Question: I was wondering if you could demonstrate how exactly to pray the “Hail Mary” prayer with the natural rhythm of our breath. The prayer seems too long to pray with a single breath, unlike the Jesus prayer, which is quite short. I’ve been trying to do it by breaking it up into three breaths, but sometimes it’s distracting because I lose my place as to which word in the hail Mary I’m inhaling and exhaling.

Anyway, I was just wondering if you could demonstrate exactly how to distribute our breath with all of the words in the hail Mary prayer without hyperventilating! Thank you so much!

Answer: Thank you for your question.

It is true that when I explain the practice of the Prayer of the Heart, I do mention the Hail Mary as an option for a prayer to be repeated gently, after having offered ourselves.

Traditionally, in the Eastern Churches, the prayer is: “Lord Jesus Christ Son of God / have mercy on me a sinner.” One can go even a shorter version, using Jesus’ Name which is equivalent to saying: God save me/us. It is a prayer of fire – if we understand the real meaning of the Lord’s name.

For the choice of prayer, I do advise using the name of the Lord and/or the name of Our Lady. (see this article on Why Mary in the Prayer of the Heart?) (To have an utterly deep understanding please see also this article: Mary’s Fiery Love) One can immediately notice that in the Hail Mary, Mary’s name is mentioned twice and the Lord’s name is mentioned once. Nothing is more powerful, especially if we understand the inner meaning, mechanism and power of the Hail Mary.

It is true that I do rather briefly mention the issue of linking our breathing with the Hail Mary, to support our Prayer of the Heart. I do say that one can split it in two, breathing in and breathing out. But I appreciate that it is not clear enough and that each person is different, and equally that it can be truly challenging.

In order to answer this question, I would like to mention these important points be kept in mind:

1- It helps to hold the rosary in our hand while praying the Hail Mary’s (see this article). Just saying the rosary normally: Our Father, 10 Hail Mary’s, Glory be …. See this article.

One holds one’s Rosary. It is advisable, as far as possible, to hold onto your rosary, although this is not mandatory. In fact, remember that Our Lady asked St. Bernadette one day: “Where is your Rosary.?”

2- Consider each bead as an act of love coming out of your heart toward Jesus. Or a “sigh of love”. An “ineffable uttering” from you. “An arrow” that comes from your heart to His. Prayer is “desire” of God, “desire of His Mercy/Love”. Prayer is an “aspiration” toward God.

3- It is important to be breathing normally, naturally. Not forcing anything. Why? Because our breath is not the act of Love but carries it, keeps it alive, if you see what I mean.

4- The act of love is the movement of the Prayer of the Heart: Giving yourself to Him entrusting yourself like a little child to/in Her Hands.

5- Providing 2, 3 and 4 are understood and implemented, you have the core of the matter. We are not talking yet about the breathing. For now, the act of entrustment is independent from the Prayer one is saying. It is made and successfully made. The breathing issue is adjusted after having secured 2, 3 and 4.

6- Now to your question: how can we harmonise the recitation of the Hail Mary with the actual fact that we are entrusted to Him, that we are immersed in Him? The answer is simple: we would like to stay in Mary, because connection or union is realised perfectly in Mary. The Holy Spirit works perfectly in Her. Consequently it is better to entrust ourselves to His work in Her and not through us. This is why we have recourse to His Power in Her.

In practice there is a choice: you can split the silent, mental, recitation of the Hail Mary the way it suits you, i.e. to the way you synchronise your breathing with your recitation. Try to keep your breathing natural (it is not the breathing which makes the decisive difference). Just make the recitation gentle, as an act of love. If you have to split the Hail Mary into more parts in order to feel at ease, this is fine, please do it. What matters is to say it, according to your personal rhythm of breathing.

7- The reason why tradition recommends repeating a short prayer during the time dedicated to the Prayer of the Heart is to keep the Fire of God in us alive, to nourish it with small pieces of wood. Stronger pieces of wood, i.e. big logs, wanting to force this by will-power essentially, is counterproductive – like throwing a big log on a small fire, it can easily extinguish the fire. This is why our focus here is essentially on loving rather than on breathing/Hail Mary. This aspect is rarely mentioned by the great spiritual masters of the Eastern Churches (see Jesus’ Prayer in the Philocalia and the Russian Pilgrim).

8- By “saying the Rosary”, I don’t mean you have to include the Creed and the three Hail Mary’s that follow. One can say the “Glory Be…” after each decade. No need to say added prayers – make it simple. The goal is not to draw attention to a meditative form of prayer by activating the mind but rather to be open to a more receptive way, by just loving, from the heart and with deep desire.

As you can see, what is at stake is rather 2, 3 and 4, not the way we split the Hail Mary. And our Act of Entrustment or Oblation is what is decisive and realises the immersion. Breathing and the Hail Mary are here to help maintain the Act of Love, or better, to repeat it.

If, later, your rhythm of synchronisation changes, follow it and adapt to the new changes. It should not feel as a forced effort.

The priority goes to 2, 3 and 4.

I hope this helps.

Articles on the Prayer of the Heart:

Our Place in God, our Place in Mary

The Weak vs. The Strong Mediation of Mary

Why And How Mary In The Prayer Of The Heart

Two Ways To Say The Rosary

Holding Your Rosary During The Prayer Of The Heart

Mary’s Fiery Prayer (most powerful teaching)

Symeon the New Theologian: The Three Ways of Attention and Prayer

Bringing the Mind to the Heart