Fr. Scott A. Haynes
The devotion to the Most Blessed Virgin Mary is without a doubt one of the most powerful means of salvation and one of the most certain evidence of predestination. All of the holy doctors of the Church agree with St. Alphonsus Liguori:
"A devout servant of Mary shall never perish."
This devotion in its present form is handed down to us from St. Leonard of Port Maurice. This practice has received the Apostolic Blessing of Pope St. Pius X, as well as that of Pope Benedict XV, who elevated the Confraternity of the Three Hail Marys to the rank of Archconfraternity and granted it indulgences.
Earlier in history, it was St. Anthony of Padua who was among the first to recite the three Hail Marys and to promote this devotion to others. His specific goal in this practice was to respect Mary's pure virginity and to maintain absolute purity of mind, heart, and body in the midst of the world's dangers. Many people, including him, have benefited from it. Surely, if we are to persist in this devotion until death, there is no easier way of daily sanctification than the daily recitation of the three Hail Marys.
St. Leonard of Port-Maurice, the celebrated missionary, prayed the three Ave Marias each morning and evening in honor of Mary Immaculate, to obtain the grace of avoiding all mortal sins during the day or night; additionally, he promised eternal salvation in a special way to all those who proved consistently faithful to this practice. St. Alphonsus Liguori, following in the footsteps of these two great Franciscan Saints, accepted this holy practice and gave it his most fervent support. He encouraged its use and even enforced it as a penance on those who had not done so.
The Holy Doctor exhorts parents in particular to ensure that their children be faithful in praying their three Hail Marys each day, morning and evening, and recommends it to all the pious young and old. Thus, after each Hail Mary, St. Alphonsus Liguori proposed adding the following aspiration:
"By thy Immaculate Conception, O Mary, make my body pure and my soul holy."
This method of prayer was revealed to St. Melchtilde in exchange for the promise of a holy death if she followed it every day. St. Gertrude the Great was the secretary who transcribed St. Mechtilde's revelations at her dictation. St. Gertrude even witnessed Our Lord appear to her when St. Mechtilde died. Many discoveries about the Three Hail Mary Devotion were later disclosed to her as well. It is also written in the revelations of St. Gertrude:
"While this Saint sang the Hail Mary, at the matins of the Annunciation, she suddenly saw spring out from the Heart of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, three bright flames which penetrated the Heart of the Holy Virgin."
Next, St. Gertrude heard the following words:
"After the Power of the Father, the Wisdom of the Son, and the merciful Tenderness of the Holy Spirit, nothing approaches the Power, the Wisdom and the merciful Tenderness of Mary."
Our Lady requested the daily recitation of three Hail Marys, revealing the following to St. Melchtilde:
"The first Hail Mary will be in honor of God the Father, Whose omnipotence raised my soul so high above every other creature that, after God, I have the greatest power in Heaven and on earth. In the hour of your death I will use that power of God the Father to keep any hostile power from you.
The Blessed Virgin then revealed to St. Melchtilde:
"The second Hail Mary will be in honor of God the Son, Who communicated His inscrutable wisdom to me . . . In the hour of your death I will fill your soul with the light of that wisdom so that all the darkness of ignorance and error will be dispelled.
Lastly, Our Blessed Lady told her:
"The third Hail Mary will be in honor of God the Holy Ghost, Who filled my soul with the sweetness of His love and tenderness and mercy . . . In your last hour I will then change the bitterness of death into Divine sweetness and delight."
During an apparition to St. Gertrude, the Blessed Mother promised:
"To any soul who faithfully prays the Three Hail Marys I will appear at the hour of death in a splendor of beauty so extraordinary that it will fill the soul with Heavenly consolation."