THE HAIL MARY
THE ANGELIC SALUTATION
This salutation has three parts. The Angel gave one part, namely: "Hail,
full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women." The
other part was given by Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, namely:
"Blessed is the fruit of thy womb." The Church adds the third part, that
is, "Mary," because the Angel did not say, "Hail, Mary," but "Hail, full of
grace." But, as we shall see, this name, "Mary," according to its meaning
agrees with the words of the Angels.
We must now consider concerning the first part of this prayer that in
ancient times it was no small event when Angels appeared to men; and that
man should show them reverence was especially praiseworthy. Thus, it is
written to the praise of Abraham that he received the Angels with all
courtesy and showed them reverence. But that an Angel should show reverence
to a man was never heard of until the Angel reverently greeted the Blessed
Virgin saying: "Hail."
THE ANGEL'S DIGNITY
In olden time an Angel would not show reverence to a man, but a man would
deeply revere an Angel. This is because Angels are greater than men, and
indeed in three ways. First, they are greater than men in dignity. This is
because the Angel is of a spiritual nature: "Who makest Thy angels
spirits." But, on the other hand, man is of a corruptible nature, for
Abraham said: "I will speak to my Lord, whereas I am dust and ashes." It
was not fitting, therefore, that a spiritual and incorruptible creature
should show reverence to one that is corruptible as is a man. Secondly, an
Angel is closer to God. The Angel, indeed, is of the family of God, and as
it were stands ever by Him: "Thousands of thousands ministered to Him, and
ten thousand times a hundred thousand stood before Him." Man, on the other
hand, is rather a stranger and afar off from God because of sin: "I have
gone afar off." Therefore, it is fitting that man should reverence an
Angel who is an intimate and one of the household of the King.
Then, thirdly, the Angels far exceed men in the fullness of the splendor of
divine grace. For Angels participate in the highest degree in the divine
light: "Is there any numbering of His soldiers? And upon whom shall not His
light arise?" Hence, the Angels always appear among men clothed in light,
hut men on the contrary, although they partake somewhat of the light of
grace, nevertheless do so in a much slighter degree and with a certain
obscurity. It was, therefore, not fitting that an Angel should show
reverence to a man until it should come to pass that one would be found in
human nature who exceeded the Angels in these three points in which we have
seen that they excel over men--and this was the Blessed Virgin. To show
that she excelled the Angels in these, the Angel desired to show her
reverence, and so he said: "Ave (Hail)."
"FULL OF GRACE"
The Blessed Virgin was superior to any of the Angels in the fullness of
grace, and as an indication of this the Angel showed reverence to her by
saying: "Full of grace." This is as if he said: "I show thee reverence
because thou dost excel me in the fullness of grace."
The Blessed Virgin is said to be full of grace in three ways. First, as
regards her soul she was full of grace. The grace of God is given for two
chief purposes, namely, to do good and to avoid evil. The Blessed Virgin,
then, received grace in the most perfect degree, because she had avoided
every sin more than any other Saint after Christ. Thus it is said: "Thou
art fair, My beloved, and there is not a spot in thee." St. Augustine
says: "If we could bring together all the Saints and ask them if they were
entirely without sin, all of them, with the exception of the Blessed
Virgin, would say with one voice: 'If we say that we have no sin, we
deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.' I except, however, this
holy Virgin of whom, because of the honor of God, I wish to omit all
mention of sin." For we know that to her was granted grace to overcome
every kind of sin by Him whom she merited to conceive and bring forth, and
He certainly was wholly without sin.
VIRTUES OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN
Christ excelled the Blessed Virgin in this, that He was conceived and born
without original sin, while the Blessed Virgin was conceived in original
sin, but was not born in it. She exercised the works of all the virtues,
whereas the Saints are conspicuous for the exercise of certain special
virtues. Thus, one excelled in humility, another in chastity, another in
mercy, to the extent that they are the special exemplars of these virtues--
as, for example, St. Nicholas is an exemplar of the virtue of mercy. The
Blessed Virgin is the exemplar of all the virtues.
In her is the fullness of the virtue of humility: "Behold the handmaid of
the Lord." And again: "He hath regarded the humility of his handmaid."
So she is also exemplar of the virtue of chastity: "Because I know not
man." And thus it is with all the virtues, as is evident. Mary was full
of grace not only in the performance of all good, but also in the avoidance
of all evil. Again, the Blessed Virgin was full of grace in the overflowing
effect of this grace upon her flesh or body. For while it is a great thing
in the Saints that the abundance of grace sanctified their souls, yet,
moreover, the soul of the holy Virgin was so filled with grace that from
her soul grace poured into her flesh from which was conceived the Son of
God. Hugh of St. Victor says of this: "Because the love of the Holy Spirit
so inflamed her soul, He worked a wonder in her flesh, in that from it was
born God made Man." "And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of
thee shall be called the Son of God."
