Blessed Virgin Was Filled with God's Grace
|1. In the account of the
Annunciation, the first word of the Angel's greeting,
"Rejoice", is an invitation to joy which
recalls the oracles of the Old Testament addressed to the
"daughter of Zion". We pointed this out in our
previous catecheses and also explained the reasons for
this invitation: God's presence among his people, the
coming of the messianic king and maternal fruitfulness.
These reasons are fulfilled in Mary.
The Angel Gabriel, addressing the Virgin of Nazareth after the greeting, chaire, "Rejoice", calls her kecharitomene, "full of grace". The words of the Greek text, chaire and kecharitomene, are deeply interconnected: Mary is invited to rejoice primarily because God loves her and has filled her with grace in view of her divine motherhood!
The Church's faith and the experience of the saints teach us that grace is a source of joy, and that true joy comes from God. In Mary, as in Christians, the divine gift produces deep joy.
2. Kecharitomene: this term addressed to Mary seems to be the proper way to describe the woman destined to become the mother of Jesus. Lumen gentium appropriately recalls this when it affirms: "The Virgin of Nazareth is hailed by the heralding angel, by divine command, as 'full of grace'" (Lumen gentium, n. 56).
The fact that the heavenly messenger addresses her in this way enhances the value of the angelic greeting: it is a manifestation of God's mysterious saving plan in Mary's regard. As I wrote in the Encyclical Redemptoris Mater: "'The fullness of grace' indicates all the supernatural munificence from which Mary benefits by being chosen and destined to be the Mother of Christ" (n 9).
God granted Mary the fullness of grace
"Full of grace" is the name Mary possesses in the eyes of God. Indeed, the angel, according to the Evangelist Luke's account, uses this expression even before he speaks the name "Mary", and thus emphasizes the predominant aspect which the Lord perceived in the Virgin of Nazareth's personality.
The expression "Full of grace" is the translation of the Greek word kecharitomene, which is a passive participle. Therefore to render more exactly the nuance of the Greek word one should not say merely "full of grace", but "made full of grace", or even "filled with grace", which would clearly indicate that this was a gift given by God to the Blessed Virgin. This term, in the form of a perfect participle, enhances the image of a perfect and lasting grace which implies fullness. The same verb, in the sense of "to bestow grace", is used in the Letter to the Ephesians to indicate the abundance of grace granted to us by the Father in his beloved Son (Eph 1:6), and which Mary receives as the first fruits of Redemption (cf. Redemptoris Mater, n. 10).
3. In the Virgin's case, God's action certainly seems surprising. Mary has no human claim to receiving the announcement of the Messiah's coming. She is not the high priest, official representative of the Hebrew religion, nor even a man, but a young woman without any influence in the society of her time. In addition, she is a native of Nazareth, a village which is never mentioned in the Old Testament. It must not have enjoyed a good reputation, as Nathanael's question, recorded in John's Gospel makes clear: "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" (Jn 1:46).
The extraordinary and gratuitous nature of God's intervention becomes even clearer in comparison with Luke's text which recounts what happened to Zechariah. The latter's priestly status is highlighted as well as his exemplary life which make him and his wife Elizabeth models of Old Testament righteousness: they walked "blameless in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord" (Lk 1:6)
But we are not informed of Mary's origins either: the expression "of the house of David" (Lk 1:27) in fact refers only to Joseph. No mention is made then of Mary's behaviour. With this literary choice, Luke stresses that everything in Mary derives from a sovereign grace. All that is granted to her is not due to any claim of merit, but only to God's free and gratuitous choice.
God's mercy reaches the highest degree in Mary
4. In so doing, the Evangelist does not of course intend to downplay the outstanding personal value of the Blessed Virgin. Rather, he wishes to present Mary as the pure fruit of God's goodwill: he has so taken possession of her as to make her, according to the title used by the Angel, "full of grace". The abundance of grace itself is the basis of Mary's hidden spiritual richness.
In the Old Testament, Yahweh expresses the superabundance of his love in many ways and on many occasions. At the dawn of the New Testament, the gratuitousness of God's mercy reaches the highest degree in Mary. In her, God's predilection, shown to the chosen people and in particular to the humble and the poor, reaches its culmination.
Nourished by the Word of the Lord and the experience of the saints, the Church urges believers to keep their gaze fixed on the Mother of the Redeemer and to consider themselves, like her, loved by God. She invites them to share Our Lady's humility and poverty, so that, after her example and through her intercession, they may persevere in the grace of God who sanctifies and transforms hearts.
"L'Osservatore Romano", English edition, May 15, 1996.