Why is the Hail Mary Called the Hail Mary?

How do Catholic Prayers and Documents get their names?  The Hail Mary gives us a good hint.  What are the first words of the Hail Mary?  The first words of the prayer are Hail Mary and so we call it the Hail Mary.  The first words of the Our Father are, “Our Father”, and so it is called the Our Father.  Generally, our prayers are named after their first words.  Sometimes, however, our prayers are given more functional names.  For example, there are several Eucharistic Prayers used at mass. They have very useful names such as Eucharistic Prayer I, Eucharistic Prayer II, etc.

Documents from the Vatican are named this way as well.  Pope Francis’ first encyclical has the official name of Evangelii Gaudium, which is Latin for The Joy of the Gospel, and the document begins with this sentence:  “The joy of the gospel fills the hearts and lives of all who encounter Jesus.”  Church documents, like our prayers, are generally named after the first words of the text of that document.

Sometimes they also have a second, more practical name.  For example, Gaudium Et Spes, is a document of the Second Vatican Council.  It’s first sentence is, “The joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties of the men of this age, especially those who are poor or in any way afflicted, these are the joys and hopes, the griefs and anxieties of the followers of Christ.”  As an aside, what a beautiful beginning to a Church document.  The first words are The joys and hopes, and this is what Gaudium et spes means.  This document has a working title in English as well: PASTORAL CONSTITUTION ON THE CHURCH IN THE MODERN WORLD .  This title is more descriptive.

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