MARY, HELP OF CHRISTIANS
The plenitude of grace in Mary was such that its effects overflow upon all
men. It is a great thing in a Saint when he has grace to bring about the
salvation of many, but it is exceedingly wonderful when grace is of such
abundance as to be sufficient for the salvation of all men in the world,
and this is true of Christ and of the Blessed Virgin. Thus, "a thousand
bucklers," that is, remedies against dangers, "hang therefrom." Likewise,
in every work of virtue one can have her as one's helper. Of her it was
spoken: "In me is all grace of the way and of the truth, in me is all hope
of life and of virtue." Therefore, Mary is full of grace, exceeding the
Angels in this fullness and very fittingly is she called "Mary" which means
"in herself enlightened": "The Lord will fill thy soul with brightness."
And she will illumine others throughout the world for which reason she is
compared to the sun and to the moon.
"THE LORD IS WITH THEE"
The Blessed Virgin excels the Angels in her closeness to God. The Angel
Gabriel indicated this when he said: "The Lord is with thee"--as if to say:
"I reverence thee because thou art nearer to God than I, because the Lord
is with thee." By the Lord; he means the Father with the Son and the Holy
Spirit, who in like manner are not with any Angel or any other spirit: "The
Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God." God the
Son was in her womb: "Rejoice and praise, O thou habitation of Sion; for
great is He that is in the midst of thee, the Holy One of Israel."
The Lord is not with the Angel in the same manner as with the Blessed
Virgin; for with her He is as a Son, and with the Angel He is the Lord. The
Lord, the Holy Ghost, is in her as in a temple, so that it is said: "The
temple of the Lord, the sanctuary of the Holy Spirit," because she
conceived by the Holy Ghost. "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee." The
Blessed Virgin is closer to God than is an Angel, because with her are the
Lord the Father, the Lord the Son, and the Lord the Holy Ghost--in a word,
the Holy Trinity. Indeed of her we sing: "Noble resting place of the Triune
God." "The Lord is with thee" are the most praiseladen words that the
Angel could have uttered; and, hence, he so profoundly reverenced the
Blessed Virgin because she is the Mother of the Lord and Our Lady.
Accordingly she is very well named "Mary," which in the Syrian tongue means
"BLESSED ART THOU AMONG WOMEN"
The Blessed Virgin exceeds the Angels in purity. She is not only pure, but
she obtains purity for others. She is purity itself, wholly lacking in
every guilt of sin, for she never incurred either mortal or venial sin. So,
too, she was free from the penalties of sin. Sinful man, on the contrary,
incurs a threefold curse on account of sin. The first fell upon woman who
conceives in corruption, bears her child with difficulty, and brings it
forth in pain. The Blessed Virgin was wholly free from this, since she
conceived without corruption, bore her Child in comfort, and brought Him
forth in joy: "It shall bud forth and blossom, and shall rejoice with joy
The second penalty was inflicted upon man in that he shall earn his bread
by the sweat of his brow. The Blessed Virgin was also immune from this
because, as the Apostle says, virgins are free from the cares of this world
and are occupied wholly with the things of the Lord.
The third curse is common both to man and woman in that both shall one day
return to dust. The Blessed Virgin was spared this penalty, for her body
was raised up into heaven, and so we believe that after her death she was
revived and transported into heaven: "Arise, O Lord, into Thy resting
place, Thou and the ark which Thou hast sanctified." Because the Blessed
Virgin was immune from these punishments, she is "blessed among women."
Moreover, she alone escaped the curse of sin, brought forth the Source of
blessing, and opened the gate of heaven. It is surely fitting that her name
is "Mary," which is akin to the Star of the Sea ("Maria--maris stella"),
for just as sailors are directed to port by the star of the sea, so also
Christians are by Mary guided to glory.
"BLESSED IS THE FRUIT OF THY WOMB"
The sinner often seeks for something which he does not find; but to the
just man it is given to find what he seeks: "The substance of the sinner is
kept for the just." Thus, Eve sought the fruit of the tree (of good and
evil), but she did not find in it that which she sought. Everything Eve
desired, however, was given to the Blessed Virgin. Eve sought that which
the devil falsely promised her, namely, that she and Adam would be as gods,
knowing good and evil. "You shall be," says this liar, "as gods." But he
lied, because "he is a liar and the father of lies." Eve was not made
like God after having eaten of the fruit, but rather she was unlike God in
that by her sin she withdrew from God and was driven out of paradise. The
Blessed Virgin, however, and all Christians found in the Fruit of her womb
Him whereby we are all united to God and are made like to Him: "When He
shall appear, we shall be like to Him, because we shall see Him as He
Eve looked for pleasure in the fruit of the tree because it was good to
eat. But she did not find this pleasure in it, and, on the contrary, she at
once discovered she was naked and was stricken with sorrow. In the Fruit of
the Blessed Virgin we find sweetness and salvation: "He that eateth My
flesh . . . hath eternal life."
