Sunday, 16 June 2013

Latin prayer of the week: Ave Maria

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 text

The Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church gives the Latin as follows:

Ave, María, grátia plena,
Dóminus tecum.
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).


Maureen said...

Believe it or not, when I was choosing First Communion books for my grandson, I picked up what seemed to be a delightfully illustrated edition of children's prayers. I was taken aback to read the Hail Mary - that beloved, classic prayer -in "updated" English - along the lines of "Hail Mary, you are full of holiness and God is with you...."

I put it back on the shelf.

Bruce Stafford said...

"Hail Mary" uniquely Catholic? Not at all! The Orthodox Church has its version: the best approximation in the Latin alphabet is "Bogorodyitse Dyevo". The best known sung rendition is that by Rakhmaninov but there are plenty of others. "Bogorodyitse"essentially means "God-bearer". A literal translation would look a bit different to ours, but essentially the meaning is the same: the words of the greeting to Mary by the Angel. Where they depart more is that they don't include the reprise "Holy Mary Mother of God pray for us...

Kate Edwards said...

Bruce - I wasn't aware the Orthodox had abandoned the claim to be Catholic and excluded the term from the Creed?!

Of course the Eastern Rite Catholics have their own version of this prayer. But we do actually recognise the Orthodox as Churches as Catholic rather than protestant 'ecclesial communities'! True, only those Eastern Rite Catholics are free of schism, doctrinally we have, I think, more in common than not.

That said, the version of the prayer I posted here is indeed the Roman Catholic version, settled, as I pointed out in the post at the time of Tent. The Eastern versions, as you note, are different in wording and don't include all of the same sentiments.