THE HAIL MARY: Origins Development Explanation PDF Print E-mail

by Ramon A. Pedrosa

This is an abridgment of the Monograph of the same title. It may be furnished on request.


Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with you.

Blessed are you among Women,

and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.

Holy Mary, Mother of God,

pray for us sinners

now and at the hour of death. Amen.


Ave Maria gratiae plena Dominus tecum

Benedicta tu in mulieribus

Et benedictus fructus ventris tui Iesu

Sancta Maria  Mater Dei

ora pro nobis peccatoribus

Nunc et in hora mortis nostrae.




  • The Hail Mary in the Aramaic language of Galilee
  • The evolution of the Hail Mary as a Prayer
  • The name “Mary”
  • So when was the name ‘Mary’ added into the prayer form?
  • The invocation to Mary
  • The Name of Jesus in the Hail Mary
  • A Prayer from the Heart of San Juan Diego
  • “Full of Grace” or “Most highly favored”



In the Aramaic language of Galilee:

shalom lakh malyath taybutho         Peace full of grace

moran imoq                                      the Lord is with you

bariq ach banese                             blessed are you among women

obariq ho peri bitneq.                       and blessed is the fruit of your womb


“If most people were asked to name the oldest Marian prayer they would probably respond by saying the Hail Mary -- good answer, but wrong.” (Rev. Henry Mancuso in “The Priest” Dec 1999)

Long before the complete Hail Mary, as we know it today was put together, the favorite prayer of the common folk was this oldest anthem to the Blessed Virgin Mary, which can be dated back to the See of Alexandria in the third century. It is the Sub Tuum (in English, "We fly unto your patronage O Holy Mother of God") and predates the complete Hail Mary (see infra).

The evolution of the Hail Mary as a Prayer

The early history of the Hail Mary is not clear, as the words are taken from Scripture and it has been difficult ascertaining when the greeting/prayer was distinctly used. One source attributes the distinct use of the first half to St. Idlefonsus of Toledo in the 7th century. Its use as a salutation and prayer begin to appear frequently in the 11th and 12th centuries, though the first half only was regarded as the 'Hail Mary'.

Let us then examine the Hail Mary prayer, as we now know it, in its five parts

• Hail full of grace, the Lord is with thee (Luke 1:28)

* Mary

• Blessed art thou among women, blessed is the fruit of thy womb (Luke 1:42)

* Jesus

* Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.

The first of the two passages from Saint Luke's Gospel is the greeting of the Angel Gabriel to Mary, originally written in Koine Greek. The opening word of greeting,   Καρισ,  chaíre, here translated "Hail", literally has the meaning "Rejoice", "Be glad".

But if you go to the original Aramaic  we enter into mind-boggling meanings of that transcendent matchless encounter between the handmaid and the messenger of God. It is another instance of the great divide between the ancient world of the Aramaic and the succeeding worlds of Hebrew, Greek, Roman civilizations and the rest of the evangelized world, their culture and their languages. Let us hear again that part of the encounter between the angel of God Gabriel and this Jewish lass from Nazareth. It is from Luke who we are told got it straight from the Blessed Virgin herself (Luke 1:28-29 NIV):

The angel went to her and said, "Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you."

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.

But let us use the Aramaic which was the language of that conversation:


Why was she greatly troubled at these words? 1.Shalom 2.Full of Grace 3.the Lord is with you. They were ordinary words. Taken separately, she would have heard them in the synagogue, at the well, even every day in ordinary conversation. Perhaps it is the juxtapositioning that the messenger from heaven made of these phrases.

The aramaic word that is translated as ‘greeting’ is SHALOM. The Hebrew word   SHALOM means peace. Idiomatically it is also used to greet, and it is used as well to bid farewell. But it means much more than that. That ancient word signifies perfection, fullness, completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety, soundness, tranquility, prosperity, rest, harmony, the absence of agitation or discord. It literally means everything that is good.

Shalom is Peace, Perfection, Wholeness. Nothing hello about it. Nor Hail. Nor Ave which is Latin for Hi. Ave is plain wrong. It is Peace. And Peace that is out of this world.

