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There’s a hidden prayer in the final petition of the Hail Mary

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Our Lady will accompany us if we let her

“Pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”

I learned these words early in childhood. I learned the sounds, the placement of the pauses; I even mastered the art of blending my voice with other voices to form a united wave of supplication. But after years of Hail Marys, one day it dawned on me that there was a hidden petition in the final words.

“At the hour of our death.” We’re asking Mary to pray for us in the most important moment of life, when the soul leaves the body and stands before Our Lord. When eternity, for good or for ill, stretches before us.

But, it seems to me, that “hour of our death” can also mean more. A year or two ago, on the treadmill at the gym, I was praying. At some point as I was going along, grace granted me a little thought—there are two kinds of death! Not only is there bodily death, but there is also a dying to self, a putting to death of the “old man” St. Paul refers to — the part of me that is turned from God and attached to self and sin.

And don’t we need Our Lady’s support in that moment of “death” as well?

Now, I understand this petition of the Hail Mary to encapsulate all of this: Pray for me now; pray for me at the hour of my physical death; and pray for me at the time of my little, daily deaths—those deaths to self, those times when I am called upon to bury the “old me” so that, dead to sin, I may rise to fullness of life in Christ.

“Put off your old nature which belongs to your former manner of life…,” says St. Paul, writing to the Ephesians, “and put on the new nature, created after the likeness of God.”

Is not this “putting off our old nature” a kind of death? A death we also fear and flee on a daily basis? Sometimes I am tempted to think that a one-time bodily martyrdom sounds relatively simple compared to the prospect of sacrificing my will day in and day out.

This is where Our Lady comes in. I can run to her with my fears, my terrible images of what the future holds, and my utter weakness. Pray for me NOW—in all my present problems, fears, and struggles. And at the hour of death—at those hours of death to self and at that ultimate hour in which I will be brought before the judgment seat.

As she stayed with Christ to the very last, so will she accompany us, if we let her. She desires to sustain us in our daily deaths so that she may see us arrive victorious before Christ in our final hour.

Our battles are real! Our little struggles do count! But we can’t win them on our own. Let us pray earnestly, then, in sincerity and in confidence to our faithful Mother.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.

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