Protestants tend to have a lot of misconceptions about Catholics. The Hail Mary is one of the bigger misconceptions, so I’d like to clarify a little about Mary in addition to the Hail Mary prayer.
Mary is the Mother of God. This is because Jesus is God and Mary is His mother, as is evident from scripture. Mary is a human just like the rest of us, but by Catholic Tradition and theology, she was immaculately conceived (without original sin -> a common explanation for this is that Mary had to be pure, sinless, to be worthy to bear Jesus by the Holy Spirit) and was sinless throughout her life, by the grace of God. It makes sense that Mary has a very important role the more that you learn about Judaism and the Old Testament. In the OT, the Mother of the king had a very important role and was actually more powerful than the King’s wife. In addition, there’s the 4th commandment, to honor your father and mother. The last piece to the puzzle for now is the obvious intercessory power Mary exhibited at the Wedding at Cana, in John 2. Though Jesus didn’t plan on performing His first miracle there, He did it anyways because of His mother’s request, since Mary was looking after the people with compassion.
Intercession or prayer?
This is probably the most important difference that Protestants must not be aware of with this issue. Do Catholics pray to Mary? No. Do we pray to saints? No. We only pray to God. So then how do you explain the Hail Mary? Let’s take a look at the actual prayer. We will see that it isn’t “praying” to Mary as much as it is asking for her intercession.
The Hail Mary:
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. Amen.
The first line as I wrote it is the greeting of the angel Gabriel to Mary in Luke 1:28-35. It is quite literal, with Gabriel saying to Mary, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” in verse 28. The next line as I wrote it is (quite literally again) the cry of Elizabeth as she greeted Mary, her cousin, in Luke 1:42 “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” So far so good, the prayer is completely scripture. Now for the last part. This is the part where after greeting Mary and honoring her, we ask for her intercession, just like how she helped the groom and bride at the Wedding at Cana. We ask that she pray for us, just the same as how we would ask a friend to pray for us.