I’ve been working my way through the Catechism of the Catholic Church since Lent last year. At the advice of a couple of my Catechism-expert friends, I purchased the Compendium and The US Catholic Catechism for Adults for companion reading. I’ve been reading the sections of the Catechism that the US Catholic Catechism for Adults lists and then following up with reading the chapter.

It’s taking a long time, in part because the Catechism is quite a text and in part because I’m going slowly. I’m usually a whip-through-it sort of reader, but my retention tends to slip a bit. So I’m approaching this “assignment” with a more studious air, taking notes and reflecting as I go.

The other morning, I came across a section in the Catechism on Mary that breaks down the Hail Mary. How have I not read this before? And how could I not share it here, with you?

I’m a big fan of the Hail Mary; it’s my go-to prayer. So often, when I’m overcome with emotion and I know I need to turn to God, but can’t find the words, I use the Hail Mary, gripping its cadence as to a lifeline.

So, without further ado, here’s the “breakdown” of the Hail Mary, straight from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

2676 This twofold movement of prayer to Mary has found a privileged expression in the Ave Maria:

Hail Mary [or Rejoice, Mary]: the greeting of the angel Gabriel opens this prayer. It is God himself who, through his angel as intermediary, greets Mary. Our prayer dares to take up this greeting to Mary with the regard God had for the lowliness of his humble servant and to exult in the joy he finds in her.30

Full of grace, the Lord is with thee: These two phrases of the angel’s greeting shed light on one another. Mary is full of grace because the Lord is with her. The grace with which she is filled is the presence of him who is the source of all grace. “Rejoice . . . O Daughter of Jerusalem . . . the Lord your God is in your midst.”31 Mary, in whom the Lord himself has just made his dwelling, is the daughter of Zion in person, the ark of the covenant, the place where the glory of the Lord dwells. She is “the dwelling of God . . . with men.”32 Full of grace, Mary is wholly given over to him who has come to dwell in her and whom she is about to give to the world.

Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. After the angel’s greeting, we make Elizabeth’s greeting our own. “Filled with the Holy Spirit,” Elizabeth is the first in the long succession of generations who have called Mary “blessed.”33 “Blessed is she who believed. . . . “34 Mary is “blessed among women” because she believed in the fulfillment of the Lord’s word. Abraham. because of his faith, became a blessing for all the nations of the earth.35 Mary, because of her faith, became the mother of believers, through whom all nations of the earth receive him who is God’s own blessing: Jesus, the “fruit of thy womb.”

2677 Holy Mary, Mother of God: With Elizabeth we marvel, “And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”36 Because she gives us Jesus, her son, Mary is Mother of God and our mother; we can entrust all our cares and petitions to her: she prays for us as she prayed for herself: “Let it be to me according to your word.”37 By entrusting ourselves to her prayer, we abandon ourselves to the will of God together with her: “Thy will be done.”

Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death: By asking Mary to pray for us, we acknowledge ourselves to be poor sinners and we address ourselves to the “Mother of Mercy,” the All-Holy One. We give ourselves over to her now, in the Today of our lives. And our trust broadens further, already at the present moment, to surrender “the hour of our death” wholly to her care. May she be there as she was at her son’s death on the cross. May she welcome us as our mother at the hour of our passing38 to lead us to her son, Jesus, in paradise.

2678 Medieval piety in the West developed the prayer of the rosary as a popular substitute for the Liturgy of the Hours. In the East, the litany called the Akathistos and the Paraclesis remained closer to the choral office in the Byzantine churches, while the Armenian, Coptic, and Syriac traditions preferred popular hymns and songs to the Mother of God. But in the Ave Maria, the theotokia, the hymns of St. Ephrem or St. Gregory of Narek, the tradition of prayer is basically the same.

You can find the entire section of the Catechism here. It’s worth your time, especially as you consider the many souls who need your prayer as we approach All Souls Day on November 2.

Photo By Steelman (fotografia pessoal.) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons