A Meditation as a Preparation for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the B.V.M.
December 8, 2016

by Fr. Thaddaeus Lancton, MIC

In the common version of the Hail Mary, we use the phrase "full of grace" to translate the Greek keichartomene. Unfortunately, this translation - which comes from St. Jerome's Vulgate Latin translation - portrays a rather static view of grace. Some commentators of the Bible prefer to use the words, "you who have been completely transformed by grace." The idea behind such a different translation is based on the following reasons: 1) the Angel Gabriel greets Mary (chaire) and bids her rejoice by that very greeting; 2) typically, we greet someone and then call them by name. If this analogy is drawn out in the scene of the Annunciation, then Mary's name - according to the angel is not her Hebrew Miriam - but rather keicharetomene, "the one completely transformed by grace."

This word is of key importance because it is the Scriptural evidence for Mary's Immaculate Conception. However, as Catholics, we often focus on the negative element of salvation and redemption: freedom from sin. In the Byzantine tradition, Mary is called "Panhagia" - the All Holy One. If Mary is freed from sin, this does not mean merely an emptiness. Rather, it signifies a fullness: full of grace, as we so often repeat. However, Mary is not merely filled with something but with someone: grace is the manifestation of the indwelling of the Trinity within the soul.

What does all this mean for us, who desire to honor her Immaculate Conception? Mary is for us the example of someone who has been "completely transformed by grace" - through her relationship with the living God. Notice that, when Gabriel appears to her, Mary is not afraid, as was Zechariah. Notice also that, whereas Zechariah is described as a righteous man, fulfilling the Law without blemish, Mary is described simply as a virgin from a town not mentioned in the Old Testament. Zechariah received the visit of Gabriel in the most venerable place of Judaism: in the Temple, offering incense before the curtain of the Holy of Holies. Mary is quite non-descript, if we were to depend only on Luke's description of her.

But this name of Mary - "transformed by grace" - says all that we need to know about her. In her ordinary, daily life - very ordinary, indeed, since we have no record of her life from the Bible - she constantly contemplated the Word of God. She was transformed day in and day out, in her ordinary life, by her relationship with the living God. Her "let it be done unto me" was not a heroic act that came from "nowhere." Rather, her response mirrors her daily life: countless times, in the ordinary, non-descript life, Mary said to the Father, "let it be done unto me."

This is what it means to be transformed by grace - a privilege that is extended not only to Mary but to each of us through Baptism and the Holy Spirit. We encounter the relationship with the living God in our ordinary lives, entering a relationship with Him always.

Being Immaculate meant that Mary never left this relationship with the living God. She did nothing "special" to gain God's favor. She rather received God's favor when it was given, for she knew that she had done nothing to merit such favor. Let us, too, then live in God's favor - bestowed upon us in Baptism through no merit of our own. Let us never leave this relationship with the living God, so that through all the ordinary events of life, we too may be made immaculate - we too may be "completely transformed by grace."

Indeed, let us say with Mary: "Let it be done to me according to your word."