Looking through the list of prayers I've put up, I notice I haven't yet looked at probably the most popular Catholic prayer of all, the Ave Maria (Hail Mary).
Why is this prayer so quintessentially Catholic?
This one of those prayers that many protestants baulk at, but it is not at all obvious, at least at first glance, just why: the first part is Scriptural, after all, while the second half (which dates from the fifteenth century) simply asks Mary to pray for us.
True, it accords her the important title 'Mother of God'. But that is a title that dates from the earliest liturgies and prayers we have, dating back even to the first century AD, and confirmed at the Council of Ephesus in 431.
And the intercession of the saints in heaven for us is again perfectly Scriptural after all (see especially the Book of Revelation)!
I suspect the real reason is the reference of asking her aid at the hour of our deaths. In Catholic belief after all, we are not guaranteed salvation from the moment we profess Christ, but rather must struggle to grow in holiness, and pray for the special grace of final perseverance. That's an uncomfortable reminder for us all that even the most saintly seeming person can yet fail at the end; how much easier to adopt that simplistic Calvinist concept of predestination!
Indeed, its current form seems to have been a direct response to the swirling currents of protestantism for, although the sentiments of the second half of the prayer can be found separately in earlier versions of the prayer, it was not brought together until the sixteenth century, around the time of the Council of Trent. It current form was settled when it was included in the Catechism of Trent in 1566 and the Roman Breviary in 1568.
The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church gives the Latin as follows:
Ave, María, grátia plena,
Benedícta tu in muliéribus,
et benedíctus fructus ventris tui, Iesus.
Sancta María, Mater Dei,
ora pro nobis peccatóribus,
nunc et in hora mortis nostræ.
You can hear it read aloud here.
And the translation given in the Compendium is:
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.
Looking at the Latin
Ave (hail), María (Mary), grátia (grace) plena (full),
Dóminus (the Lord) tecum (with you).
Benedícta (Blessed) tu (you) in (in/amongst) muliéribus (women),
et (and) benedíctus (blessed) fructus (the fruit) ventris (of the womb) tui (yours), Iesus.
Sancta (Holy) María (Mary), Mater (Mother) Dei (of God),
ora (pray) pro (for) nobis (us) peccatóribus (sinners),
nunc (now) et (and) in (in) hora (the hour) mortis (of death) nostræ (our).