The “Ave Maria” (which is Latin for “Hail Mary”) is a traditional, time-honored prayer used by Catholics (as well as by some Protestant and Orthodox Christians) to ask for the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. There are few English-speaking Catholics who have not memorized from their childhood days the English translation of the “Ave Maria”:
“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us
sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”
“Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus
fructus ventris tui, Iesus. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus,
nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.”
Originally, the Ave Maria incorporated two verses from the Gospel of St. Luke: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee” and “Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.” There is no documentation that the “Ave Maria” was used as a devotional prayer before 1050 AD, and the names “Mary” and “Jesus” seem to have been added to the prayer by the time of St. Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century. The latter half of the prayer first appeared in print in 1495, and was included in the catechism published by the Council of Trent in 1566.
Biblically, the original two lines of the “Ave Maria” gleaned from St. Luke’s Gospel reflect the words of the archangel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin at the time of the Annunciation. Today, the “Ave Maria” or “Hail Mary” is the foundational prayer of the Rosary as well as the Angelus.
No discussion of the “Ave Maria” would be complete without mention of the works of many composers who have put the lyrics of the “Ave Maria” to music. While classical musicians such as Stravinsky and Verdi paid tribute to the “Ave Maria”, it is the compositions of Franz Schubert in 1825 and Charles Gounod in 1859 that have achieved the greatest worldwide notoriety and recognition.