The Hail Mary has always been one of my favorite
prayers and the one that I rely upon the most when I feel
the need for assistance from the Mother of God. One of the
first prayers I was taught, it reminds me of my grandmothers,
May crownings and Marian songs.
I’m named after my grandmothers, Mary Huber and
Johanna Niklas, both of whom were devoted to praying the rosary.
When I was a child, my widowed Grandma Huber sometimes stayed
at our house and shared my double bed with me. I remember
her keeping me awake as she murmured her final rosary of the
Grandma Niklas was also very devoted to praying
the rosary, especially during her final years as a victim
of a stroke. One of her sisters made rosaries, which were
bestowed on grateful relatives (including this writer) and
sent to missions.
My daughter, Jenny, and I both earned the Marian
Award when we were Girl Scouts. I don’t remember what I wore
for my ceremony, but I recall making Jenny a dress out of
sky-blue fabric, the color used by many artists to depict
Mary’s garb. But frankly, because of my birthday being close
to the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I often envision the
lovely lady dressed in turquoise blue.
During the 1950s when I attended St. James the
Greater in rural Cincinnati, we celebrated May crowning every
year by donning our finest clothes and carrying homegrown
flowers as we processed into the old church to honor Mary
with special hymns and prayers. Praying the rosary and decorating
home May altars with flowers were traditions I continued with
my own offspring.
When my daughter was in the eighth grade,
she was selected to crown the Blessed Virgin at our parish,
St. Martin of Tours. There’s something about May crownings
that still gives me goose bumps, especially when I hear those
familiar Marian hymns from my childhood and the contemporary
“Hail Mary, Gentle Woman” by Carey Landry. And what is it
about any version of “Ave Maria” sung at a wedding
that causes such emotion? These hymns were inspired by the
ancient prayer that honors Mary.
But the song this baby boomer hums as a prayer
to Mary is Paul McCartney’s “Let It Be.” I’ve heard that McCartney
had his earthly mother in mind when he wrote the song. But
when this mother is in a crisis situation, I tend to ask my
heavenly mother’s assistance by chanting the only words of
the song that I remember: “When I find myself in times of
trouble, Mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom,
let it be.”
On the separate instances when my two sons, Ritch
and Tim, were near death, those lyrics and the Hail Mary were
my frequent and desperate plea to heal the fruit of my womb.
Ritch pulled through; Tim didn’t. Like Mary, I know what it
is like to keep vigil during the final hours of my firstborn
The first lines of the Hail Mary are found
in Luke’s Gospel, when the Angel Gabriel announces to Mary
that she will be the mother of God. That is followed by Elizabeth’s
greeting to her pregnant cousin. The second part is a plea
for Mary’s protection now and at the time of our death.
According to The New Catholic Encyclopedia,
the Hail Mary did not become a popular form of devotion until
the 11th century. The prayer was gradually developed from
the sixth century to the 16th, when it was adopted for general
liturgical use. In time, the Hail Mary became almost an appendix
to the Our Father.
There is some debate over how the rosary, which
depends on the repetition of the Hail Mary, developed, but
St. Dominic and his followers are credited with spreading
it, beginning in the 13th century.
Whether we recite the Hail Mary by itself or repeatedly
in the rosary, it reminds us of the respect we show the woman
chosen by God to give birth to his son.
Next month: Anima Christi