Is this word and its profound meanings, that which gave the Virgin Maid pause? That is what happens when the divine speaks directly to the mind without the intervention of human language in all its infirmities. The words took on the fulness, all the meanings of the message prepared for her from all eternity. The message from heaven cascaded down the corridors of eternity into her virginal mind. And She who was born for this was troubled. See for yourself. St. Lawrence Brindisi (1559 – 1619) gives us a hint. In his treatise on the Immaculate Conception he looks at this passage:

One only is my dove, one my perfect one

(Canticle of Canticles 6,7).

He says the Hebrew reads: my immaculate one. There are three words in Hebrew very similar: tham, thamah, and thamim, of which the first means simple, the second immaculate, and the last perfect. While the Hebrew text uses the second, the Aramaic mind knows it comprehends all three.

Perfect peace you are full of grace for the Lord is with you.

Perhaps too this is what the Lord meant when He said goodbye to his disciples when He said: I leave you in shalom peace, my Peace Shalom I give to you. He left his Mother for his Church.

The name Mary

Gabriel did not mention Mary by name in his annunciation. I have a favorite theory that heaven did not mention her earthly name because God had given her a new name for the awesome task she was being prepared for:

Full of Grace!

When God assigns a task to man he gives him a new name. Thus, Jacob meaning "Supplanter" referring to a well-known circumstance of his birth (Gen. 25) was given the name Israel, meaning He Struggled With God. In Hebrew, the name of a person indicates his identity and often his role in God's plan. For example, Avram was renamed Abraham, the Father of  Many. Jesus' Name in Hebrew, Yeshuah, means "God saves" and this is what Jesus did. And so with this human being given the greatest task of all — to bear He who is to deliver Man from the slavery of sin, Mary. At the Annunciation, the Archangel Gabriel greeted Her: PEACE TO YOU  shlm lhk, not with the name Miriam that Her parents had given Her, but with the new name God gives Her: FULL OF GRACE  mlyth tybtho.

So when was the name ‘Mary’ added into the prayer form?

“Hail, full of grace. The Lord is with thee” is directly from Luke 1:28. The name 'Mary' was gradually added by the Church. When this addition happened is lost in the history of the prayer.

The union of the two greetings of Gabriel and of her cousin Elizabeth.

The combination formula can be traced back to the Liturgies of St James of Antioch and St Mark of Alexandria of the 5th or even the 4th c. Its early use in the Eastern Church is found on an Egyptian Coptic ostracon (a piece of pottery) dated about AD 600 which bears in Greek the inscription:

Hail Mary full of Grace the Lord is with thee Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb because you have conceived Christ the Son of God redeemer of our souls

In the West, this prayer formula is assigned from the 7th c. in the antiphonary traditionally attributed to St Gregory the Great. It spread in Anglo Saxon England where the cult of the Virgin became unexpectedly an important aspect of spirituality. But there is no mention of the angelic Salutation in manuscripts from the end of the 8th c. to the beginning of the 9th.

There is little or no trace of the hail Mary as an accepted devotional formula before about 1050. All the evidence suggests that the Angelic Salutation and the greeting of Elizabeth as a prayer formula became popular through the recitation of the Little Office of Our Lady consisting of psalms, hymns and antiphons, where the Ave Maria is frequently used as a versicle and responsory.

There was a time when the great saints and devotees would recite the six word salutation of  Ave Maria gratia plena Dominus tecum and the more devoted would genuflect. Gradually the devotion of the Mother of God developed into a penitential exercise accompanied with genuflections or prostrations some 100, 200 or even 1000. Eventually the Ave psalm psalters made up of 150 rhymed four-line stanzas each beginning with Ave and addressed to the Blessed Virgin paraphrasing at the same time some thought of the psalm to which it corresponds. The 150 recalled the 150 Davidic psalms. There are numerous stories of the exercise of such austere devotions such as St Louis of France or St. Margaret, daughter of the King of Hungary.

The Name of Jesus in the Hail Mary

Now to the second half of the psalter, the Elizabethan salutation, “Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb” (Luke 1:42). Note again that the name of 'Jesus' was not, could not, have been mentioned when Mary visited Elizabeth.

The addition of the word ‘Jesus’, or as it usually ran in the 15th century: ‘Jesus Christus. Amen’ is commonly said to be due to the initiative of Pope Urban IV (1261) and confirmed by the granting of an indulgence by Pope John XXII (1316-34).

