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The Hail Holy Queen prayer, originally known by its Latin name, Salve Regina, is recited at the end of the Rosary and is also used in night prayers. It dates back to around the 11th century and is still sung today as a hymn in various forms, among them a beautiful chant.
St. Alphonus Liguori thought so highly of the Hail Holy Queen that he analyzed it in great detail in his well-known 18th century book The Glories of Mary. In this prayer we pay homage to the Blessed Virgin Mary, our “Mother of Mercy,” and humbly ask for her assistance. Many religious over the centuries (including quite a few saints!) have considered her help to be essential for our salvation.
Hail Holy Queen, Mother of mercy, Our life, our sweetness, and our hope. To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us. And after this, our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement O loving O sweet Virgin Mary.
V. Pray for us oh holy mother of God.
(This line is read by one person when the Hail Holy Queen is being recited in a group setting.)
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
(This line is the response given by the group.)
Although crowned Queen of Heaven (as shown above) Mary is by no means haughty, given such a title! She’s a queen who wonderfully blends her majesty with her humility in her desire to be of service to us. She wants to dispense God’s graces through prayers such the Hail Holy Queen, the Memorare, and the Rosary.
She wants to help us in asking for God’s forgiveness for our sins. And, contrary to a sad misconception, Mary was never meant to replace her Divine Son as the focus of our worship. She herself acknowledged, in Luke’s Gospel (Lk 1:46), that her soul magnifies the Lord. She’s always ready to point us in His direction on our path towards Eternal Life.
God has given her all His graces for us. They come from God through Mary. All we need to do is ask for them with a humble, loving, and contrite heart.
And, speaking of hearts, as Thomas à Kempis, author of the spiritual classic The Imitation of Christ once said, “What safer refuge can we ever find than the compassionate heart of Mary?”
A well-known hymn calls the Blessed Mother “the Queen who decks her subjects with the light of God’s own grace.” As mentioned earlier, many saints and other religious have stated through the centuries that since God gave Mary all of His graces to give us as needed, she plays a key part in our salvation.
As St. Antonius put it “Whoever asks and expects to obtain graces without the intercession of Mary endeavors to fly without wings.”
One can relate to the lines about our exile in the Hail Holy Queen fairly easily: When our first parents, Adam and Eve, were banished from the Garden of Eden, from Paradise in one with God (because of Original Sin), we were as well. And how many times do we find ourselves, one way or another thinking of our lives with “sighs, mourning and weeping”?
I once had a co-worker who would say when leaving her job for the day, “time to leave this valley of tears.” As Gilda Radner used to say on a famous comic sketch on Saturday Night Live “There’s always something!”
We are indeed exiles from Paradise! Yet in Mary, we have a new Eve to help guide us on our earthly journey towards Heaven. St. Irenaeus once remarked that as Eve was seduced by a fallen angel (Lucifer) to flee from God, so Mary was led to receive God into her womb, obeying a good angel (Gabriel). She thus “repaired Eve’s disobedience” as St. Alphonsus Liguori once wrote.
In doing so she also became, as we say in the Hail Holy Queen, our “most gracious advocate,” with God’s advocate, His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ!
Saint Louis De Montfort once noted that while Jesus is our Mediator and redeemer with His Father, Mary is our mediatrix and intercessor with her Divine Son.
Note again, however, that she by no means supercedes or replaces Him. As St. Bernard said “whatever we say in praise of the Mother is equally in praise of the Son.” He also urged us to “offer anything to God …through the most agreeable and worthy hands of Mary.”
When we read of Mary’s “eyes of mercy” (as “the mother of mercy”) this point comes to mind: Mary once told St. Bridget that she was the mother not only of the just and the innocent but also of sinners provided they were willing to repent.
If they come to her with the intent of making amends she is indeed, as St. Catherine of Siena once referred to her, the dispenser of Divine Mercy!
We can take comfort in knowing that if we pray to her with a sincere and contrite heart she in turn will pray to her Son for us. And her prayers are especially dear to Him. As St. Bernard said “Her requests can never be refused.”
Ultimately the Blessed Mother wants to help us fill a void in our lives through finding the peace that only Jesus, the fruit of her womb, (as Mary’s cousin Elizabeth referred to Him in Luke 1:42) can give us. This can go a long way in bringing us back from “our exile” into a deeper union with our Creator.
Nonetheless, she cannot force God’s graces on us. We must be receptive to them through prayer and through our sincere efforts to live according to His will for us.
If we pray the Hail Holy Queen in the Rosary daily, and other such prayers of devotion to our Blessed Mother, she will give us the graces we need to live our lives to be “worthy of the promises of Christ!”