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Hail Mary, Full of Grace
As we approach the feast of the Annunciation, the words used by the Angel Gabriel to greet Mary, "Hail, full of grace", is an accurate but perhaps plain translation of the words spoken originally in Aramaic, the common language of Galileans 2,000 years ago. Others have interpreted the last phrase as, "O Gracious One", "Beloved of God" , Chaire (Greek meaning rejoice) "O Favoured One", and "Shalom, O Beautiful One" (Hebrew).
The name Mary, a name first heard as the name of Moses' sister Miriam, was also a common name for women during the late centuries before the nativity of Jesus Christ. Apart from His mother, among the women who supported Jesus in his public ministry, we have Mary Magdalene (literally, of Magdala, a town on the Sea of Galilee), and Mary, the wife of Cleophas.
While the origin of the name is uncertain, some have understood it to mean "beautiful lady". And there is also an inference to "Highness."
In the name alone there is much said and which implies the greatness which was later professed in the prophetic words of the Magnificat, "All generations will call me blessed" (Lk 1:48).
The expression "beautiful lady" reminds us of the words of seers who profess to have had visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and without exception all have been speechless at her great beauty.
These words were spoken by the seers of Fatima and Medjugorje, as well as by St Bernadette Soubirous and the children of Garabandal as they attempted to describe the beauty of the Blessed Virgin using words of an earthly language to describe someone from a heavenly reality.
Perhaps the words of the former Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, expressed in his Daughter of Zion speak something exquisite about Mary's name:
"The figure of the woman, until then seen only typologically in Israel although provisionally personified by the great women of Israel, also emerges with a name: Mary.
"She emerges as the personal epitome of the feminine principle in such a way that the principle is true only in the person, but the person as an individual always points beyond herself to the all-embracing reality, which she bears and represents."
Even the inference in her name to "highness" has its type or shadow in Old Testament words, "Then Bathsheba came to King Solomon, to speak to him ... and the king arose to meet her, and bowed to her, and sat down upon his throne: and a throne was set for the king's mother, and she sat on his right hand" (1 Kings 2:19).
Highness and honour were accorded to the mother of the King. In her name and salutation all heavenly praise for this woman of grace are embedded.
"Full of grace" ( kecharitomene in Greek) or even "enriched with grace," the Angel says of her (Lk 1:28), an expression never used before this time. Nowhere in Old Testament Scripture is "full of grace" addressed to another human being.
It's an interesting thought that the Angel begins the dialogue with Mary by addressing her as " Hail, full of grace" a new name which has its precedent in Old Testament name changes (Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah).
We see that when God wanted to do something special, something new, he enacts a name change to fit the mission. Later, Jesus changed the name of Simon to Cephas, the Greek word for rock, which in Latin became Petrus (Peter). So the Angel began by announcing her change of name from what it is, "Miriam," to that which will describe her mission, "Full of grace, God bearer, Theotokos" (CCC 495).
"The Lord is with thee": thus Mary is grace-filled because of the infilling and overshadowing by the Holy Spirit. Full of Grace is also the language of tabernacling. The Lord came and again tabernacled with His people; a new unspoiled tabernacle was found for Him.
The honour given to a woman's most honourable body organ is her womb because from this is formed life and so "blessed is the fruit of your womb".
Mary's cousin Elizabeth continued and affirmed her new appellation "Full of Grace" and status, saying, "Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb" (Lk 1:42).
This redemptive and holiest maternity would begin the journey towards the new covenant and redemption, promised eons earlier. The time had now come for that redemptive work to begin and it had to begin with one who is "full of grace".
Elizabeth, inspired by the Holy Spirit, understood that the child in Mary's womb was not conceived by human means or is even to be a Messiah of human understanding, but is "the Lord" Himself residing in Mary's holy womb.
Perhaps this could be seen as the first instance where Mary was proclaimed as "Mother of God." The Council of Ephesus (431) declared this fact to be a reality and a belief of the Church.
However, it was not until the 16th century that the words "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death", were added to the Angelic salutation and Elizabeth's salutation and exclamation of joy.
"Holy Mary, Mother of God" expresses her truly having borne and given birth to the "Word" of God, Jesus, the Father's Son, and consubstantial with the Father.
He, by whom the universe came into being, rested peacefully in her Holy womb, as a human child, and took from her her human flesh while he Himself carrying His divine soul and nature, thus according Him true God and true man state and according Mary the appellations "Mother of God" and "Full of grace."
Pray for us now during the journey in this lifetime but especially as we make the final walk towards the Father's house, at the hour of our death, be with us and finally present us to the Father and His and your Son, Jesus.
Reprinted from AD2000 Vol 28 No 2 (March 2015), p. 20
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