The Hail Mary is an important prayer to many Christian denominations, but it holds a special place for Catholics in particular, as it is an important part of reciting the rosary. The rosary is a group of beads split into sections of ten, with a separation between the end of tenth bead in each section, followed by a solitary bead, another separation, then a sequence of ten more beads. Saying ten Hail Marys is essentially saying a section of the rosary. In addition to the groups of ten, the rosary has a cross and five separate beads that begin the contemplative prayer.
This prayer is repeated ten times in each section of the rosary, with the beads helping the person praying keep track of where he or she is. As well as speaking or silently thinking the prayer, Catholics use the repetition as a way to meditate on Christ. They might devote a section of the rosary to certain thoughts, or to family members. For example, often prior to a Catholic funeral, a rosary and prayer service may be held.
The prayer is as follows:
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.
The Hail Mary both asks for the prayers of Mary, as one might ask anyone to pray for him or her. Mary is very significant in Christian teaching and is often besought as having great compassion. It was also thought, when the beliefs of Hell and Purgatory were once a very vital part of Catholicism, that only the prayers of those in Heaven could eventually help one trapped in purgatory. Someone who asks for Mary’s prayers is asking for one of the best souls in heaven to pray for him or her.
It is commonly misunderstood that the prayer elevates Mary to the status of Godhood, but this is not the case. Instead, the person is merely asking for Mary’s attention and prayers. Since Christians believe in an afterlife, it is not uncommon to talk to one’s dead relatives or to the saints and ask for their prayers. This is different than supplications to God.
Repetition of prayers is a quite common way to produce a meditative state in which a person may have more access to the divine. Most people do not have to fumble over this prayer, since they know it by heart. The repetition allows them to shut off the conscious part of their mind and achieve union with God in a very different way than a more consciously produced prayer.
As well as saying the Hail Mary, the rosary also includes the Our Father, The Glory Be, and The Apostle’s Creed in several repetitions. There are also special prayers said for different separations between the decades of beads.