by Fr. Jonathan Atchley
Our Lady’s Prayer is historically traced back to the 11th Century. Hers, then, is a time-tested way that the faithful have long praised the Triune God for his most exalted creature, Mary, the flower of humanity and hope of Christians (and all humanity who have recourse to her). The Church does not sing her accolades without reason when it developed and added the second half of the Hail Mary prayer: “Holy [i.e. full of grace] Mary, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.” For the Lord gave us his mother that she might indeed be a preeminent source of maternal care and welfare for all God’s children.
“Now there stood by the cross of Jesus His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home. (John 19:25-27)
St. Thomas Aquinas asserts that her very name is a sign of her status before God and men. “Mary is full of grace, and she exceeds the Angels in the plenitude of grace and because of this she is fittingly called, Mary, which means, "enlightened in herself…"
With his typically comprehensive scope, St. Thomas adds that this is why the Church adamantly applies appropriate Scriptural references of celestial bodies to her:
“above all, she will enlighten others throughout the world; and for this reason she is compared to the sun and to the moon.” 
In other words, Mary is no fading flower.
As we have seen that the first half of her prayer attests to Mary’s holiness and fidelity,  the second half presents our petitions to God on her behalf. With Mary and through her, we pray to God for “enlightenment,” namely, that our hearts and minds be led by the light of His grace: “Pray for us sinners, now…” She who is sinless assists sinners, such is the doctrine of salvation; as Mediatrix of Grace, she is privileged to share God’s blessings with us. But Mary does so as a human being. In no way is she divinized--though the Lord goes out of his way to emphasize to all of creation how wonderful his mother is by her perfect conformity to himself:
As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.” He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (Lk 11:27-28).
She who has proven herself to God is now offered by Him to all as a source of secure blessings. How wondrous the Lord’s ways! And so we ask:
“Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.”
Perhaps the majority of us lives mainly in the present, wondering and worrying how to pay bills and manage responsibilities while eking out a little time for pleasantries as time slips away. But those who are wise about their own mortality and inherent weaknesses are moved to do more than simply live in the present. We acknowledge her favored status--“The Lord is with Thee”—and invest ourselves accordingly in prayer, entrusting Mary with our mortality for the grace of salvation, pleading that she extends her maternal protection and care. Her advice for every age is the same as was offered to the wine stewards at the wedding of Cana: “Do whatever he tells you.”
Her collaboration with the Holy Spirit in the work of Salvation has been shown to be more than advice, for she also doles out God’s graces to those who request them. But while we recognize that Mary is human, we should acknowledge that she in a human way to prayers of humility, generosity, and fidelity. Although she is perfectly harmonized with God’s will, Mary maintains her own freedom in dispensing grace as well. Sometimes it is said that she holds back the Lord in his wrath for our sins, and for her sake he indulges her pleas. She who found favor with God (Lk 1:30) is then rightly granted the privilege of favoring those who approach God with humility and charity; and being human, it is natural that she also favors those who favor her. Mary extends special graces to all who entrust themselves to her care, as was the Lord’s wishes when he entrusted us to her through St. John the Evangelist. And this is why Catholics offer seemingly endless rosaries, meditating on the Lord’s mysteries while reciting “pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death.”
Mary’s Prayer is but one of numerous ways the Church acknowledges and requests Our Lady’s intercession. Through novenas, vigils, groups that foster awareness of her blessings, and many other studies and devotions, Catholics take the Lord at his word and entrust themselves to his mother, calling on her in time of need. It is Our Lady herself who has given us many of these means, as tradition recounts when she offered the scapular to St. Simon Stock—although the rosary remains her favored prayer. So wherever you see faithful Catholics, you will also likely see a devotion to Mary in the rosary.
There is a final prayer I wish to highlight as a personal favorite that honors Our Lady, one composed by the Mellifluous Doctor of the Church, St. Bernard of Clairvaux: the Memorare.
“Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to thy protection, implored thy help, or sought thy intercession, was left unaided. Inspired by this confidence, I fly unto thee, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother; to thee do I come, before thee I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in thy mercy hear and answer me. Amen."
St. Bernard’s praise of Jesus flowed like honey, as did his love for Our Lady, which can be readily recognized in this beautiful prayer. Oh, gracious virgin, Mother of Our Lord, pray for us, now and at the hour of death!