It’s difficult to adequately review a book that you have to get your hands on to fully appreciate. That’s the case with The Ave Maria Book, published by the Commissariat of the Holy Land Franciscan Monastery in Washington, D.C. 

Originally published in 1936, this exquisite classic beauty is a celebration of the universality of our Catholic faith. It’s a collectible book with thick glossy pages containing the Hail Mary in 150 different languages from areas throughout the world. From fifth-century Anglo-Saxon to Zulu and everything in between, the translated versions of “The Angelic Salutation,” as the Hail Mary is referred to, is imprinted in black letter typeface framed in decorative and symbolic borders. The collection is based on a series of ceramic panels given by generous donors and enshrined in the Rosary Portico Chapels of the Memorial Church of the Holy Land at the Franciscan Monastery.

“Although this collection of these prayers is not intended to be a scientific textbook, it nevertheless furnishes an interesting study of language relationships and development – as, for example, that of present-day English from Gothic, Anglo-Saxon and Medieval English,” the foreword states.

That, in my opinion, is an understatement. True, one could casually flip the pages with the attitude that it’s “just” the Hail Mary written in foreign languages. But, it goes so much deeper than that. As I moved from page to page, I could see commonalities in the languages of the various cultures for example, the Native American Indian languages – for the most part – have similar letter combinations and word length. The Middle Eastern countries can be easily spotted with the formation of their lovely calligraphic lettering. The Oriental languages fascinate me with their lines and columns of precisely-integrated symbols, each one a work of art all its own. The book includes languages I had never even heard of before. I had never heard of Xosa (Cape Colony, Africa), Mosatena (Bolivia), or Latuxo sees Anglo-Egyptian Sudan) for example. There are, of course, many more. My absolute favorite is Plate CXLIX – the Hail Mary in Yucatecan, spoken in Yucatán, Mexico. The entire prayer is written in a series of about 25 tiny pictures drawn with great detail, each depicting a scene from the prayer. I’ve never seen anything like it and loved it as soon as I saw it. 

What impressed me most about The Ave Maria Book is the fact that each culture and language expresses the prayer in a unique way and yet it’s exactly the same prayer every time. If it would be possible to gather a representative who speaks each of the languages in one room at the same time, all would be uttering different sounds but it would be the same witness to the grace of our Mother Mary and her essential role in salvation history. The pages of this book does exactly that, and it is indeed marvelous!

The Ave Maria Book also includes an explanation of all the symbols used in the book – a phenomenal wealth of knowledge – and the Sign of the Cross and the Apostles Creed in both English and Latin as well as The Lord’s Prayer in more than a dozen different ages. There’s also a Descriptive Index of Languages that lists all the languages used in alphabetical order, their origins, and geographic locations. 

The book has not only beauty, but it also has an important mission. Every purchase helps to support Christian families in the Holy Land. As custodians of the Holy Land, the Franciscans work hard to raise much-needed awareness of the plight of Christians in the land where our Lord was born, worked, taught, ate, slept, preached, was crucified, died, was buried, and rose from the dead. These are the holiest places on the entire earth and the presence of Christians there is diminishing and will continue to diminish unless we do our part to help them. Christian families struggle for existence in the Holy Land and I’ve seen that firsthand. In fact, the holy places themselves are threatened in the sense that it requires a tremendous amount of labor and resources to maintain them. I’ve observed that firsthand, too. And so, when I see an opportunity to support those efforts, I’m eager to promote it.

You can purchase copies of The Ave Maria Book (on sale during July for $8.00) in person at their monastery gift shop or online at: https://holylandgiftshop.org/product/ave-maria-rosary-soft-cover-book/.