The custom started in Germany in the 13th century, and it was beloved by many saints, including St. John Bosco.
Among the devotions to Our Lady, there is one that is very special: that of praying three Hail Marys every day. But, where did this devotion come from?
Its origin dates back to the 13th century, and is connected to St. Mechtilde of Hackeborn, a German Benedictine nun, to whom Our Lady revealed a way of lifting up a prayer of thanksgiving to the Holy Trinity for the privileges granted to the Virgin Mary.
St. Mechtilde was born in 1241 into a noble family. One day, while thinking about her own death, she fervently begged the Mother of God to help her during the last moments of her life.
She heard Our Lady say to her:
“Yes, I will; but I want you, on your part, to pray three Hail Marys to me each day. With the first, you will ask that, just as God the Father raised me up to a throne of glory without equal, making me the most powerful creature in heaven and on earth, so too I may assist you on earth to strengthen you and drive away from you every power of the enemy. With the second Hail Mary, you will ask that, just as the Son of God filled me with wisdom to such an extent that I have more knowledge of the Holy Trinity than all the Saints, so too may I help you during the last moments of your life, filling your soul with the light of faith and of true wisdom, so that the shadows of error and ignorance may not darken it. With the third, you will ask that, just as the Holy Spirit filled me with the sweetness of His love, and has made me so loving that, after God, I am the sweetest and most merciful, so also may I help you at the hour of your death, filling your soul with such gentleness of divine love that all the sorrow and bitterness of your death may be changed for you into delight.”
This was not the only revelation to a saint regarding the devotion of the three Hail Marys.
Another religious, a contemporary of Mechtilde, St. Gertrude, known as “the Great,” had a beautiful vision containing another revelation. This is how it happened: It was the vespers of the feast of the Annunciation, and when it was time to sing the Hail Mary, St. Gertrude suddenly saw something like three springs of water emerging from the Hearts of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, which then penetrated the Heart of the Blessed Virgin.
At that instant, she heard a voice which said, “After the Power of the Father, the Wisdom of the Son, and the Tender Mercy of the Holy Spirit, nothing compares to the Power, Wisdom, and Tender Mercy of Mary.”
The Virgin Mary promised St. Mechtilde that whoever would pray three Hail Marys every day would receive her help during life and her special assistance at the moment of death; the Virgin Mary would appear to them with such brightness and beauty that the mere sight of her would bring consolation and the joys of heaven.
In addition to these two saints, other saints were special promoters of this devotion, such as St. Alphonsus Maria de’ Liguori, who frequently recommended this beautiful practice; or St. John Bosco, who suggested it to young people. St. Pio of Pietrelcina also said that many would convert just by practicing this devotion.
How to pray the three Hail Marys:
Mary, my Mother, free me from falling into mortal sin.
By the power granted you by the Eternal Father,
By the wisdom granted you by the Son,
By the love granted you by the Holy Spirit,
You conclude with a Glory be … and the brief prayer,
“Mary, by your Immaculate Conception, purify my body and sanctify my soul.” (This prayer was granted an indulgence by Saint Pius X.)