We pray the Hail Mary almost without thinking. We pull out the rosary and start the prayers. It’s so ordinary to Catholics, we forget how the rest of the world sees the Mother of Our Lord. How strange it must seem to those unfamiliar with why we pray when we address her, rather than Our Lord. Recently, a friend online reminded me of this struggle. In so many words, she asked, “How does one pray with Mary, and in praying the Hail Mary, not wind up worshiping Mary?”

First, when we pray the Hail Mary we are speaking to a living person, and recalling what God offered and she accepted, even as we ask for her help. It is not worship to repeat what the Angel said, “Hail Mary, the Lord is with Thee.” The Angel did not worship Mary. He spoke the truth. It is not worship to repeat what Saint Elizabeth said, “Blessed are you amongst women, and blessed the fruit of your womb, Jesus.” For it is likewise, truth. To hold Jesus is to be blessed; to hold Jesus always as Mary did, is to be blessed amongst all. The final line of the “Hail Mary” is a humble petition asking her to pray with us now, and at the hour of our death, it is a petition. Mary prays without ceasing, and her answer to our request, time after time, in every Rosary, with every “Hail Mary,” is yes, and she prays. She remains a creature, beloved of God, honored above all others for her perpetual “yes” to God’s love, and “yes” to us who ask to be loved.

Catholics do not worship Mary, though we’ve given her many titles to help explain her singular role in God’s plan for our salvation. She is the Ark of the Covenant. She carries within her the fulfillment of the law, Jesus. She is the Gate of Heaven, for it is through her heart’s love of God that she cooperated with His plan, and thus bore Jesus, the one who made Heaven possible for each of us. She is the cause of our joy, as all our joy comes from being adopted into Christ’s family, becoming brothers and sisters in and of Christ. 

When one learns the titles, some speak to us easier than others. Some reveal her humility, others her obedience, some her mission, others her reward, and still others, the gifts she brings to all who ask from her role as Mother of God. In isolation, the titles can feel like too much honor, or would if we didn’t know we can never outdo God in love or generosity. Whatever titles we convey, they remain gestures, kind imitations of the honors God bestowed. God made Mary without sin, but with the free will to accept or refuse this gift. She obeyed. 

Her obedience is our comfort. It allows us to know, when we reach for the rosary, or stand before a statue of the Blessed Mother, we’re calling to her. We can trust that she wants to walk with us, hold our hands in times of trial, share our joys and our woes. My friend said that thinking of Mary as someone we could always ask, always trust to lead us in the right direction, she could do. None of us would think twice about asking our own mothers to pray with us, to pray for us in times of trial. Our Blessed Mother waits to pray with us and for us. All she needs is the asking. 

The Rosary Is a great gift she’s given, a means for us to delve deeper into all those things she pondered in her heart. It’s a prayer that leads us into prayer. Sometimes I’m grateful for all the decades because there’s so much to tell her, so much of life I can’t quite carry. Other times, I’m slogging through the decades like a runner in the second half of a marathon. I’m willing myself to go on, and the little part of me, hoping partial credit still counts. We need all the repetition and the prayers because if we finish too quickly we’re praying to check a box, rather than to engage in a serious dialogue with God. The length of the Rosary leads us beyond whatever we might try to do quickly because it cannot be completed quickly. It’s Mary’s way of helping us learn to stay at His feet, to allow ourselves to “be still” enough to hear God’s voice. I wrote that and realized, I’d not said one that day, and there were lots of reasons why, but there were even more reasons to do so. 

That evening, after the talk, after the writing, after dinner and dishes and turning off all the lights, I sat at my desk. The statue of the Blessed Mother holding the Christ Child is to my right. My T-shirt said, “Saint Mary’s College,” and I realized that my soundtrack for writing was playing music from the movie Rudy, set at the University of Notre Dame. I knew then that I needed to do something, and fished out the little black bag from my purse and the familiar red and gold beads.

The Rosary, as it turns out, is also a thank-you note.