian prayers, including the Hail Mary, Hail Holy Queen, Memorare and Angelus. The Hail Mary in its present form evolved over time, although it is largely derived from Scripture. It became popular in the 11th century, when some monastic communities adopted it for regular recitation. The Hail Holy Queen was written by Blessed Herman, a Benedictine monk who was severely crippled. The origins of the Memorare are not entirely known, and after setting forth some possibilities for its authorship, Bazzett ends with the more straightforward history of the Angelus.

Larger Work

Catholic Heritage



Publisher & Date

Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., July/August 1998

Some well-known Marian prayers have surprising roots. Catholics who use these familiar gems may appreciate them even more when they know something about their origins — from scriptural verses to the plea of a bedridden cripple.

The Hail Mary

Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Without doubt, the Hail Mary is the most popular Marian prayer today. Its adherents range from toddlers, lisping their first memorized prayer, to operatic divas performing classical arrangements of the "Ave Maria."

The Hail Mary also is known as "The Angelic Salutation" because its first words come directly from the Gospel account of the angel Gabriel's greeting to Mary with the good news that she was to be the mother of the Messiah (see Lk 1:28).

The next part of the prayer uses the words of Mary's cousin Elizabeth, who, filled with the Holy Spirit, greeted Mary upon her arrival with a loud voice and the words: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb" (Lk 1:42).

In the sixth century, these first two portions of the prayer were found as a single formula in ancient liturgies. In the seventh, they made their way into the Roman collection of prayers as an offertory text for the feast of the Annunciation and the Fourth Sunday of Advent. The prayer was also used in this form during the Middle Ages.

The Hail Mary gradually developed from the sixth to 16th centuries, when the present wording was adopted as general liturgical usage. Some say it was Pope Urban IV (1261-64) who added the word "Jesus" to the angelic salutation.

The Hail Mary was not a popular prayer before the 11th century, when the practice began of reciting the twofold salutation as part of the prayers of some monastic communities. St. Peter Damian (1007-1072), a Camaldolese monk who later became a cardinal and then Doctor of the Church, called it the angelic, or evangelical, prayer and recommended it.

In the synod of 1198, Bishop Odo of Siliac required the clergy to see that the faithful recited not only the Our Father and the Creed, but also the Hail Mary. Shortly after that, councils of many other countries made similar prescriptions, and the prayer became so popular that it was regarded almost as an appendix to the Our Father.

In 1427, St. Bernard of Siena preached a sermon that included "Ave Maria, Sancta Maria, mater Dei, ora pro nobis." ("Hail Mary, Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for us.")

Its present form was introduced into the canonical hours of the breviary by three orders: the Mercedarians in 1514, the Camaldolese in 1515 and the Franciscans in 1525. It was finally fixed in the reformed breviary of Pope Pius V in 1568.

Hail Holy Queen

Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness, and our hope. To you do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To you do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn, then, most gracious advocate, your eyes of mercy toward us, and after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of your womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Amen.

The Hail Holy Queen was written nearly 1,000 years ago by a man who certainly knew of "mourning and weeping in this valley of tears." An 11th-century Benedictine monk, his name was Blessed Herman the Cripple.

Born deformed and practically helpless from birth, Herman was cared for from childhood by the monks of the Reichenau abbey of Germany. He was professed as a monk there at age 20. Even though he was bedridden and a speech impediment made him nearly impossible to understand, Herman was gifted as a mathematician and astronomer, and he made astronomical and musical instruments as well.

When he eventually became blind, Herman began writing hymns. His "Salve Regina," or "Hail Holy Queen," is the best known. Its name comes from the first words in Latin.

Although Herman was so deformed that he was never able to stand, his beautiful prayer stands today as a comfort to many, and is traditionally recited at the conclusion of the Rosary.

Blessed Herman died at the age of 40 in 1054. His Sept. 25 feast day is observed in some Benedictine monasteries.

The Memorare

Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto you, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother. To you I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, dispise not my petitions, but in your mercy hear and answer me. Amen.

This popular prayer, a favorite of many Catholics, dates back to the 15th century and takes its name from the first Latin word of the prayer, "memorare," which means "remember."

The Memorare is of unknown authorship, although it has been attributed to St. Augustine (354-430), St. John Chrysostom (c. 347-407) and, with more reason, to St. Bernard of Clairvaux (c. 1090-1153).

St. Bernard's sermons on Mary were famous, and it was his Cistercian monks in the monastery of Citeaux in the 12th century who popularized the name "Our Lady" for Mary.

The Memorare has also been attributed to the French cleric Claude Bernard (1588-1641), known as the "poor priest" of Paris, whose homilies contain passages that echo its words.

No matter who wrote this prayer, it was Father Bernard who did much to popularize it, teaching it in hospitals and prisons, where Mary's intercession was effective in working miracles of grace. The first manuscript of the Memorare appeared in 1489 as part of a longer prayer. It appeared again in 1503 and is found in its present form in an 1849 edition of the Raccolta, a collection of documents on prayers. ("Raccolta" is the Italian word for collection.) The prayer inspired a longer version in verse form, by St. Louis de Montfort in the 18th century, as well as "Memorares" to St. Joseph and other saints.

The Angelus

This prayer, traditionally prayed at morning, noon and evening, consists of verses and responses, three Hail Marys, and a concluding prayer:

"V: The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.

R: And she conceived by the Holy Spirit.

Hail Mary . . .

V: Behold the handmaid of the Lord.

R: Be it done unto me according to your word.

Hail Mary . . .

V: And the Word was made flesh:.

R: And dwelt among us.

Hail Mary . . .

V: Pray for us, O holy Mother of God:

R: That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray: Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord, your grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ, your Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by his passion and cross be brought to the glory of his resurrection, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

The origin of the Angelus is obscure, but each of the traditional times it is prayed developed in its own way.

The evening Angelus is believed to date from the 11th century. By the 13th century, Pope Gregory IX had bells rung at 6 p.m. to remind the faithful to pray for the Crusades.

Later in that same century, St. Bonaventure asked his friars to exhort the faithful to pray three Hail Marys at the evening bell. Pope John XXII attached an indulgence to the practice in 1318.

The morning Angelus began in the 14th century, and is believed to be an outgrowth of the three Hail Marys during the monastic bell for early morning prayer. The noon Angelus started with a devotion to Christ's passion, which was accompanied by bell ringing at noon on Fridays. This noontime prayer was also associated with praying for peace. It was mentioned in the Synod of Prague in 1386 and extended from Fridays to the entire week in 1456, when Pope Callistus III invited the whole world to pray for victory over the Turks.

King Louis of France had the "Angelus of Peace" rung at midday. It is said that when he heard the bell, the king dismounted from his horse and knelt to pray.

In the 16th century, all three practices were unified. Praying the Angelus was granted an indulgence by Pope Benedict XIV (1740-1758), and later by Popes Leo XIII (1878-1903) and Pius XI (1922-1939). Pope Paul VI (1963-1978) strongly recommended preserving the custom.

Pope John Paul II prays the Angelus each Sunday from the window of the apostolic palace before giving his blessing to the assembled crowd.

Mary Bazzett writes from Combermere, Ontario, where she is editing the writings of Catherine De Hueck Doherty, foundress of the Madonna House lay apostolate.

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