Question: "What is the Hail Mary that Catholics say so often?"
Answer: The “Hail Mary,” Ave Maria in Latin, is a Roman Catholic prayer to the Virgin Mary that consists of salutations and a plea for her intercession. Also, the term "Hail Mary pass" was used by the press to describe a pass by Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach in a 1975 divisional playoff game and has come to be synonymous in football with a long pass that has little chance of success. The text of the Hail Mary prayer incorporates two Bible passages: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee" (Luke 1:28) and “Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb" (Luke 1:42). The first passage is the angel Gabriel’s greeting to Mary when he came to inform her that she had been chosen to bear the Messiah. The second is her cousin Elizabeth’s greeting to Mary when Mary came to visit her cousin, who was also pregnant at the time with John the Baptist. The third part of the Hail Mary prayer is not from the Bible and is, in fact, in direct contradiction to Scriptural truth: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”
This last part of the Hail Mary prayer has three unbiblical parts to it. First, Mary is not and never was “holy.” Mary was a human being who was born, as all humans are, with a sin nature and who recognized that she needed a Savior. In fact, the very passage used in the Hail Mary, known as Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), contains the declaration “my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,” a clear indication that she understood her need for a Savior from sin. The Bible never says that Mary was anyone but an ordinary human whom God chose to use in an extraordinary way. Yes, Mary was a righteous woman and favored (graced) by God (Luke 1:27-28). At the same time, Mary was a sinful human being who needed Jesus Christ as her Savior, just like everyone else (Ecclesiastes 7:20; Romans 3:23; 6:23; 1 John 1:8).
The second unbiblical part of the Hail Mary is addressing Mary as the “Mother of God.” Mary was the human mother of the human Jesus Christ, who was indeed God incarnate. But she was not the mother of God, neither is she the ”queen of heaven,” another title given to her by the Catholic Church which has no basis in Scripture. God doesn’t have a mother, nor does He have a queen. He is an eternal, infinite Being, uncreated and unborn, self-sufficient and self-sustaining.
The third unbiblical statement in the Hail Mary is the plea for her to “pray for us sinners.” Here we see the unbiblical practice of praying to Mary to intercede with God for us. First, we do not need another intercessor with God. Christ is the only intercessor we need. Through Jesus and Him alone, we have direct access to the Father. Christ alone mediates and intercedes between God and man. “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). Prayer to anyone other than God alone is anti-biblical. Praying to Mary or petitioning her to pray for us is against the Scriptures. Prayer is an act of worship. When we pray to God, we are admitting that we need His help. Directing our prayers to anyone other than God is robbing God of the glory that is His alone, something God hates and will not tolerate (Isaiah 42:8).
While Mary was certainly a godly young woman greatly blessed in that she was chosen to bear the Savior of the world, she was not in any way divine, nor was she sinless, nor is she to be worshipped, revered, venerated, or prayed to.