To clarify, at that stage of history, the Hail Mary ended with the two salutations and this version of the "Hail Mary" was said this way for 700 years, thus:

Hail, Full of Grace, the Lord is with you.

Blessed are you among Women,

and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus Christ. Amen

Thus we may say that the two phrases of the HM are scriptural, and that the devotion arose from the versicles and responsories of the Little Office of Our Lady. The early 12th century Marian legends show that this salutation of Our Lady become prevalent as a form of private devotion, though it is not certain whether it included the clause “and blessed is the fruit of your womb’.

The final invocation to Mary was added toward the end of the 15th century, precisely in 1495 in the English Calender of Shepherds with these words asking the Virgin Mother to “pray for us in life and at the hour of our death when time changes to eternity,” and was codified in its present form by the Council of Trent in 1568.

The official recognition of the Ave Maria in its present complete form, though the prayer in that form is found in the Catechism of the Council of Trent in 1563, was finally given by its inclusion in the reformed Roman Breviary authorized by Pius V in 1568.

(Chronology of the Development of the Rosary, John D.  Miller)

The invocation to Mary

The final part of the prayer prompted by the need to join petition to praise may have been influenced by the litanies of the Saints, introduced towards the end of the 7th c with the invocation to Mary — ‘Sancta Maria ora pro nobis.’  There is a hymn which has been dated 1151 attributed to Gottschalk, a monk of Limburg and a contemporary of Peter Damian, the first and last verses read:

Ave Maria              Hail Mary

gratia plena full of grace

Dominus tecum the Lord is with you

benedicta tu in mulieribus blessed are you among women.

Hic nobis et mortis Come to our help now

in hora sucurre and at the hour of our death

ac in orbis          examine and at the worlds judgment

nos tuos recognesce acknowledge us as thine own

Saint Peter Canisius SJ  (1521 – 1597) is credited with adding to the Hail Mary the sentence:

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners.

This sentence appeared for the first time in his catechism of 1555.  It was eleven years later included in the Catechism of the Council of Trent of 1566, with large parts of the Canisius catechisms. The title Mother of God is based on the declaration of the Council of Ephesus in 431.

A Prayer from the Heart of San Juan Diego Quauhtlatoatzin

Following the apparitions of the Blessed Mother to the Mexican Aztec Quauhtlatoatzin Juan Diego in 1531, here is a prayer after the heart of this Aztec saint:

My littlest lady, my youngest Queen

I love you, I call you, I seek you, I have confidence in you

Are you not my Mother? Am I not your son?

Am I not under your shadow and protection?

Are you not the source of my happiness and grace?

Crush the serpent in my heart -

For are you not the Mother of God?

Following his childlike simplicity we have the following version of the Hail Mary:

Hail full of grace the Lord is with you

Blessed are you among women

and blessed is the fruit of your womb my Lord Jesus.

Holy Mary, my Mother

Pray for us your children

Now that we need most your mercy

For are you not the Mother of God?


There is the controversy (again) of what the actual words of the Archangel Gabriel were when he addressed the maiden who was to be the mother of God-made-man. Did he say

Full of Grace or Most highly favored

Protestants raise objections in the translation of the Greek original into Latin, where the original Latin vulgate of St. Jerome renders κεηαριτομενε keharitomene as gratiae plena — Full of Grace. This protestant rendering (of recent vintage since most of them in the beginning hewed to the Jerominian translation) favors “most highly favored” for a variety of typical protestant reasoning.

Translating the text to “full of Grace” and or “highly favored one” are both accurate, but dreadfully inadequate translations of a Greek word layered with deep meaning.

The original text reads: κεχηαριτομενε kecharitomene. It means “one who has been perfected by grace.” The operative part of the word (for our purposes) is the root word Καρισ Karis (grace). The word "grace" in Greek also means favor; additionally it is the root word for thanksgiving as in Eucharist.

So the Angel greets Mary by calling her the one who has been perfected by grace and is highly favored of God. And of course as he announces her pregnancy, on a more subtle level he is telling her she’s going to literally have the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Our Lord in her womb.  All that meaning and more is conveyed in the one Greek word κεχηαριτομενε kecharitomene.

