This seems to be the situation when we come to the way in which we express our relationship with Our Lady through our prayers and our attempts to show hyperdulia - the unique veneration that we have for the Queen of Heaven. As I've said before, this is not worship.
It is quite well known that the Ave Maria is thoroughly rooted in Scripture.
Another famous prayer is the Salve Regina which we say after Compline during the summer and at the end of the Rosary. It is 12th Century in origin and therefore not a compulsory vehicle for doctrine, occurring as it does after the Great Schism.
However, let us take some time just to look at the words and see what this Marian hymn is saying.
Salve, Regina, Mater misericordiæ, vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra, salve. Ad te clamamus exsules filii Hevæ, Ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes in hac lacrimarum valle. Eia, ergo, advocata nostra, illos tuos misericordes oculos ad nos converte; Et Jesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui, nobis post hoc exsilium ostende. O clemens, O pia, O dulcis Virgo Maria.
Hail [Holy] Queen, Mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope, hail! To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve, to thee do we sigh, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears. Ah! turn, then, our [most gracious] advocate, thine eyes of [that] mercy unto us; and, after this exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O pious [loving], O sweet Virgin Mary.
The version we say today in English does embellish the original Latin and we need to ensure that our embellishments do not push us from hyperdulia to idolatry.
Let's be systematic:
Hail, Holy Queen, Mother of mercy: - If Our Lord is the King of Heaven, that necessarily makes Mary the Queen Mother. Is she holy? The Church Fathers are practically unanimous in saying that she was uniquely set apart for the birth of Our Lord and is therefore holy. Our Lord's Incarnation is an expression of God's perfect mercy on a sinful creature. To call Mary the mother of mercy is to bear witness to her son's mission on Earth.
Our life, our sweetness and our hope: - Notice that we're not saying that Mary is the cause of our life, sweetness and hope, but calling to mind the humanity that we share with her all as beings of a single nature. We call to mind that which God has given her to display. As a human being, she shares our life and lives now with God. We look to her to see how life with God can be sweet, despite the horrors of this world. We hope that we will follow her into heaven and receive that relationship that Our Lord promises for all who do the will of His father.
To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve: - Why aren't we crying to God? Why aren't we crying to Jesus? Of course we should! He will hear our prayers wherever we are and whether or not we are in a state of Grace. Sometimes though, God's holiness, Our Lord's majesty, just get the better of us. Perhaps St Peter expresses this well when he tells Jesus "Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord." We recognise that we, like Eve, have fallen and are sinful and know we are not worthy of the attention and love that God gives us because of sin. Sometimes it just seems that it is a struggle just to call upon God because of our sins in the blindness of our darkness. To cry to Mary is to call out to another human being who is in proximity to Jesus and, like blind Bartimaeus, be led to Our Lord by her hand, then we can address God directly. As I say, it is not necessary that anyone pray this prayer, but it would be good for some to do so.
To thee do we sigh, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears : - We remember that the sword pierced Our Lady's soul at the death of Our Lord. She knows pain and suffering and therefore stands in solidarity with us, just as all the other saints in Heaven do. We might feel we suffer alone, but we don't. At all times, we are surrounded by this cloud of witnesses, witnesses to God and witnesses of our lives. The saints willingly stand with us, and will propel us towards God. We are the Church. We are in this together, throughout time and into Eternity!
Turn, then, Most gracious advocate...: - The word "Most" is an addition to the text. Is Our Lady an advocate? The Latin advocare literally means "to call to" and has the sense of calling to someone on someone else's behalf. Thus, yes, Our Lady is indeed an advocate. She calls to her son on our behalf. Most gracious? Our Lady is full of grace - you can't get more gracious than that! Again, she is not the source of Grace, she is its vessel.
...thine eyes of mercy unto us : - The Latin is a little convoluted and embellishments have arisen here. Looking at it literally, it sort of reads "turn then those your mercies eyes". We see that the words are entwined somewhat inextricably - a device that is very potent in Latin and Greek. We could say "turn, then, your eyes; turn, then, those mercies" but we lose that intertwining, that association. What do we desire? We want Our Lady to look upon us and, in so doing, extend to us the mercies that come with her, through her, but not from her. Our Lady is mother of mercy, and she sat God's Mercy upon her knee.
and, after this exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus :- This largely sums up what we have just said. We are, like Israel was, in exile in Babylon. Our destiny is with Christ. Using Our Lady as a signpost, we will find Him very near.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary. : - Again, we call upon someone who shows the virtues to which we aspire. We cannot be pious without being loving. We need to be clement, not allowing the storms of this World to distract us from God so that people see in us the Holy Harbour in times of distress. We need to be sweet, so that people can taste and see how gracious the Lord is.
We do notice than in praying the Salve Regina even with its embellishments, we are not claiming that she is the source of any virtue, but that she embodies them in her single nature. We can embody virtues, too, only by being part of the Church and seeking the kingdom of God first. When we pray to Our Lady, we pray as we would ask another human being for their prayers, their solidarity, and their moral support. She will help us come to her son, because she is never far from Him.
This is a prayer of the Church within the Church for the Church to meet her bridegroom. It is not idolatry for we are always looking to the One who is beyond the Church, yet always so close.