Q. I have been wondering about the origin
of the Hail Mary prayer. I realize that the first part is from the Scriptures,
when Mary is greeted by her cousin Elizabeth, but when was the complete prayer
introduced in the church and who were its authors? (Northern New Jersey)
A. As to the first part of the prayer, you are half right. The
words in the opening verse come from the angel Gabriel's greeting to Mary at
the annunciation: "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you" (Lk
1:28, Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition).
Then, as you indicate, the next verse repeats the pregnant
Elizabeth's enthusiastic greeting of her cousin following Mary's 90-mile
journey from Nazareth: "Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the
fruit of your womb" (Lk 1:42).
The joining of those two verses first made its way into the texts
of the Mass during the seventh century as an offertory verse for the feast of
the Annunciation, and became a widespread practice during the 11th century in
the prayer of monastic communities.
The second half of the Hail Mary, the petition — "Holy Mary,
Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death" —
came later. That first appeared — except for the word "our" — in
print in 1495 in the writings of Girolamo Savonarola and became part of the
reformed breviary of Pope Pius V in 1568 following the Council of Trent.
The popularity of the prayer has continued to grow over the
centuries. In hearing the confessions of small children, when it comes time to
assign a penance, I often ask them, "Do you have a favorite prayer, one
that you especially like to say?" Most of the time, by a wide margin, they
choose the Hail Mary.
And each night before I go to sleep, I follow a habit of some 50
years and recite three "Hail Marys," asking Mary to help me to be a
good and faithful priest.
Q. My first husband of 28 years died three
years ago. Both of us were practicing Catholics. I have since been blessed to
meet another special man. He is Catholic and has never been married.
If I remarry, I will lose the financial
benefits that will affect my retirement years. I know how short life is and
don't want to wait 10 years until the restriction will not affect us
financially. Is it possible to be married in the church without its being a
We have chosen to live together, which
goes against everything I have been taught, and I feel like a hypocrite.
Although in our minds we are totally committed as though we were married, we
would still like to be married in the church. Can you offer any guidance?
A. In the United States, when a Catholic priest officiates at a
wedding, he does so in two capacities: first, in his religious role as a
representative of the church, but also in a civil role as an agent of the
state. The priest is obligated legally to then register the marriage in the
appropriate civil jurisdiction.
There is, in fact, a provision in the church's Code of Canon Law
(No. 1130-33) that does authorize a bishop to permit a marriage
"celebrated secretly" — but that is commonly interpreted as applying
to cases where the civil law is unjust (e.g., a law that prohibits interracial
A priest who performed a marriage ceremony in the U.S., as you
desire, would violate the law and expose himself to civil penalties — not to
mention that you yourself could be subject to criminal penalties for
fraudulently collecting the financial benefits.
I know that this is an inconvenient answer and presents you with
a hard choice, but your soul is worth far more than your pension. It sounds as
though your new friend is a real blessing in your life, so I pray that you will
marry in the church and take the financial hit.
Questions may be sent to Fr. Kenneth Doyle at
firstname.lastname@example.org and 30 Columbia Circle Dr. Albany, N.Y. 12203.