The fruit which Eve desired was beautiful to look upon, but that Fruit of
the Blessed Virgin is far more beautiful, for the Angels desire to look
upon Him: "Thou art beautiful above the sons of men." He is the splendor
of the glory of the Father. Eve, therefore, looked in vain for that which
she sought in the fruit of the tree, just as the sinner is disappointed in
his sins. We must seek in the Fruit of the womb of the Virgin Mary
whatsoever we desire. This is He who is the Fruit blessed by God, who has
filled Him with every grace, which in turn is poured out upon us who adore
Him: "Blessed be God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath
blessed us with spiritual blessings in Christ." He, too, is revered by
the Angels: "Benediction and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving, honor and
power and strength, to our God." And He is glorified by men: "Every
tongue should confess that the Lord Jesus Christ is in the glory of God the
Father." The Blessed Virgin is indeed blessed, but far more blessed is
the Fruit of her womb: "Blessed is He who cometh in the name of the
(For "Questions for Discussion" see Chapter 6.)
1. Luke i. 28.
2. "Ibid.," 42.
3. The Hail Mary or Angelical Salutation or Ave Maria in the time of St.
Thomas consisted only of the present first part of the prayer. The words,
"Mary" and "Jesus," were added by the Church to the first part, and the
second part--"Holy Mary, Mother of God, etc."--was also added by the Church
later. "Most fittingly has the Holy Church of God added to this
thanksgiving [i.e., the Hail Mary] a petition also and an invocation to the
most holy Mother of God. This is to impress upon us the need to have
recourse to her in order that by her intercession she may reconcile God
with us sinners, and obtain for us the blessings necessary for this life
and for life eternal" ("Roman Catechism," "On Prayer," Chapter V, 8).
4. Ps. ciii. 4.
5. Gen., xviii. 27.
6. Dan. vii. 10.
7. Ps. liv. 8.
8. Job, xxv. 3.
9. Cant., iv. 7.
10. I John, i. 8.
11. "De natura et gratia," c. xxxvi. Elsewhere St. Thomas says: "In the
Angelic Salutation is shown forth the worthiness of the Blessed virgin for
this conception when it says, 'Full of grace;; it expresses the Conception
itself in the words, 'The Lord is with thee'; and it foretells the honor
which will follow with the words, 'Blessed art thou among women' " ("Summa
Theol.," III, Q. xxx, art. 4).
12. St. Thomas wrote before the solemn definition of the Immaculate
conception by the Church and at a time when the subject was still a matter
of controversy among theologians. In an earlier work, however, he
pronounced in favor of the doctrine (I Sent., c. 44 Q. i, ad. 3), although
he seemingly concluded against it in the "Summa Theologica." "Yet much
discussion has arisen as to whether St. Thomas did or did not deny that the
Blessed virgin was immaculate at the instant of her animation ("Catholic
Encyclopedia." art. "Immaculate Conception"). On December 8, 1854, Pope
Pius IX settled the question in the following definition: "Mary. ever
blessed Virgin in the first instant of her conception, by a singular
privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ,
the Saviour of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of
13. Luke, i. 38.
14. "Ibid.," 48.
15. "Ibid.," 34.
16. "Ibid.," 35.
17. Cant., iv. 4.
18. Eccl., xxiv. 25.
19. Isa., lviii. 11.
20. "The Blessed Virgin Mary obtained such a plenitude of grace that she
was closest of all creatures to the Author of Grace; and thus she received
in her womb Him who is full of grace. and by giving Him birth she is in a
certain manner the source of grace for all men" ("Summa Theol.," III, Q.
xxvii, art. 5). St. Bernard says: "It is God's will that we should receive
all graces through Mary" ("Serm. de aquaeductu," n. vii). Mary is called
the "Mediatrix of all Graces," and her mediation is immediate and
universal, subordinate however to that of Jesus.
21. Luke. i. 35
22. Isa., xii. 6.
23. Antiphon from the Little Office of Blessed Virgin.
24. Luke. i. 35
25. "Totius Trinitatis nobile Triclinium."
26. Isa., xxxv. 2.
27. I Cor., vii. 34.
28. Ps. cxxxi. 8.
29. Prov., xiii. 22.
30. Here St. Thomas compares the fruit of the forbidden tree for Eve with
the Fruit of Mary's womb for all Christians.
31. Gen., iii 5
32. John, viii. 44.
33. I John, iii. 2.
34. John, vi. 55.
35. Ps. xliv. 3.
36. Eph., i. 3.
37. Apoc., vii. 12.
38. Phil., ii. 11.
39. Ps. cxvii. 26.