Is ‘Ave Maria’ really a Christmas song?

If you’re like me, then you love the Christmas time of year for many reasons. I especially love Christmas decorations, meals, and music. It’s marvelous to hear “Joy to the world, the Lord has come… Let earth receive her king!” being announced as a proclamation everywhere, even if most listeners don’t notice the strong Messianic themes of such a song.

However, not all Christmas songs are so glorious. Some are just silly, like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer or Frosty the Snowman (both of which I like to sing with my youngest son), and yet others are insidious. Now, I don’t mean to be an alarmist, nor do I intend to nit-pick all theologically inaccurate Christmas music, but I want to toss out a friendly reminder that Christians ought to be choosy about what they embrace as Christ-honoring carols.

Listen to whatever music you like, and enjoy the jingling bells of Christmas, but don’t assume that every Christmas song is a tribute to the Christ, who ought to be the central focus of Christmas.

Take ‘Ave Maria,’ for example. I’m not sure how it ever became a Christmas song, since it doesn’t focus on Jesus or His birth (or incarnation). It only mentions “Jesus” as the “fruit” of Mary’s “womb” in passing, which basically amounts to a vague acknowledgement, not a joyful and profound announcement. Nevertheless, it has a beautiful musical arrangement. Who isn’t amazed by the range and pitch of this incredible music? I am especially impressed with Andrea Bocelli’s rendition… What a voice!

But, Christians should be interested in the content (the lyrics and substance) of any song to which they give their ears. Christianity is a religion of content, substance, and truth. Christianity rises or falls on the basis of historical and theological propositions.

Christians believe that Jesus really was born of a virgin named Mary, that this God-man lived to die, and that Jesus conquered death forevermore for all those who would believe and follow Him. Christians believe (as the Scriptures teach) that Jesus is the one and only mediator between God and sinful people, and Christians seek grace from God through Christ alone for forgiveness, life, and salvation.

However, the song Ave Maria speaks of a different mediator and hope-giver in the hour of one’s death. See the lyrics below, the Latin on the left and English on the right.

Ave Maria

Gratia plena

Maria, gratia plena

Maria, gratia plena

Ave, ave dominus

Dominus tecum

Benedicta tu in mulieribus

Et benedictus

Et benedictus fructus ventris         

Ventris tuae, Jesus

Ave Maria

Ave Maria

Mater Dei

Ora pro nobis peccatoribus

Ora pro nobis, Ora, ora pro nobis peccatoribus

Nunc et in hora mortis

Et in hora mortis nostrae

Et in hora mortis nostrae

Et in hora mortis nostrae

Ave Maria

Hail, Mary

Full of grace.

Mary full of grace

Mary full of grace

Blessed are you among women

Hail, hail, the Lord

The Lord is with you

And blessed

And blessed is the fruit of your womb

Your womb, Jesus

Hail, Mary

Hail, Mary

Mother of God

Pray for us sinners

Pray for us, pray, pray for us sinners

Now and at the hour of death

And at the hour of death

And at the hour of death

And at the hour of death

Hail, Mary

This song of prayer and admiration for Mary is a mixture of Scriptural truth (blessings upon Mary and her role in giving birth to Jesus) and terrible falsehood (Mary as one’s intercessor and hope in the hour of death).

Mary cannot save or rescue anyone. She can’t even intercede for you. We can know she can’t do these for you because she can’t do them for herself.

Mary, like all other decendants of Adam (our first human parent), is a guilty sinner before God. Apart from the person and work of Christ on her behalf, Mary would be hopeless and helpless.

Don’t sing to Mary. Don’t pray to Mary. And certainly, don’t place your hope for grace in Mary.

If you are a sinner in need of grace (like me), then the Christmas story has much hope to offer you. God has sent Jesus Christ into the world to live and die and conquer death for guilty sinners.

