Blog Post

Ave Maris Stella: A Hymn to Our Lady, Star of the Sea

by Theresa Cavicchio

As the summer weeks wind down, many of us delight in contemplating times spent by the sea – in reality, or only in our imaginations.

The “Ave Maris Stella” is a beautiful ancient prayer, originally written in Latin, used during Vespers in Liturgy of the Hours, Gregorian chant, or with musical accompaniment. Dating as far back as the 8th century, it is one of the prayers prescribed by Saint Louis de Montfort for Preparation for Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary. We turn to it now with brief reflections following each stanza.

Ave Maris Stella

Hail, bright star of ocean, God’s own Mother blest, Ever sinless Virgin, Gate of heavenly rest.

The title evokes lovely visions of Our Lady shining over the vast expanse of sea. The sinless and beautiful Star, God’s Mother, blest among all creatures, is our Mother too – a thought at once amazing and humbling. Perpetually virginal, she is a model of all that is holy and pure. The last line comforts us: she is the gate waiting when the time comes for us to enter our “heavenly rest.”

Taking that sweet Ave Which from Gabriel came, Peace confirm within us, Changing Eva’s name.

At the Angel Gabriel’s greeting (Lk 1:28), the “sweet Ave,” Mary had cause to be perplexed and frightened, despite his reassurances. When did Our Lady first experience that elusive peace we beg to have confirmed within us? Perhaps it settled like a balm over her soul at that heavenly encounter. As for “changing Eva’s name,” Mary is the new Eve, undoing and rectifying the harm to all humanity through the folly of that first, flawed mother. Peace resides ever with Our Lady.

Break the captives’ fetters, Light on blindness pour, All our ills expelling, Every bliss implore.

The captives’ fetters are our sins, poor choices keeping us bound by habit, laziness, ingratitude, pride. Our Lady will speed our release if we turn to her. The same applies to blindness, especially blindness to our own faults. Mary can shed the light of holy insight to help us see how to rectify our wrongs. “All our ills expelling” speaks of the trust we must have in Our Lady’s power to conquer evil, whatever the source. The final line begs her intercessions on our behalf, until we achieve “every bliss.” We do well to remember that Our Lady works out of love, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to Whom she is eternally united.

Show thyself a Mother; May the Word Divine, Born for us thy Infant, Hear our prayer through thine.

God’s Son was fashioned within Mary’s womb and born into the poverty of her circumstances. He gave her His first smile, delighting her heart. The Word Himself called her Mother, ate the food she prepared, wore the clothing she sewed, learned of the Father’s love at her knee. We ask Our Lady to manifest herself to us now in her maternal role, one which lives on through eternity by virtue of Jesus’ words from the Cross (Jn 19:26 – 27). We ask the Word made flesh (Jn 1:14) to attend to our prayers through the intercession of His Mother, who deigns to respond with the love of a Mother who can’t do enough for her children – even when they stray.

Virgin all excelling, Mildest of the mild, Freed from guilt, preserve us, Pure and undefiled.

We are reminded of Our Lady’s virginity and also of her unique status as the most perfect of all God’s creatures – supremely fitting for the one who brought the Son of God into the world. Mary’s mildness flowed from that pure heart and gentle nature with which she was gifted by God – untouched by any of the multitude of failings which plague human beings. The final lines call to mind this freedom from guilt and ask Our Lady to support us in our efforts to conquer sin. To be as “pure and undefiled” as Mary is an admirable goal toward which we must continue to strive.

Keep our life all spotless, Make our way secure, Till we find in Jesus Joy forevermore.

If only all human beings worked daily at such a lofty goal as a “life all spotless,” our way really would be secure. Even if we did fail at times, we would pick ourselves up quickly and get right back onto the only true “way.” It is Jesus to whom Our Lady desires to usher us, to speed us on toward Him. We long for the security of believing that “joy forevermore” will be our true inheritance, yet we know there is tough spiritual work to be done to achieve that end.

Through the highest heaven To the Almighty Three, Father, Son and Spirit, One same Glory be. Amen.

Heaven is the intended destination not only of our prayers but of our very souls, the souls placed within us by God in His good time. The term “Almighty Three” reminds us that only God is God, and He can do all things. The Father created us, Jesus redeemed us, and the Holy Spirit inspires us. As the prayer’s ending states, one and the same glory is for all Three. And finally, Amen: I agree; I believe; yes, it is so.

This prayer flies from our hearts to the heart of Our Lady, Star of the Sea, with full confidence that she will guide us safely to our one true destination.

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