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Scott P. Richert

Reader Question: Who Wrote the Second Half of the Hail Mary?

By June 24, 2010

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This week's Reader Question comes from Joseph Peek, who writes:

Scott, I received a question to which I am at a loss for explanation. Who wrote or composed the second half of the Hail Mary (i.e., “Holy Mary, Mother of God," etc.)?

It's a very good question, and one which many Catholics, myself included, have never given much thought. Why? Because the Church, through Her Tradition, has given us this prayer, and we trust the Church because She is guided by the Holy Spirit.

Indeed, the short answer to Mr. Peek's question can be found in the Catechism of the Council of Trent (1566):

Most rightly has the Holy Church of God added to this thanksgiving [i.e., the first half of the prayer], petition also and the invocation of the most holy Mother of God, thereby implying that we should piously and suppliantly have recourse to her in order that by her intercession she may reconcile God with us sinners and obtain for us the blessing we need both for this present life and for the life which has no end.

In other words, the text is part of Sacred Tradition, and like many other elements of Sacred Tradition, cannot be traced back to a single author.

What we do know is that the repetition of the first half of the prayer—"Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with Thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus"—had become common by the 12th century. Both sentences, minus the mention of Jesus' Name, are taken from Scripture (Luke 1:28; Luke 1:42), and it must have seemed natural for monks (among whom the devotion first took root), to add the Holy Name of Jesus at the end.

Between the 12th century and the 16th, there are many accounts of various petitions being added to the end of the prayer—again, a natural development, especially since the first part of the prayer is more properly considered a salutation, not a petition (a point that, as the Catholic Encyclopedia notes, some of the Reformers repeatedly made).

In the 1490's, the words as we know them now first appear in print in Italy, France, and England, but they cannot be ascribed to any single person. As the Catechism of the Council of Trent indicates, the second half of the Hail Mary was considered an indispensable part of the prayer by 1566, but the Hail Mary in its full form first appeared in an official liturgical text—the Roman Breviary (the Divine Office, or what we today call the Liturgy of the Hours) in 1568.

If you have a question that you would like to be featured as part of our Reader Questions series, please send me an e-mail. Be sure to put "QUESTION" in the subject line, and please note whether you'd like me to address it privately or on the Catholicism blog.

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Comments
June 25, 2010 at 12:52 pm
(1) Umberta Mesina says:

Dear Scott,
let me thank you for your work as Guide. It is impressive. No particular reason for say it here, except that I am impressed once more.

I would also thank you for the novena to the Lady of Mt Carmel. I pray it for your uncle and for my family as well.

Best regards,
Umberta

June 25, 2010 at 2:55 pm
(2) MADDY says:

I WOULD LIKE TO READ THE WHOLE PRAYER HAIL MARY THE ROMAN BRIVIARY THE DIVINE OFFICE THE LITURGY OF THE HOURS 1568

June 27, 2010 at 10:27 am
(3) Loth Hamukoto says:

i want to knw wch time really to pray the rosary and sing the hyms of mother MARY?..

July 3, 2010 at 9:22 pm
(4) Michael Ezzo says:

To Loth Hamukoto :

Our Lady of Fatima asked us to pray the Rosary every day.
If you can’t do that, pray it whenever, and as often as you can. There isn’t really any special time that I know of, although October is the month of the Rosary (just as every month has its own liturgical theme).

As for Marian hymns, it depends on the liturgical season and it’s a subject whose depth and complexity I don’t really have the time, knowledge, or authority to explicate on except insofar as a I can give a few examples.

For example, the “Regina Caeli Laetare” is usually sung from Easter through to the Friday after Pentecost.

“Salve Regina” is usually sung from Trinity Sunday until the beginning of Advent.

“Ave Regina Caelorum” — from Purification until Wed. of Holy Week.

“Ave Maris Stella” is a Vespers hymn for common Marian feast days.

“The Angelus” is sung all through the year except for the Easter season.

In summary, there are three things you can do to answer your question :

1. Follow the liturgical seasons of The Church
2. Ask a priest or someone with the knowledge, to help you.
3. Check the table of contents in hymn books, as they are almost always arranged according to the season or the celebration. So it’s hard to get it wrong.

I hope this will help you a little bit.

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