Thursday, December 8, 2011

Hail Mary, Full of Grace

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the first Holy Day of Obligation in the liturgical year in the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S.  The bishops of each country decide how many days of obligation their particular bit of the flock celebrate each year and the liturgical year starts on the first Sunday of Advent.  I'm not a cradle Catholic; I "crossed the Tiber" five years ago so these things are still fascinating to me.  The dogma of the Immaculate Conception refers not to Jesus, as is popularly thought, but the conception of Mary.  Today I'm listening to hymns and chants for Mary but I can't decide which one I love the most.

The text of most of what I'm listening to today is the Latin rendering of the prayer

Hail Mary, Full of Grace,
Blessed at 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 Latin

Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum.
Benedicta tu in mulieribus,
et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus.
Sancta Maria, Mater Dei,
ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc,
et in hora mortis nostrae.

There are two versions that you're probably familiar with, one by Charles Gonoud and one by Franz Schubert.  Let's start with the Gonoud, performed here by Bobby McFerrin at 24 Hours of Bach in 2000. 


Schubert's "Ave Maria" is the one you're probably most familiar with.  It's the one most commonly sung at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve and during wedding masses.  It was sung at our United Methodist wedding eleven years ago as a nod to my husband's Catholic heritage.  My favorite version is Frank Sinatra's.

My Eastern Catholic and Orthodox brothers and sisters pray the Greek translation of the Hail Mary  which is rendered into English as this.

Theotokos Virgin, rejoice, Mary full of grace, the Lord is with you.
Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb,
for you have borne the Saviour of our souls.

Theotokos is translated as "God-bearer" or "Birth-giver to God."  The Orthodox Church celebrates different feast days but today is the Forefeast of the Conception By St. Anna of the Most Holy Theotokos.  One of the many gorgeous chants to Mary is this one, "O Virgin Pure," from the Byzantine Rite.


I'm on my way out the door to mass right now.  Have a blessed day!


  1. That awesome how that crowd sang Ave Maria. Well done.

    I was planning an Ave Maria post for Serene Sunday and you beat me to it. :D Maybe you'll like some of my versions. Will have to re-shuffle.

    Have a blessed mass.

  2. Oops, sorry judiang! Maybe we should have coordinated Christmas music after all. I can't wait to see your post!

  3. Fantastic post. I like that the Christian year begins with this recognition of Mary. (Oh, and I always have to explain to my students the difference between virgin birth and immaculate conception -- and it always happens on the day that we discuss the meaning of the word "almah" in Isaiah in light of the chains of translation that ended in the Vulgate).

    I've learned to love medieval chants, especially Ave Stella Maris, which is sung at Vespers. For example,

    Anonymous 4 have made a lot of great recordings.

  4. That should be


Thanks for commenting!