The Hail Mary prayer or the prayer known as the Angelic Salutation, in the version that we know today, can be traced to its earliest printed copy in the breviary of the Camaldolese monks, a monastic order of hermits founded by St. Romuald. The official recognition of the Hail Mary in its complete form, as formalised in the Council of Trent held between 1545 and 1563 was finally printed in its totality in the Roman Breviary of 1568. There is little or no evidence pointing to the recitation of the Hail Mary as a formulaic devotional prayer before the year 1050 for the words found in Scripture, “Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with you,” (Luke 1:28) were seen primarily as a form of greeting in the earlier days of the Church, and how these words, were “prayed” usually took the form of uttering these words, followed by a gesture of genuflection, respect, homage, or a bow of the head. For example, St. Aybert in the 12th century was recorded to have recited the words of Luke 1:28, otherwise known as the Ave Maria, 150 times daily and accompanied these with 100 genuflections, and 50 prostrations, while St. Louis of France would accompany his utterances of the Ave Maria greeting each evening with 50 kneeling and standings (Thurston, 1907).

As many Catholics would have been taught the Hail Mary prayer from a young age, we often take this prayer for granted, and recite this prayer absent-mindedly.

The Hail Mary is in fact a powerful prayer of supplication that has literally at its centre, a Christocentric purpose. The prayer consists of two main parts. The first is comprised of the angelic greeting of the archangel Gabriel to Mary – “Hail Mary full of Grace, the Lord is with you.” (Luke 1:28) The word, “hail” can be traced etymologically to Old Norse heill, and Old English, wæs hæil, bearing connotations of desiring the hearer to be whole, healthy, and prosperous. It served as a common greeting from the 12th century onwards (Online Etymology Dictionary, n.d.). However, a closer examination of its usage in ancient times reveals that the word, “Hail” was used mainly in address of and to greet royalty. St Thomas writes that in greeting Mary, the angel reveals certain truths about Mary. First, she is venerated by an angel. While human beings have had angelic encounters, this is the very first time where we see a human being venerated by an angel.

St Thomas explains that while it was fitting for humanity to reverence an angelic being, as the angel was of a divine and spiritual nature, while man is of a corruptible nature, and because of the angelic being’s closeness to God our Maker, while man is like an outsider, distanced away from God by sin, and by virtue of how the angelic beings partake of the fullness of God’s Divinity; for an angel to reverence Mary, a human being, tells us that she exceeded the angelic being in the following: 1) the fullness of Grace – Mary contained within her more Grace than the angelic being. St Thomas explains that the Grace of God is given for us to act well, and to avoid evil, and in Mary was found the perfection of this Grace that excelled even the angelic beings; 2) As the Mother of God, Mary was closer to God than any angelic being, and thus was rightly venerated by the angel; 3) In her purity, Mary exceeded the angels in their purity and thus could partake most fully of God’s Divinity (St. Thomas Aquinas, 1996). The angelic exaltation affirms Mary’s identity as Mother of God, and as Queen of the Heavens.

The English translation of the words, found in Luke 1:28, does not quite do justice to the Greek words to describe the fullness of Grace. In Greek, pleres charitos  – “filled with Grace” is used to describe St. Stephen in Acts 6:8. This same Greek term is used to describe Jesus in John 1:14, but in this context is referred to “full of Grace”. This tells us that the meaning of these words is found in how these words are used according to their contexts. Accordingly, anyone who has just been baptised, and who has received the Sacrament of Reconciliation, is also said to be in a state of pleres charitos, filled with Grace (Grondin, n.d.).

At the Annunciation as recorded in Luke 1:28, the Greek term that is used is, kecharitomene. This word is framed in the past perfect tense, meaning that Grace has already been given. So this filling of grace did not happen at that moment but that Mary was already filled with Grace. Fr. Charles Grondin (n.d.) explains that, “The angel did not say, “Hail Mary, you are kecharitomene” but rather, “Hail kecharitomene.” Therefore the word is not simply an action but an identity.” (Para. 4)

The act of hailing Mary, thus reveals her royal status, and by calling her “Full of Grace”, is evidence that Mary is indeed sinless, and thus worthy to be the bearer of the Sinless One – Jesus.

This first part of the Hail Mary prayer represents Heaven and the Divine via the archangel Gabriel, while the second part of the prayer represents Humanity in the form of Elizabeth’s response to Mary at the visitation. Literally in the centre of the prayer, is Jesus. Heaven is bridged to Earth via Christ. Pope St. John Paul II (2002), contemplates: “The centre of gravity in the Hail Mary, the hinge as it were which joins its two parts, is the name of Jesus. Sometimes, in hurried recitation, this centre of gravity can be overlooked, and with it the connection to the mystery of Christ being contemplated. Yet it is precisely the emphasis given to the name of Jesus and to his mystery that is the sign of a meaningful and fruitful recitation of the Rosary.” (33.)

Scripture tells us, “And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:8-11) The name of Jesus is all powerful, and at the heart of this prayer is a Christo-centric supplication, calling upon the name of the Lord (Sri, 2008).

At the Visitation we understand that Elizabeth is also filled with the Holy Spirit, and thus is given prophetic insight. She states that Mary is with child even before Mary could say the news herself. In Elizabeth’s greeting, “blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus” (Luke 1: 41-42) affirms that Mary is in fact the Mother of God – “How is it that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43)

Last, this prayer acknowledges that we are all sinners, and we need Mary’s help to pray for us. A mother’s prayers are particularly effective, and Mary who is the Mother of Christ and our Mother as well, is truly praying for us right now, and for the entirety of our lives.

Let us not take this prayer for granted, for the Hail Mary, is in fact a profession of our faith, proclaiming the incarnation of Jesus, and the dogmas that Mary is in fact the Immaculate Conception, and the Mother of God.

AVE MARIA, gratia plena,
Dominus tecum.
Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui,
Sancta Maria, Mater Dei,
ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae.

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


By the Grace of God,

Brian Bartholomew Tan




Grondin, C. (n.d.). “Full of Grace” versus “Highly Favoured”. Catholic Answers. Retrieved August 17, 2023 from

Online Etymology Dictionary. (n.d.) Hail. Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved August 17, 2023 from

Pope St. John Paul II. (2002). Rosarium Virginis Mariae. [Apostolic Letter]. Libreria Editrice Vaticana. Retrieved from

Sri, E. (2008). Praying the Hail Mary Like Never Before. Lay Witness. Catholic Education Resource Center. Retrieved August 17, 2023 from

St. Thomas Aquinas. (1996). Saint Thomas Aquinas on the Hail Mary. Catholic Dossier. Ignatius Press. Retrieved August 17, 2023 from

Thurston, H. (1907). Hail Mary. Catholic Encyclopedia. Catholic Answers. Retrieved August 17, 2023 from