What exactly is a “Hail Mary”?
The Hail Mary or Ave Maria in Latin is a traditional Catholic prayer asking the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Since the sixteenth century, the Roman Catholic version of the prayer closes with an appeal for her intercession.
In Catholic Church, the prayer forms the basis of the Rosary and the Angelus prayers.
Holy Biblical source
The prayer incorporates two greetings to Mary in Saint Luke's Gospel: "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee." and "Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb." In mid-13th-century Western Europe the prayer consisted only of these words with the single addition of the name "Mary" after the word "Hail", as is evident from the commentary of Saint Thomas Aquinas on the prayer.
The first of the two passages from Saint Luke's Gospel is the greeting of the Angel Gabriel to Mary, originally written in Koine Greek. The opening word of greeting, χαῖρε, chaíre, here translated "Hail", literally has the meaning "rejoice" or "be glad". This was the normal greeting in the language in which Saint Luke's Gospel is written and continues to be used in the same sense in Modern Greek. Accordingly, both "Hail" and "Rejoice" are valid English translations of the word ("Hail" reflecting the Latin translation, and "Rejoice" reflecting the original Greek).
The word κεχαριτωμένη, (kecharitōménē), here translated as "full of grace", admits of various translations. Grammatically, the word is the feminine perfect passive participle of the verb χαριτόω, charitóō, which means "to show, or bestow with, grace" and here, in the passive voice, "to have grace shown, or bestowed upon, one".
The text also appears in the account of the annunciation contained in the apocryphal Infancy Gospel of Matthew, in chapter 9.
The second passage is taken from Elizabeth's greeting to Mary in Luke 1:42, "Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb." Taken together, these two passages are the two times Mary is greeted in Chapter 1 of Luke.
In fact the last part of the Hail Mary was added to the original Hail Mary during the Black Plague. Is it any wonder that as Catholics we should earnestly repeat this prayer to Our Lady for the most important moment of our lives: the hour of our death.
The “Hail Mary” prayer that Christians have been praying for centuries is composed of two main parts. The first part of the prayer is derived from the Annunciation, when the angel Gabriel greeted Mary by saying, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” (Luke 1:28) The next part of the prayer is taken from the Visitation, when Elizabeth greeted Mary with the words, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:42)
At first the prayer was known as the “Salutation of the Blessed Virgin,” and only consisted of the two verses joined together. However, during the Black Plague (also known as the “Black Death”) the prayer was further developed and a second part was added to it.
This second part (“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death”) is believed by many to have been added during the plague to ask for the Blessed Mother’s protection from the fatal disease.
Venerable Fulton J. Sheen explains this origin in his book The World’s First Love.
Since it seizes upon the two decisive moments of life: “now” and “at the hour of our death,” it suggests the spontaneous outcry of people in a great calamity. The Black Death, which ravaged all Europe and wiped out one-third of its population, prompted the faithful to cry out to the Mother of Our Lord to protect them at a time when the present moment and death were almost one. - How the Black Plague changed the “Hail Mary” prayer
Seeing that the there is a direct link to the Hail Mary and the the faithful imploring the intercession of the Virgin Mary during the Black Plague it is not to hard to see the modern pop culture meaning of the Hail Mary when it comes to a last ditch effort to win a football game!
A Hail Mary pass, also known as a shot play, is a very long forward pass in American football, typically made in desperation, with only a small chance of success.
The expression goes back at least to the 1930s, when it was used publicly by two former members of Notre Dame's Four Horsemen, Elmer Layden and Jim Crowley. Originally meaning any sort of desperation play, a "Hail Mary" gradually came to denote a long, low-probability pass, typically of the "alley-oop" variety, attempted at the end of a half when a team is too far from the end zone to execute a more conventional play, implying that it would take divine intervention for the play to succeed. For more than 40 years, use of the term was largely confined to Notre Dame and other Catholic universities.
The term became widespread after a December 28, 1975, NFL playoff game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Minnesota Vikings, when Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach said about his game-winning touchdown pass to wide receiver Drew Pearson, "I closed my eyes and said a Hail Mary."
In other fields
The term "Hail Mary" is sometimes used to refer to any last-ditch effort with little chance of success.
In military uses, General Norman Schwarzkopf described his strategy during the Persian Gulf War to bypass the bulk of Iraqi forces in Kuwait by attacking in a wide left sweep through their rear as a "Hail Mary" plan.
There are similar usages in other fields, such as a "Hail Mary shot" in photography where the photographer holds the view finder of an SLR camera far from his eye (so unable to compose the picture), usually high above his head, and takes a shot. This is often used in crowded situations.
In computer security, a "Hail Mary attack" will throw every exploit it has against a system to see whether any of them work.
When the times are desperate, Mary sometimes comes through!
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