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Transformative Impact of ‘True Devotion to Mary’ on My Life

How does Mary play a central role in Christ’s journey to the cross?

In my mid-40s, during a trip to a medical conference, a familiar cab driver named Maddie suddenly asked me, “Dr. Wes, what’s the fascination with Mary among Catholics?” Reflecting on my Catholic school upbringing in the 1970s, I realized my knowledge of Mary was lacking. I admitted to Maddie, “I find the devotion to Mary somewhat perplexing.” However, my perspective shifted years later when I discovered in Magnificat that Pope John Paul II was deeply influenced by St. Louis de Montfort’s work. This led me to delve into the book, reading it twice consecutively, and it profoundly transformed my spiritual journey.

This experience prompted me to contemplate the significance of the Hail Mary prayer itself.

Can anyone truly comprehend the profound connection between the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the heart of his mother, Mary, as he hung on the cross, enduring immense pain fueled by divine love? Despite his suffering, Jesus selflessly entrusted Mary to his disciple John, declaring, “Woman, behold your son!” and to John, “Behold your Mother!” (John 19:26-27)

With a heart molded by her Son, Mary immediately embraced this new relationship with all of humanity, despite her overwhelming grief, taking us all under her maternal care.

How do I embrace this relationship?

Recently, I embarked on a spiritual retreat following the path ad Jesum per Mariam (“to Jesus through Mary”). This journey has prompted reflections on the beloved Hail Mary prayer that I wish to share.

Origins of the Hail Mary Prayer

The Hail Mary prayer evolved between the sixth and 16th centuries, gaining widespread popularity around 1,000 years ago in the 11th century. The encounter between Mary and St. Dominic in 1214, where she presented him with rosary beads and the prayers, accelerated the spread of this spiritual practice. The prayer’s components are drawn from the angelic salutation in Luke 1:28, Elizabeth’s greeting in Luke 1:42, and a petition inspired by James 5:16 and St. Bernadine of Siena:

  • “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee!” (spoken by St. Gabriel in Luke 1:28 to Mary in Nazareth, to which she responded with her fiat in Luke 1:38).
  • “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus” was Elizabeth’s greeting in Luke 1:42.
  • “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen” was influenced by James 5:16 and St. Bernadine of Siena’s teachings in 1427.

Why did St. Gabriel show such reverence to Mary? Mary, known as the stella maris (“Star of the Sea”), received this title for her exceptional qualities. St. Thomas Aquinas believed that Gabriel’s greeting signified Mary’s superiority even over angels, emphasizing her immense grace.

We implore Mary to pray for us “now and at the hour of our death.”


Mary, as the Theotokos (“God-bearer”), serves as the bridge to heaven, as there is no other ladder to ascend apart from the cross (John 14:6 and St. Rose of Lima). Her words at Cana, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5), encapsulate her pivotal role in guiding us towards Christ. By seeking Mary’s intercession, we tap into a profound source of maternal love and guidance.

The Crucial Moments

Three significant moments underscore Mary’s pivotal role in Christ’s journey. Firstly, the prophecy of Simeon foretold the sorrow that would pierce Mary’s soul, revealing the thoughts of many (Luke 2:25-35). Secondly, at the wedding feast at Cana, Jesus acknowledged that his time had not yet come (Luke 2:4). Lastly, Mary stood at the foot of the cross (John 19:25), demonstrating unwavering fidelity to God’s plan. Let us learn from Mary’s example and become transparent vessels through which Christ’s light shines.

Concluding Thoughts:

  • The Annunciation marks the beginning of our salvation, as humanity is united with divinity through Mary’s obedient fiat.
  • The salvation we long for took form in Mary’s womb.
  • Our journey to salvation hinges on a humble, docile, and obedient heart like Mary’s.
  • When we recite the Hail Mary prayer, the word of God takes root in our souls.

E. Wesley Ely, MD, MPH, is a professor of medicine and critical care at Vanderbilt University Medical Center and Nashville VA. He is also the president of the Nashville Guild of the Catholic Medical Association and the author of, a book where 100% of net proceeds support survivors of critical illness and “Long COVID.”