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Instructor: Robert Huntington Bob Huntington has taught music at all levels and holds a Master's degree in Choral Conducting.

Ave Maria is an ancient and important Catholic prayer. Learn how it evolved and what it means, and understand why so many composers (4000) have created musical settings for it down through the centuries.


It can be pretty hard to undo a first impression, right? Well, it's especially hard to undo one that has been reinforced for nearly 200 years. Many people hear the song 'Ave Maria' by Franz Schubert and assume that's how he wrote it. Since the setting by Schubert may be their only exposure to that prayer, the myth continues unchecked. How did this happen and what's the real story? Every faith has its important creeds and prayers. In Christian denominations, one such example is 'The Lord's Prayer', which many members have memorized at an early age. An important prayer for the Roman Catholic Church is Ave Maria or 'Hail, Mary'. It's the best known of their Marian prayers. The Ave Maria is also used in the Greek Orthodox and Lutheran churches. So it's safe to say that it's recognized pretty much everywhere throughout the Christian world. The text is historically divided into two parts, with the third part being added later. The first part is based on Luke 1:28 which recounts the Angel Gabriel greeting the Blessed Virgin Mary on the day of the Annunciation. This is when the Angel tells Mary that she will be overcome by the Holy Spirit and bear a son. The middle section is based on Luke 1:40-42 and recounts St. Elizabeth greeting Mary. Mary, now pregnant, has gone to visit her relative Elizabeth who's also pregnant. When Elizabeth hears Mary's greeting, the baby in her own womb (who will be John the Baptist) leaps for joy. Elizabeth tells Mary that she is blessed, as is the child she is carrying (who will be Jesus Christ). A final portion was added around 1440. It identifies Mary's holiness and adds a petition for intercession.


Ave Maria was originally in Latin, but here is the English translation: Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

Use of the Prayer In the Catholic Church, Ave Maria is sung on the fourth Sunday in Advent (the last Sunday before Christmas), on the Feast of the Annunciation (March 25), and on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (December 8). It's also used at weddings, funerals, Marian observations (usually held in May), and in other Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary celebrated throughout the year. These many liturgical designations have inspired composers to create musical settings for the prayer down through the ages beginning with versions that were chanted, various congregational hymns, vocal solos, and choral arrangements.

Famous Setting

The setting by Schubert is probably the worlds most famous Ave Maria.

Learn more about the lyrics for Ave Maria. Visit www.study.com