I have been asked "Why do Catholics pray to Mary?" The simple answer is that technically they don't.
Technically Catholics ask Mary for prayer. Certainly, the language of the mass is not to pray to Mary but to ask her for prayer.
The question "Why do Catholics pray to Mary?" is usually being asked as a question of doctrine and/or correctness. The distinction therefore becomes an important one.
However the language of "asking for prayer from..." gets clunky. While
writing these pages, I have several times found myself referring to
"praying to Mary".
I have relented and used that language on occasion, and it explains why people do use it!
In this article, regardless of slips of language, please know that I am answering the more accurate question of "Why do Catholics say the Hail Mary prayer?"
Contents List For This Page:
1. Why do some Christian denominations not say the Hail Mary prayer?
2. Why Do Catholics Say The Hail Mary Prayer?
I was brought up in the Catholic faith, and after a gap of many years - in part because I was housebound due to severe chronic illness. I have now returned to celebrating God's love within the Catholic mass. However, I have little interest in dogma or doctrine, so I am in one sense non-denominational and interfaith.
The following is my understanding. Please know that I am not a scholar of the church. I grew up saying the Hail Mary prayer without needing to know its origins or why we said it.
I have already changed the question from Why do Catholics pray to Mary? to Why do Catholics say the Hail Mary prayer? At the risk of being irritating! I need to initially change the question once more as the question is the wrong way round.
Most Christian denominations can trace their origins back to the Catholic churches (Roman, Orthodox, Coptic - are there other
Catholic churches?). All of the Catholic churches pray the Hail Mary or other prayers to our Lady.
The Protestant church (as a collection of smaller churches) was formed in the 16th Century - an event referred to as the Reformation. Some of the new Protestant
denominations chose not to say the Hail Mary prayer.
Since then other Protestant denominations have formed who may or may not say this prayer.
Rather than asking "Why Do Catholics Say The Hail Mary Prayer?" the question really is "Why did some Protestant denominations stop saying the Hail Mary prayer?"
Catholics believe in life after death
and that after death others are available to pray for us. Mary is
available, as are all the Saints.
In some Christian denominations, it is not believed that anyone other than Jesus is available after death, so naturally they do not ask anyone to pray for them other than Jesus.
Prior to the reformation in the 16th Century, Christianity and
Catholicism were one and the same.
The Catholic church included teachings additional to those of the Bible - teachings often considered to have been received as divine guidance or decided upon by various church leaders. These included the teaching of the Trinity and the teaching of the Assumption - that Mary was assumed into heaven.
The new churches rejected many church teachings.
In particular there was a rejection of many of the rituals of the church. Some of these rituals involved devotion to Mary.
This doesn't fully explain though why the prayer was dropped, as some church teachings were kept.
The teaching of the Trinity has generally been kept.
The creed, introduced at the Council of Nicea, has also been kept by the Anglican church and some other Christian denominations.
Through differing interpretations of the Bible or through the belief that Jesus is still available to talk to us, some denominations have since added additional teachings of their own.
I have been asked:
Where does it say in the bible to pray to Mary?
Where does it say in the Bible that Mary has the power to respond to your prayers?
As far as I know the Bible does not tell us to pray to Mary or that she can intercede for us in prayer.
Martin Luther and others who were instrumental in the new Protestant denominations of Christianity went back to the Bible for Christian teaching.
Many Christians take the Bible alone as the word of God and so they would not choose to pray the prayer and may see it as wrong to do so.
However, the de-emphasis on Mary in the Anglican church was initiated by Henry VIII of England, and this is more puzzling.
Henry's (Britain's) split from Catholicism was not motivated by religious fervour as with Martin Luther in Germany. Prior to setting up the Anglican church, Henry had made pilgrimages to the shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham, so he would have said the prayer.
An anglican priest told me that the dropping of the emphasis on Mary was political. The feast of the Assumption was a national festival in Britain and interrupted harvest time. Henry wanted the harvest brought in and therefore cancelled the festivities! Please do your own research to explore this interesting possibility!
(By the way, in terms of adhering only to Bible teachings, both Catholic and Protestant Christians tend to pray to Jesus or worship Jesus.
I am not sure that the Bible tells us to do so.
We are told that if we ask anything in his name it will be done, but this is not the same as praying to him. When asked how to pray, Jesus' instruction was to pray to God the Father.)
denominations disagree with saying the Hail Mary to ask Mary to intercede in prayer. Some
However, there has been a shift back in recent years to more of the Anglican church embracing devotion to Mary.
Next I will return to my version of the original question: Why do Catholics pray to Mary?
I have established that the Hail Mary prayer is part of church teaching. I want to explore a few aspects which might have influenced the inclusion of the prayer in church teaching.
Refer to the previous page for key bible verses about Mary. These verses are the origin of some of the words in the Hail Mary prayer.
Also see the Bible verses below about the woman in Revelation who gives birth. Catholics apparently see this woman - the Queen of Heaven - as being Mary.
I say apparently, because I grew up going to a Catholic church, and I didn't know this until a few years ago!
There is a slight suggestion in the Bible that Mary might intercede for us. She asks Jesus to change water into wine. He does so even though he clearly has no intention to do so before she asks.
Down the centuries there have been numerous visions of Our Lady or Mary as well as miracles attributed to her intercession.
Visions include those at Lourdes, Fatima, Walsingham and today, Medjugorje.
(Walsingham is a place of pilgrimage for both Anglicans and Catholics.)
In these visions, Our Lady has often asked people to pray the rosary - which is based largely around the Hail Mary prayer.
On the previous page I talked about my own spiritual experience of Mary. For myself and many others, the spiritual experience has more influence in my decisions about spiritual practice than Bible teachings or church teachings.
The Bible asks us to be led by the Spirit of the Law not the letter of the Law.
Many Christians don't simply believe what they are told to believe.
Instead they engage in a spiritual practice and ask to be led by the Spirit by asking questions such as...
"When I pray the Hail Mary do I feel I am helping the world by asking our Lady for help?"
Or "When I pray the Hail Mary does it increase my sense of the power of God to bring good to the world?"
If the answer to such questions is yes, then that would be reason enough for many Christians to pray the prayer.
In the Bible, Jesus gives Peter authority - see the Bible quote below.
Catholic doctrine considers Peter as the first Pope and that Jesus thereby gave authority to subsequent Popes.
Perhaps a Pope in the past played a part in including the Hail Mary prayer in the mass.
On two occasions the Pope has spoken with papal infallibility.
1854 - Mary's Immaculate Conception was declared by Pope Pius IX.
1950 - Mary's bodily Assumption into heaven was declared by Pope Pius XII.
However, these declarations did not make a practical difference as prayer to ask Mary for help had already been part of church teachings for many centuries.
(I personally favour the interpretation that Peter is a representation of all members of the church and that all of us hold the keys to the kingdom of heaven.)
In the Catholic tradition, the woman referred to in the book of the Bible called Revelation
or the Apocalypse is thought of as Mary.
In Christianity in general, including Catholicism, this woman is thought to be a symbol of the Church.
Perhaps the view of Mary as the Queen of Heaven influenced the decision to ask her for prayer.
On the previous page, I talked about the spiritual experience I had of Mary in a church. The church was dedicated to Mary and contained a statue of Mary as the Queen of Heaven as in the Bible quote above.
If you are interested in the Hail Mary prayer, and yet you are concerned about saying it, please pray about it, and ask for guidance.
Move to read The Hail Mary Prayer and read about the Bible origin of some of the words.