This message of the gospel is what Christmas is all about, and I recommend that you give every moment you are able to the investigation of the singularly spectacular hero of Christmas – Jesus Christ.

Marc Minter is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Diana, TX. He and his wife, Cassie, have two sons, Micah and Malachi.

Connect with Marc on Twitter or Facebook.

Author: marcminter

Marc Minter is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Diana, TX. He and his wife, Cassie, have two sons, Micah and Malachi.

11 thoughts on “Is ‘Ave Maria’ really a Christmas song?”

  1. I respect your post, but I must disagree. I do not think this song is asking Mary to intercede or rescue anyone; it’s simply a plea for her prayer. I might ask you to pray for me too, but that in now way would deify you nor have any expectation of special intercession because the prayer comes from you rather than any other. As such, I feel this is not an inappropriate song to sing to celebrate His birthday! 🙂

    1. Bob, thanks for the reply… and for the respectful disagreement.

      I wonder, however, why you’d think it appropriate to “plea” for Mary to “pray” for you. Where would you ever get such an idea from Scripture?

      Also, doesn’t the idea that you’d need/want Mary’s prayer at least imply that Mary is a sort of mediator or intermediary between you and Christ?

      Furthermore, why in the world would a person pray to Mary for Mary’s prayer in their final moments of life… as they are about to meet their Maker?

      Anyway, these are just some of my questions for someone who thinks the song is an appropriate one. Thanks again for the interaction.

      1. So you have trouble with Scripture? The first part of that comes straight from the Gospel of Luke.

    2. Mary is the mother of Jesus and ascended heaven what is so wrong with Ave Maria at Christmas. If you don’ t like the song don” t listen to it.

  2. Ave Maria is a song that has been played at family funerals. An Italian
    Catholic staple. Dr. Google says that Shubert wrote the music. William Scott wrote the poem. Lady by the Lake. Then the Catholic church made a Hymn of it, beautiful it is.

    1. James, if what you’re saying is true… that Ava Maria is a regular funeral song for many… then my criticism of the song is all the more pertinent. I agree with you that the song is beautiful, but the lyrics are tragic. To sing such a song at a funeral is to display an utterly impotent even if heartfelt cry.

      Anyone who calls out to Mary for salvation or rescue will be sorely disappointed. Only Jesus, who Himself conquered death, can give sinners like us hope in the face of that universal and impartial enemy.

      1. The fact is, Ave Maria, is a song for many occasions, especially major ones such as Christmas, certain feast days, funeral, etc.

        How can the lyric be interpreted as sad when it may lead us to Heaven (for funeral per se)? It’s a prayer to ask for God’s mercy, as an example, and not to mourn the dead person.

        Yes, Jesus is the only one to “pray to”. And no one calls Mary (or anyone) for salvation, but for intercession. There are plenty of verses in the Bible that supports praying to others (regardless in Heaven of on earth). One example is: “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects” (James 5:16-17).

        Lastly, not considering Ave Maria as a Christmas song is basically acknowledging someone’s birth but totally ignoring the mother’s labour and pregnancy period, pain, etc.

      2. Did you even read the article, Jason? Or only the first few paragraphs?

        You’ve not addressed any of the points I raised, nor have you coherently argued any point on your end.

        I’ll approve your comment, but I think any further comments from you should stick with the topic at hand.

        Thanks for clicking on my article (even if you didn’t apparently read much of it).

  3. So glad I researched this. I was considering playing it on my flute sometime early in the year and wondered if it was only for Christmas. In a way your thoughts are a spoiler for me. Also enlightening. Now that I know the lyrics I see it your way. As a Christian I now hesitate to play it at all. I’ll pull something else out of my repertoire. Thank you and God bless.

  4. Praying for one is different from praying to someone. Only Jesus can save, only God the Father thru the name of Jesus is worthy of prayer as that is the only to get a prayer answered. To pray to someone else is idolatry. We can make an idol out of many things, I for one, don’t want to be guilty of such.

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