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The Hail Mary and the Rosary

by Victor Hoagland, C.P.
see also: more about Mary
a Scriptural Rosary for children

We say "our" Father in the Lord's Prayer. By saying "our" we indicate that prayer is not a solitary act. We pray with others.

With whom do we pray? We pray with Jesus Christ. Not only does Jesus teach us to pray, but he prays with us and joins our prayer to his own.Because we pray with him, our public prayers often end with the words like these: " through Jesus Christ, your only Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns, forever and ever." We pray with Jesus Christ.

But "our" Father means we pray with others too; for example, with all those baptized in Christ. The Lord's Prayer should always remind Christians of their unity with one another, even though unfortunate differences still separate Christian churches. We Christians believe that our prayer is shared; we can pray with and for one another. Prayer is a common life-blood linking us together.

In some of the main Christian churches the belief that we are united in prayer with others is expressed in prayer to Mary, the mother of Jesus, and prayer to the saints. "We believe in the communion of saints" who pray with and for us, in union with Jesus Christ.

The great prayer to Mary in the Catholic tradition is the Hail Mary. The first part of the prayer evolved in medieval times when Mary, the mother of rosary beadsJesus, appealed to Christians as the great witness to his life, death and resurrection. Its earliest form was the greeting of the angel Gabriel at Nazareth, according to St.Luke's gospel:

Hail Mary,
full of grace,
the Lord is with you.

By those words of the angel God announced a divine favor. God would be with Mary. She would bring Jesus Christ into the world.

Over time the greeting given to Mary by her cousin Elizabeth, recorded in St. Luke, was added:

Blessed are you among women
and blessed is the fruit of your womb.

Finally by the 15th century, the remainder of the prayer appeared:

Holy Mary, mother of God,
pray for us sinners
now and at the hour of our death.

The prayer calls upon Mary, who is full of grace and close to her Son, to intercede for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. With the disciple to whom Jesus entrusted her on Calvary when he said: "Behold your mother," we share her as mother. Mary will always bring Christ into our life. From the beginning she knew him; she witnessed his life, death and resurrection; will she not help us to know him and the mysteries of his life? We trust her to care for us as she cared for the newly married couple at Cana in Galilee. We can trust her with our needs.

By the end of the 16th century the practice of saying 150 Hail Marys in series or decades of 10 became popular among many ordinary Christian people. During these prayers the mysteries of the life, death and resurrection were remembered. That practice of praying is known now as the Rosary.

Mary has always been a model of faith and a companion for Christian believers. When the angel Gabriel came to her, she believed the words he spoke and she maintained her belief without hesitation even to the dark test of Calvary. She accompanies us too who are the brothers and sisters of her Son, as we journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties.

Through the centuries many ordinary Christians have found that Hail Mary and the Rosary a source of spiritual blessing. A prayer like the rosary is both simple and profound. Not beyond anyone's reach, its repeated words bring peace to the soul. And the mysteries of joy, sorrow and glory recalled from Jesus' life are meant to be repeated in our own. Through these mysteries, we hope to "imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise."

see also: more about Mary
a Scriptural Rosary for children

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