This was a listener’s concern not long ago. Let’s examine the history of this prayer, and what the wording actually is here, to determine just what IS being prayed.
In 1933, God gave Sister Faustina a striking vision of His Mercy. Sister tells us: “I saw a great light, with God the Father in the midst of it. Between this light and the earth I saw Jesus nailed to the Cross and in such a way that God, wanting to look upon the earth, had to look through Our Lord’s wounds and I understood that God blessed the earth for the sake of Jesus.”
Of another vision on Sept. 13, 1935, she writes: “I saw an Angel, the executor of God’s wrath… about to strike the earth…I began to beg God earnestly for the world with words which I heard interiorly. (the words of the Mercy prayer) As I prayed in this way, I saw the Angel’s helplessness, and he could not carry out the just punishment….”
The following day an inner voice taught her to write out this prayer, and say it for the sake of the dying in particular. Because she was a nun, she was to use a rosary, and repeat the words according to the pattern of the rosary. A rosary is simply a tool to help a person praying to keep track of where they are in a prayer. It was devised as a method of counting. A rosary has 150 “small” beads, 5 sets of 10 beads, a total of 5 repetitions of a phrase said 10 times. THIS pattern was devised as a simpler method of prayer than what the ancient Christian fathers and monks would do – pray each of the 150 Psalms. This is NOT the “vain repetition” that Jesus warned us against. (We addressed that in a different article.) Repetition in prayer is common in Scripture – just take a look at the Psalms. Even the prayer that the three Jewish boys Nebuchadnezzar threw into the flames has many, many repetitions of the same phrase.
So, here is the prayer the Lord gave to her:
“First say the prayer: ‘Our Father, Who art in Heaven…’, then: ‘Hail Mary, full of grace…’, and then ‘I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker…’.
Then pray: ‘Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Your dearly beloved Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.’
On the small beads pray ‘For the sake of His sorrowful Passion have mercy on us and on the whole world.’
In conclusion you are to say these words three times:
‘Holy God, Holy Mighty One, Holy Immortal One, have mercy on us and on the whole world’.*
As you can see, the opening of the prayer is the Lord’s Prayer, then what is called a “Hail Mary”, then the Apostle’s Creed. The body of the prayer asks for Father God to look on the suffering sacrifice on the Cross of His Son, done in atonement for our sins, and because of it, show us and the whole world mercy.
The stumbling block for non-Catholics is the “Hail Mary”.
So, for all those who are NOT Catholic, (I am not) let’s see what this says in detail – and see if we are actually being asked to pray TO Mary, or are in any way elevating her to the same status as God.
The words of a Hail Mary are: Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou amongst 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. Amen.
Now let’s see what Luke 1:28 says: And the angel came in unto her and said, “Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women.”
The first half is simply quoting what the angel Gabriel said to Mary, the day he came to announce God’s favor on her by asking her to be Jesus’ Mother. Grace is what God showers on us by His favor, and certainly being the mother of the Son of God is a blessing!
The next part refers to Mary as holy. Can a person be holy? Peter tell us in 1 Peter 1:15-16 … but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” There is much evidence that Mary became a Temple virgin at around the age of three, just as Samuel was dedicated to the Temple at around that age. She spent her life before her marriage to Joseph in total devotion to God.
Okay. Then, is Mary the Mother of God? Yes – she IS Jesus’ mother. Jesus is one of the three who make up the Godhead, the Trinity. And as such, He is wholly man, yet wholly God at the same time.
Now – the part that really gets twisted around: “pray for us”.
Notice – it doesn’t say “we pray to YOU.” We ask our friends and family to pray for us, and they do so gladly. Sometimes they are in our sight, sometimes they are in a different place or even country and we cannot see them. But we ask and receive prayer without question, whether we can see them or not.
It is true that Scripture tell us in Deuteronomy that anyone who “consults with the dead” is “detestable to the Lord.” However, this is addressing necromancers and spiritists – those who delve in the black arts of satan worship. And they are not even talking to the “dead” – but rather demons who pose as a person who has died and lie for various, nefarious means.
What much of the church has lost over the years is the understanding that those who have died before us and gone to Heaven…are not dead. They are VERY much alive! (Those in hell are still quite alive, too. But they are not allowed to speak to the Lord in Heaven…)
These saved souls live in Heaven now, and make up what Paul called the “great cloud of witnesses” that surround us. (Hebrews 12) The Body does not divide itself into the “living” part and the “dead” part – no. Jesus died on the Cross – and rose again, fully alive! He rose to Heaven, fully alive! He spoke to the thief on the Cross “today you will be with Me in Paradise.” If the thief was not going to be raised again with Christ and taken alive to Heaven…why say that? Why not tell him, “Someday you will live again in Heaven with me?”
The Body of Christ is alive fully, including both those on the Earth and those in Heaven. And what the Body is able to do here on Earth – why would they not be able to do in Heaven? Do our loved ones stop loving us once there? Are they not even closer to God and Jesus there, and able to see with glorified minds and heavenly understanding? And this being so, should not their prayers be even more intelligently made and more intensely listened to than even ours here on Earth, with our limited knowledge and understanding of God’s ways?
So in a nutshell, this is all that is being said in the Hail Mary: “Hello, Mary. You are very special, and God sees you with much grace and favor! Thank you for willingly bearing Jesus for us – this is a blessing that all men and women honor you for accepting. Mary, you who were pure in life, and who bore the Son of God in your womb, I know that you still have a very close relationship with your son Jesus in Heaven. So, I’m asking now that you would speak to Him on my behalf, just as I ask my friends here on Earth to do. And please ask Him to be with me especially in that rather scary time when I am about to die.”