Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
A reflection on the word “THOU”
By Julie Davis
I reel off the Hail Mary like a pro these days. Twelve years ago, as a newly fledged convert, I was concentrating so hard on the overall prayer and meditation that I never gave smaller words like “thou” a second thought.
Thinking about it now, I realize that “thou” is anything but a small word. In fact, it may be one of the most important words in the Hail Mary.
“Thou” is the intimate, familiar form of the word “you” from Old English. English used to be just like like French and Spanish with both a formal and familiar form of the word “you.” I would have said “you” to my boss but called my husband “thou.” (Interesting side note: “thou” is the singular of “ye” so I would have called my family “ye” as in “Ye all get in the car right now or we’ll be late!”)
We think of “thou” as Biblical language because when William Tyndale translated the Bible into English in the 1500s, he was trying to maintain the singular and plural distinctions found in the Hebrew and Greek originals. The King James version followed suit but everyday language was changing to use “you” exclusively for both singular and plural, familiar and formal settings. The Bible, therefore, became the last stronghold of ye, thee, thy, thine, and thou.
As interesting as that is, when I think of “Blessed art thou among women” it is as if I hear God tenderly speaking with great love through his messenger, the angel Gabriel. Thee, thou, thy are everywhere in the prayer.
When I say those intimate, personal forms of “you” am I speaking to Mary as my mother, my sister in Christ, my fellow disciple? The words from are personal. How personal is my relationship?
Like Sarah, the Hail Mary is my “go to” prayer in times of anxiety, stress, and even when I’m just casting around for a prayer to say off the cuff. That’s a bit odd, actually, because one of the things I struggle with is my lack of a devotion to Mary. Oh, I appreciate her role, example, and life. In fact, I owe her a great debt of gratitude for pointing me toward a retreat that was a turning point for me. I just don’t turn to her the way that others do.
Looking at the tenderness of “thou” in this prayer, though, it occurs to me that it would behoove* me to think more about every word and let them draw me closer to Christ’s mother, and mine. That is something I will be meditating every time the Hail Mary passes my lips.
*Behoove. Now there’s an Old English word for you. Mirriam Webster tells us: Middle English behoven, from Old English behōfian, from behōf. First Known Use: before 12th century. (Not that I’m a word geek or anything. Oh no.)
Julie Davis is an author, blogger, podcaster, and dear friend. Not only is she the prolific blogger at Happy Catholic, but she’ll get you drooling with the good stuff at Meanwhile, Back in the Kitchen. She keeps my ears happy with her Forgotten Classics podcast and I’m a big fan of A Good Story Is Hard to Find, too. Her book, Happy Catholic: Glimpses of God in Everyday Life, is a must-read.
image credit: MorgueFile