When you or I read “highly favored” in the context of our society it does not have the same impact as it would have to those reading Luke’s Gospel. We would treat the word "favored" or "favorite", as though we were talking about adobo or durian ice cream or a pangga.

That is not the way the original readers or hearers of Luke’s Gospel would have understood this. They would have understood the full meaning of the one word which takes a series of sentences to explain in English.

We see the English expression “full of grace” elsewhere in scripture as it relates to Christ Himself.

14. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

15. John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, "This was He of whom I said, 'He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.'"

16. And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. (John 1:1416)

But in the Greek the word used is not the same as the phrase used in relationship to Mary.

With respect to Mary, (as we’ve described) the phrase is the superlative, passive verb  κεχηαριτομενε “kecharitomene.” It means, “having been perfected by grace”

In John 1:14 referring to Our Lord, the Greek says πλερεσ καριτοσ “pleres karitos” which means replete with grace. By implication, which is confirmed in verse 16, it also means source of grace.

So in Mary’s case she is the object (or recipient) of grace and thus becomes a conduit of grace. The Eternal Word, on the other hand, is the eternal source of grace. In becoming man the Eternal Word becomes the conduit (mediator) as well as the source of grace.

On another tack:

Κεχηαριτομενε Kecharitomene is found only in verse 28 of ch1 Luke

Most seem to argue that that the verb is a perfect passive participle i.e. 1. action in past, 2. expressing action done to subject, and 3. relevant to the future etc.

So it means that sometime before the annunciation Mary was filled with divine grace (past) and that she remains full of this grace (present) rather than a long convoluted sentence St. Jerome simply translated gratiae plena or full of grace and this was the translation used for more than a millennium until many (even Catholics) started the ‘highly favoured’ business.

More on this etymologically:

Consider the word “grace”—in Greek, χηαρισ  charis. As one conservative Catholic professor of Hebrew, Greek and Latin avers, by the time St. Paul wrote, the Greek word charis already had its specifically Christian theological meaning of “grace.” And Jerome corresponded to St. Paul’s meaning by translating χηαρισ charis into Latin as gratia, which in English becomes “grace.”

It does not take any particular mental acumen to distinguish the difference between being “full of grace” and “highly favored.” “Favor” or “favored” is one of the meanings for charis  χηαρισ, but not the one intended by St. Luke in Scripture. A person may be highly favored with any number of talents and abilities, or with good looks or plenty of money, and so forth. But does that mean he or she is therefore “full of grace”? We understand Our Lady to be “full of grace” in the sense of being absolutely full of God’s divine life (sanctifying grace), so that there is no sin in her soul whatsoever. What a difference in meanings!

The method of translating employed by the translators of the modern Catholic Bibles can be demonstrated clearly where they are mistaken; and this point alone brings into question the value of their entire work.

The ancient translators of the Sacred Scripture, by and large, did literal, word-for-word translations of the Bible. It was their policy to be faithful to every word—and to every shade of meaning of every word—used in the Bible. This included the 72 Hebrew scholars who translated the Old Testament into Greek at Alexandria, Egypt, about 284 B.C.; the translator(s) of the Old Itala (Vetus Itala) Latin Bible of about 150 A.D.; and of course, St. Jerome, who did the Latin Vulgate Bible and who finished his work about 405 A.D. The same is true of the original Douay-Rheims commission (1582–1610), of Bishop Richard Challoner (1748–1751), and of Msgr. Kenrick (1859).

However, the translators of the modern Catholic bibles—after reading their translations and comparing them to the Douay-Rheims, the Vulgate and the Greek of the New Testament—proceed according to the following method:

1. they read a text in the current transcriptions of the original languages,

2. decide what THEY THINK it means, and then

3. translate THEIR interpretation into English!

The result is that the English is sometimes (not always!) easier to understand, but it is not necessarily what the Bible says;. It is THEIR INTERPRETATION AND THEIR UNDERSTANDING OF WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS Interpreting Rather than Translating WHAT IT  SAYS! And often the difference from the Vulgate and DRB, the traditional Catholic versions, is glaring.

Cutting through all this discussion is something I remember from a former priest, an ardent Marian devotee who was with Father Peyton’s Crusade, he said, and I wrote it down: “Our Lady's virginal emptiness, As of a flute, a chalice, a nest, Not purposeless, but expectant, Expecting, waiting to be filled."

