Marian Prayers: Ancient but Ever New


Learn about the history of your favorite Marian prayers — and some new ones, too!

By Sister Lou Ella Hickman, I.W.B.S.

Marian prayers appear in prayer books, in religion textbooks and on the backs of holy cards. Have you ever wondered about their history, that is, who wrote them and when they were written?

The list below includes many various prayers and their origins. Discussion questions as well as suggested classroom activities follow. (Click on the bold words for each prayer to learn more and get the full text of the prayer; note that some of these links contain autoplay video.)

Hail Mary first appeared in print in 1495. Title Mother of God (Theotokos or God-bearer) was given to Mary at the Council of Ephesus in 431. This title is honored on January 1 as a Solemnity.

Hail, Star of the Ocean (Ave, Maria Stella) dates back to late 8/9th century.

Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary (also known as the Litany of Loreto) is recorded as early as 1558. Approved by Pope Sixtus V in 1587. This litany is one of six that the Church has approved for public recitation.

Loving Mother of the Redeemer. This prayer is attributed to Hermannus Contractus (1013-1054).

Mary, Mother of the Church. This prayer was written by Pope Francis at the end of his encyclical Lumen Fidei, June 29, 2013.

Memorare was popularized by Fr. Claude Bernard (1588-1641) who used the prayer extensively in his ministry to prisoners and criminals condemned to death. It was also part of a longer prayer dating to the 15th century. It was probably shortened during the latter part of the 16th century.

Morning Offering was written in 1844 by Fr. Francois-Xavier Gautrellet, S.J.

Mother of Mercy prayer was written by St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430). Her feast day is September 24.

Mother of Perpetual HelpThe prayer beginning with “Mother of Perpetual Help, you have been blessed and favored …” comes from the Raccolta—a book of prayer published from 1807 to 1950. There are various other prayers which honor Our Lady under this title.

Our Lady of Good Counsel’s feast day is April 12. Pope Pius XII composed a prayer in her honor and placed his papacy under her care. The prayer is based on the painting (fresco) which, according to tradition, appeared in Mother of Good Counsel Church in Genazana, Italy on April 25, 1467.

Our Lady of Guadalupe’s feast day December 12. She was declared patroness of the Americas in 1910. Prayer “Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mystical Rose” was written by Pope St. Pius X in 1908. She is also the patroness of the unborn.

Our Lady of Lourdesfeast day is February 11. A prayer was written by Pope Pius XII in 1957.

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel’s feast day is July 16 The feast was probably first celebrated in England during the 14th century. The prayer,” Flower of Carmel,” was included in the Mass of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel as a sequence in 1663.

Our Lady of the Assumption is the oldest of the Marian feast days and the prayer in her honor was written by Pope St. Pius X.

Our Lady of the Immaculate ConceptionJohn Carroll, the first Catholic bishop in America, and his Baltimore Synod placed the diocese which embraced the entire United States at that time under the special patronage of Mary with this title in 1791. At the 6th Provincial Council of Baltimore in 1846 all 22 bishops attending made their first decree to place the United States under this title of Mary. They also decreed that December 8 would be her patronal feast. The prayer Tota pulchara es (“You are all beautiful . . .”) dates back to the 4th century. CCC #s 491-492 It was set to music my Anton Bruckner.

Our Lady of the Miraculous MedalThe first medals were struck in 1832 in France and the prayer is inscribed on the medal itself.

Our Lady, Untier of KnotsThe painting dating to 1700 hangs in the St. Peter’s Church in Perlock, Germany and is based on a quote by St. Irenaeus (d. 202.) When Pope Francis left Germany, he took the devotion back to Argentina where it became popular across Latin America. There are several versions.

Queen of Heaven, Rejoice! This prayer can be traced back to 12th century.

Salve, Regina (Hail, Holy Queen) is generally credited to Hermann Contractus 1013-1054.

Stabat Mater Dolorosa is used during the Stations of the Cross and is generally credited to Jacopene da Todi ca. 1230-1306. It has been set to music by such composers as Joseph Haydn (1767), Franz Schubert (2 versions: 1815 & 1816) Antonio Vivaldi (1712).

Sub Tuum Prayer (We fly to thy Patronage) is the oldest recorded Marian prayer and dates to c. 270. The parchment is called the Rylands Papyrus 470.

The Angelus. Pope Sixtus IV was the first to grant an indulgence for its recitation at noon in 1475. This was confirmed and extended in 1517 by Pope Leo X when the prayer was recited at morning, noon, and in the evening.

Discussion questions 

  1. Why is it important to know the historical background of the above prayers?
  1. Ask each student if he or she were in a difficult situation what prayer would he or she choose and why.

 Vocabulary

 encyclical, synod, solemnity, feast day, sequence, fresco, tradition, Tradition 

Activities 

  1. YouTube™ posts various artists singing the “Ave Maria” written by Franz Schubert. Listen to several versions. How are they alike and how are they different from each other ?
  1. Act out the Memorare: priest using prayer to bring prisoner/death row inmate back to the Faith.
  1. Create a prayer tree for the lobby of the church. The parishioners can attach petitions for the class to pray for. Consider sending to a cloistered community (nuns or monks) and ask them to pray for these intentions. Addresses can be found online. This activity could be a preparation for the Advent Jesse tree. This year the class could create a Mary tree for Advent: 4 weeks of Acts of Kindness.
  1. Mary’s bowl/Mary’s basket Place intentions here and have the students draw one to pray for that week. Option: have the students bring a bowl or small basket and decorate with a favorite Marian prayer. Home or classroom use as a focal point in a prayer space.
  1. Medieval prayer books were hand made. Illustrate various prayers. Online: “Pictures of Medieval Prayer Books.”

Sister Lou Ella Hickman, I.W.B.S., is a freelance writer and a spiritual director. Her book of poetry, she: robed and wordless, published by Press 53, was released in the fall of 2015.

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