The Evangelist Luke makes it clear that Mary’s being ‘full of grace’
is not due to any human merit but is wholly the result of God’s
"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", the Holy Father said at the General
Audience of Wednesday, 8 May, as he examined the meaning of the title
"full of grace" that Mary was given by the angel at the
Annunciation. Here is a translation of his catechesis, which was the
19th in the series on the Blessed Virgin and was given in Italian.
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 kecharitoméne,
"full of grace". The words of the Greek text, chaire and
kecharitoméne, 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. kecharitoméne: 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 kecharitoméne, 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?"
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.