“Woman! above all women glorified, 
Our tainted nature’s solitary boast..”

– ‘The Virgin’ (William Wordsworth)  

The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary was a singular grace and privilege granted to Her by God in anticipation of the merits of the Divine Son She was to bear. And so, from the very first instant of Her existence in the womb of Saint Anne, the Blessed Virgin was preserved free of Original Sin, and at no moment of Her earthly life did She ever commit an actual sin. 

And because of all this, the Angel Gabriel could rightly and accurately call Her, at the moment of the Annunciation, “full of grace”.

The original Greek word used by Saint Luke is kecharitōmenē – and although we translate it as “full of grace”, it actually means much more than this; it expresses the idea that Mary is ‘filled to the utmost’ with divine grace, that the plenitude of divine grace is within Her. And it transcends the mere present, for the word conveys the idea that this being ‘full of grace’ was always intended and always so, and will always be so. 

Note, too, that Gabriel addresses Mary in this way before She has consented to the Incarnation – this word is saying something about the very person of Mary. 

Further, Gabriel uses the salutation almost as though it is the very name of Mary – he uses it in place of that proper name. Clearly, then, there is something absolutely exceptional about this Woman, whose place in the plan of God for humanity is unlike that of any other creature.

There is one other thing to notice here; the word kecharitōmenē is used nowhere else in Scripture, only in this single line from the Gospel of Saint Luke. Interestingly, it is not found elsewhere in the general language of Greek at that time – it is as though Luke created the term expressly for the Virgin, so that the description itself copies the thing described, in being utterly unique.

This Angelic salutation of Gabriel to Mary reveres Her very person; and in doing so, it places Her outwith the normal sphere of things. This expression is used for no-one else; there is no other like Mary. She is entirely unique.

The Angel Gabriel salutes Mary as “full of grace”

Addressing this role granted to Her by the Almighty, Mary can say with both humility and piercing accuracy –

“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and My spirit exults in God, My Saviour; because He has looked upon the lowliness of His handmaiden. Yes, from this day forward, all generations shall call Me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for Me” (cf. Lk 1:46-49)

And in this sense, Mary is set apart – in absolute holiness – from all that is going on around Her in the world and Her destiny is to be unlike that of any other created being, for She is to be the Mother of God.

In his short poem ‘The Virgin’, written in 1822, William Wordsworth places these two lines –

“Woman! above all women glorified,
Our tainted nature’s solitary boast..”

Mary is, like all of us, a being created by the Lord – but also a being unlike any other, a Woman set apart. This does not make Her any less human – on the contrary, it makes Her the perfect human. She is the sole human being who was created perfect and who remained perfect throughout – unlike Adam and Eve, who were created perfect but who lost their perfection through the commission of the Original Sin.

For all of us, Mary is a very powerful intercessor before Her Son. Everything She has comes from Him; everything She does leads to Him. There is no ‘competition’ between Mother and Son; She says to us today exactly what She said to the servants at Cana – 

“Do whatever He tells you.” (cf. Jn.2:5)

Mary is the heavenly compass and She points us unceasingly and unerringly toward Her Son. She is the sure path – but the Lord is the final destination to which that path leads us.

Mary does not lead us away from the Lord – She takes us straight to Him in the surest and most perfect way. If this is not the case, then so many of the Saints have gotten it wrong over the centuries. The reality, of course, is that they attained genuine sanctity not in spite of the Blessed Virgin, but because of Her. Because of the sublimity of Her human perfection, Mary is the best role model with the sole exception of Her Son.

Remember – while the Lord is fully divine, He is fully human also; and His humanity comes from one person – His Mother. Throughout those early years of His life on earth, it was She who taught Him everything. If She was worthy of being His teacher on earth, then She is certainly worthy of being ours.

Remember, too, that if Mary is truly filled with every possible grace in their plenitude, then those graces are Hers to dispose of as She chooses – She is truly Mediatrix of every grace. There is a visual representation of this truth on the front of the Miraculous Medal, where these graces are depicted as streams of light emanating from the jewels on Her hands. She does not create these graces – God alone does that – but He has entrusted them to Her for their disposal. 

It is interesting to recall something revealed to Saint Catherine Labouré in the course of the Medal visions – she was told that the reason why some of the jewels gave off no light was because these were the graces people forgot to ask for. This implies clearly that every divine grace is there for the asking, if only we would do so.

For Catholics, we express this belief in the very powerful and unique role of Mary every time we ask Her intercession –

“Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with Thee..”

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