In Review: Word by Word: Slowing Down with the Hail Mary

Word by Word: Slowing Down with the Hail Mary
edited by Sarah A. Reinhard

Many years ago I was in an adult education class on “The Church at Prayer.” The instructor asked who had a rosary with them. Every single woman pulled at least one rosary from her purse, pocket or knitting bag. We all laughed and joked with our instructor and it seemed we all had multiple sets of rosary beads in almost every place you can imagine – the glove compartment, every purse, every sweater/jacket, in the kitchen drawer, hanging by the bed, knitting bags, yarn caches, under our pillows – you name it! The rosary certainly was all over our worlds, claiming us at every turn.

Why then is this set of prayers, specifically the Hail Mary, just rolling off our tongues with little, if any, thought to the letters, words and sounds we are speaking? Comfort, familiarity, perhaps.

In this book, edited by Sarah Reinhardt, each word of the Hail Mary prayer is examined, prayed upon and seen in a context of her story and our own. This book began as a blog post series with a variety of Catholic writers. It is a really interesting and slow take on the Hail Mary. I admit I was disconcerted at first, I had worked for years to get my rosary speed to a “certain time.” Now I am re-directed to prayer in the slow lane.

How often do we use the words “the,” “and,” “is,” “of” – words that seem to serve to string larger thoughts together? Countless times daily.
In the Hail Mary prayer we use “the” and “of” four times, “is” twice, “and” twice and “the” three times. In this book, each word is examined, defined and reflected upon. These words are examined individually along with the remainder of the text.

The book is broken into sections. Section One takes the phrase “Hail Mary, full of grace,” and examines each word on its own and relates it to the whole.
Here is an excerpt from that first section: “If Gabriel had greeted Mary in Hebrew, it would likely have been shalom, or peace be with you. The gospel was written in Greek, so the term chairo was used. The translation “hail” speaks of saluting one of great favor. Certainly Gabriel understood whom he was greeting and the significance of the words that would follow.”

At the end of each reflection the author offers a prayer. Here is another excerpt from the reflection on the word “of:” “This humble little breath of air carries tremendous power, so much so that Merriam-Webster dictionary lists no less than 12 distinct definitions. Of denotes origin, a word that defines belonging and relationship. We are sons and daughters of God.”

I have never said that prayer and given the word “of” a thought. I will now.

This book is a refreshing take on a prayer that most Catholics never abandon, even if they no longer self-identify as practicing Catholics. I have read many accounts of serious situations and the non-practicing Catholics find themselves going back to this prayer, these words. I think they are written on our hearts. This book helps them be written in our heads, helps us be aware of the power of the small words and the larger ones. I cannot recommend it highly enough. This little book has given me a sense of renewal and true insight into a Catholic staple.

The format is suitable for group or private study.

The book, Word by Word: Slowing Down with the Hail Mary is published by Ave Maria Press and is edited by Sarah Reinhard. It is available on Amazon and in the Parish Library at St. Mary of the Pines. I hope you will give it a look and allow it to open wide the Hail Mary prayer and the beauty of each word.

by Kim Long

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