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Word by Word: Slowing Down with the Hail Mary

Word by Word: Slowing Down with the Hail Mary Photo by Ave Maria Press

A few months back a couple of Catholic friends of mine were discussing their experiences with different types of prayer. All was going along rather smoothly until one of them brought up the topic of Mary; at that point, opinions were exchanged and I was surprised to hear the conversation take a rather heated turn. The issue in dispute? The speed with which the Hail Mary should be said when praying the Rosary. One was inclined toward a rapid though prayerful recitation, while the other favored a slower, more meditative approach.

Needless to say, I wish I had had a copy of Sarah Reinhard's "Word by Word" with me right about then (although I may now suggest that both of them read it). In it, Reinhard does not discount the kind of recitation many of us may be used to. "When I am fearful," she says in the introduction, "I latch on to the Hail Mary. Does saying it just occupy the part of my mind that needs activity? Possibly." However, she does not stop there. She also explores in great depth the other side of my friends' discussion. "What would it be like," she continues, "to pray the Hail Mary deliberately, carefully weighing the importance and significance of every one of the forty-two words?"

The answer to that question is what Reinhard presents in "Word by Word: Slowing Down with the Hail Mary." As the editor of the book, it was her job to bring together nearly forty different but prayerful Catholics to consider the significance of every single word–including "of," "and," and "the"–and, by means of a series of short essays, reflections and prayers, lead the reader into a more profound appreciation of the Hail Mary and what Reinhard calls "a deeper kind of comfort".

The collection of contributors is very interesting. They include, not surprisingly, two priests and a deacon, but the rest are lay people; many are converts, with a few having been atheists before coming to the Catholic Church. The majority of them are women, which shouldn't be surprising for a prayer imploring the help of one "blessed among women." The reader gets to know them all from the short bios which appear at the conclusion of each essay. And, for anyone who wants to see what else some of them are engaged in, a list of their publications and web sites, if applicable, are also included.

I have to admit, I surmised that words like "grace," "blessed," "holy" and "pray" would lend themselves fairly easily to meditation–and they did–but I was waiting to see what would happen with a word like "of."

As a former English teacher, I knew its grammatical importance, but I was curious to see how it would play out spiritually, especially as it occurs three times in the course of the prayer.

I was not disappointed. Three different "of's," with three different sets of meaning. The same holds true for three "the's" and two "and's." There isn't a word in this prayer that lacks significance, and these essays and reflections remind us of that. In the end, the reader comes away with a greater appreciation, not only for what a wonderful prayer the Hail Mary is, but the incredible relationship with the Mother of God it calls us to.

"This isn't a passing fad or a one-time exercise," Reinhard concludes. "It's my prayer that you'll revisit the Hail Mary again soon, slowly and one word at a time. Maybe you'll even consider writing your own reflections about the words that speak to you as you pray it."


Sarah Reinhard is a wife, mother and convert to Catholicism. In the course of her day she wears many hats; in addition to caring for her four children, she is also an author, blogger, speaker, freelance writer, parish employee and catechist.

A graduate of Franklin University with a Master of Science degree in Marketing and Communications, Reinhard worked for many years for corporate and non-profit organizations. Currently, she is a regular contributor to the National Catholic Register, Catholic-Mom.com, Integrated Catholic Life, Catholic Exchange and SpiritualDirection.com.

She is also the author of several books, among which are "A Catholic Mother's Companion to Pregnancy: Walking with Mary from Conception to Baptism" and "Catholic Family Fun: A Guide for the Adventurous, Overwhelmed, Creative or Clueless." She has also written a series of short pamphlets for families about Advent and Easter.

Her website, www.snoringscholar.com, is home to her blogs, booklists, several resources for Catholics and some thought-provoking discussions. As she says of her life, "I live in Ohio. I'm married to a great guy and we have four children . . . I'm also an avid reader . . . and I speak (just ask my kids; they'll tell you I need more quiet time . . . .) Oh yeah, and we root for the Buckeyes. Every time."


Word by Word: Slowing Down with the Hail Mary

Sarah A. Reinhard, ed. Notre Dame, Indiana: Ave Maria Press. 2015. 161 pages. Paperback: $10.29, Kindle: $9.78, Nook: $10.49.

Kay Winchester

Kay Winchester lives and works in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany, New York.

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