When Will Pope Francis Update the “Hail Mary”?

Pope Francis wants to change the wording of the “Our Father” or “Pater Noster.” I wonder, though, why he should stop there. Isn’t it time to update the “Hail, Mary”? Although there have been a number of attempts to change this beautiful Marian prayer to make it more contemporary, the time may now have come for a full-scale modernization.

  • “Hail, Mary”: Nobody says “hail” anymore. This must be updated to a greeting such as “hi” or, even better, “hey.” An angel today would say, “Hey, Mary.” Right?
  • “Full of grace”: The New American Bible already gives this as “favored one,” and the Good News Bible (“Today’s English Version”) was even trendier in using the phrase “The Lord … has greatly blessed you” (Lk 1:28). It’s time, though, to modernize this whole business by pointing out that we should refer to Mary as a very nice person. (The word “lady” is out of fashion, and we don’t want to say “woman” because it’s not inclusive enough.)
  • “The Lord is with thee”: Many parishes have dropped the “thee” business, replacing it with the contemporary “you.” We should finish the job here by teaching that the Lord is nonjudgmentally with all of us on our faith journeys, so we must change this to read that “The Lord is with us.”
  • “Blessed art thou among women.” The “blessed” should be modernized to “happy,” something that “Today’s English Version” has already been doing for a few decades with the awkward “blessed” in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5). Naturally, the “art thou” will be dropped. And “women,” as we have already pointed out, is too restrictive, so we will modify this, once again, to “us.”
  • “Blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus”: How can language be this archaic? We must not overuse “happy,” so we will change this into “Super is your child, Jesus.” Remember the 1970 rock opera “Jesus Christ Superstar”? Back to the future!
  • “Holy Mary, Mother of God”: We must stop offending Protestants with the hackneyed phrase “Mother of God.” While we’re at it, as we have already changed “blessed” to “happy,” so we can easily change “holy” to “lucky,” which is much more in keeping, after all, with modern sensibilities.
  • “Pray for us sinners”: Here is an example of language that many of us modern people would regard as triumphalist! We are dismissed as mere “sinners,” and Mary is condescendingly praying for us. We must edit this phrase to “accompany us on our journey.”
  • “Now and at the hour of our death”: Must we constantly be reminded of our mortality? Where is the happiness in that? This offensive phrase must be discarded, along with that old phrase “vale of tears” (Psalm 83:7 Douay-Rheims Bible).
  • “Amen”: All right—we’ll keep this as a sop to the Latin Mass crowd.

“What a joy it is to find just the right word for the right occasion” (Prv. 15:23 GNB)—and we have finally found just the right words to update this prayer, which should be known now as the “Hey, Mary.” This will take a little getting used to, but we have already supinely accepted a great catch in football as an “immaculate reception.” We Catholics don’t demand respect in that regard, so why should we be squeamish about this prayer makeover? Go with the flow (a phrase which conveys rather well the core of modern Catholic moral teaching on many campuses).

(By the way, don’t even ask about The Salve Regina or the hopelessly outdated Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel. Fortunately, hardly anyone knows them today, so updating these isn’t necessary—or even possible. The first prayer labels us as “poor banished children of Eve” and the second prayer refers to devils prowling around. How quaint!)

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Hey, Mary, very nice person! The Lord is with us, and happy are we. Super is your child, Jesus. O, lucky one, accompany us on our journey. Amen.

Making Mundane What is Transcendent
Lest there be even the slightest doubt, let me emphasize that this is, of course, not seriously intended, although there have been attempts to “modernize” the “Hail, Mary” by changing “thee” and “thou” to “you.” And the phrase “full of grace” does appear as “favored one” in some translations. The greeting “Hail” actually means “rejoice,” and, as Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch explain succinctly in the notes for the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, the angelic greeting to Our Lady “is the only biblical instance where an angel addresses someone by a title instead of a personal name.”

They add that “because of the unparalleled role that Mary accepts at this turning point in salvation history, the best translation [‘full of grace’] is the most exalted one. For God endowed Mary with an abundance of grace to prepare her for the vocation of divine motherhood and to make her a sterling example of Christian holiness.”

There is a proclivity, both in secular society and even in the Church, to desacralize and to make mundane what is transcendent or inspirational. Can we imagine Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address beginning with: “Eighty-seven years ago” instead of “Fourscore and seven years ago”? Or Kennedy’s inaugural not declaring, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country,” but instead pleading, “Let’s all be a little more patriotic, OK”?

The examples, of course, could be multiplied, but we have seen the greatest and gravest language assaults in the holy Mass and with translations often devoid of the beautiful imagery which imparts divine meaning. (Here we should express gratitude to Benedict XVI for undoing the damage done to the Novus Ordo English liturgy caused by the faulty translations of Paul VI.) George Orwell (1903-1950) was right that decadent language is the hallmark of decadent politics. But there is a corollary: secular, jejune, or desacralized language is the hallmark of banal prayer or baleful liturgy which, in turn, breeds profane and desecrated morality. Not for nothing did Isaiah warn us: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter” (5:20).

Consider just two more examples: Jesus tells his disciples to baptize all nations, teaching them to observe all [think about that!] that he has commanded: “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20 NAB). In the Douay-Rheims Bible, however, Jesus says, “And behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.” In the New American Bible, we read that Our Lord admonished us this way: “What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life” (Mk 8:36), while in the Douay-Rheims we have: “For what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and suffer the loss of his soul?”

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Editor’s note: Pictured above is a detail from “The Annunciation” painted by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo in 1660.


  • Deacon James H. Toner

    Deacon James H. Toner, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Leadership and Ethics at the U.S. Air War College, a former U.S. Army officer, and author of Morals Under the Gun and other books. He has also taught at Notre Dame, Norwich, Auburn, the U.S. Air Force Academy, and Holy Apostles College & Seminary. He serves in the Diocese of Charlotte.

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