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.
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