What about indigenous peoples. Can they contribute to Mariology?

It would be interesting to point out that beyond the hermeneutical struggle for real meanings between the ancient tongues: the aramaic, the Hebrew, the Koine Greek, the Latin and the modern languages, is the role of indigenous languages. The only recorded apparition and conversation of the Blessed Mother with an indigenous people is that which occurred in a hill in the Mexican highlands in the 16th century. There is a beauty and a wealth of meanings in the words that the Blessed Mother pronounced there that should be looked into (ref. TEPEYAC Our Lady of Guadalupe revisited. Ramon A. Pedrosa, 2006).

Finally and as a last word on this issue there is a new phenomenon in the matter of the popular religiosity attending on our Blessed Mother’s connection with the rosary. Every one prays the rosary. The Magisterium has had to caution the faithful against praying the rosary (and other devotions and novenas too) during Holy Mass.

Specifically, here is the issue of whether :

  • it was devotion to the Holy Rosary that saved Europe from Islam during the battle of Lepanto; the Philippines during the battles of La Naval of five naval actions that the Spanish fought against the Dutch during the Eighty Years War. The Spanish consisted of two and three Manila galleons and a galley, against three separate Dutch squadrons, totalling eighteen ships. The Dutch were routed at each encounter.
  • the Blessed Mother indeed asked all to pray the Rosary.

"Say the Rosary every day...Pray, pray a lot and offer sacrifices for sinners...I am Our Lady of the Rosary. Only I will be able to help you...In the end My Immaculate Heart will triumph." ---Our Lady at Fatima

On the first, there was this historical event called the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, following which we have another addition:

Hail Mary. By way of parenthetical note, it was upon the news of this tremendous victory that St. Pius V ordered the now familiar second stanza of the Ave Maria to be added: “Holy Mary, Mother of God.” This new phrase is lifted directly from the words the Blessed Mother herself pronounced in Tepeyác to the Aztec Juandiego in the early dawn of December 9, 1531:

I am...the Holy Mary, Mother Of The Truest God

Yo Santa Maria, Madre del verdaderisimo Dios


Previous to this, the Hail Mary only consisted of the Shalom salutation of the archangel Gabriel, the Canticle of praise of her cousin Elizabeth, and the last word “Jesus", added by the ancient Church. The last phrase “Pray for us, sinners, now and at the hour of our death” is attributed to the great Marian apostle, St. Louis Grignon de Monfort.

Why not then add the definitive touch to the Hail Mary which is her mystical motherhood of humankind given her by Her Son in Calvary

Woman, behold, your son (John 19:26),

and claimed by Mary Herself in Tepeyac?

Am I not here, I who am your Mother?

¿No estoy aquí, yo que soy tu Madre?


Thus, “Holy Mary, Mother of God and our Mother.”

The Hail Mary — why indeed isn't the ‘our Mother’ in it?

And behind all this is another controversy of whether it was Nuestra Señora del Rosario, to whom the rosary was recited by all of Catholic Europe as the battle of Lepanto raged, or Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe who interceded for the cause of the victory of the Christian squadrons. St Pius V established October 7 as the Feast of Our Lady of Victory, but his successor Gregory XIII changed the feast to Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary and decreed that the month of October be devoted to the Rosary.

Be that as it may, historians attest that the crew of the battle-flagship of the Genoese Squadron under the command of its Admiral, the Prince Andrea Doria, attribute the victory to the intercession of our Lady of Guadalupe. (ibid. A Handbook on Guadalupe, Dr. Charles J. Wahlig). It was precisely when the battle was already lost to the Turks when the Commendatore Andrea Doria and his crew prayed for help before the image of She Who Vanquishes the Serpent that the great wind arose out of nowhere and swept away the ships of the Janissary Ali Pasha enabling the Christians to turn certain defeat into victory.

(excerpt from Tepeyac — Our Lady of 'Guadalupe' revisited)

In the Asian archipelago before it became the Philippine Islands.

Long before the Spaniards brought Christianity, there is the exciting story from the mountains of Zambales in the island of Luzon that the head of an Aeta tribe received a visitation from the Blessed Mother of God. The information on this folklore is clouded by controversy occasioned by the zealous defense of the historicity of this event.bordering on invention.