Reading Time: 11 minutes
By Noah Wollersheim, Christendom College
“And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.” This message of God given to Mary is packed with rich details and insights into the life of the one who is called “full of grace.” This title given to Mary is also a name which is key to not only understanding Mary as Mother of God, but also Mary as New Eve as well as Co-Redemptrix. The translation of chaire, kecharitomene as “full of grace” is essential to understanding Mary and her mission as Divine Mother. Mary is full of grace meaning that not only is she perfect, but her new name encapsulates a mission. God adorned her and made perfect to be a dwelling place for the Lord. This motherhood of Mary is key to her mission and all of her graces are connected to it. Her grace of the Immaculate Conception, her grace of the assumption, and her grace as Co-Redemptrix is all intertwined within her Divine Motherhood. As is key to note, however, the part of Mary’s mission as Co-Redemptrix must be understood “to mark the subordinate, dependent, and participatory character of her involvement” with that of Christ. This shows that in understanding the mission of Mary, we are called to understand it with Christ as the center. Although some argue for other translations of the Greek chaire, kecharitomene as seen in Luke 1:28, the Latin vulgate rightly translates the original Greek of the angelic greeting to Mary when it uses the Latin: “Ave, Gratia Plena” calling Mary “full of Grace,” which illustrates that not only was she immaculately conceived, thus perfect, but also she had a mission as Co-Redemptrix which is intertwined within her mission as Divine Mother.
The Latin Vulgate correctly translate the original Greek as “Hail, full of grace,” but this title and name is not the only possible translation The Dominican, Aidan Nichols, in his book There is No Rose, points out that throughout the Old Testament, such as Zechariah 3:15, and seen as well in ancient hymns, such as The Akathistos Hymn, that the word chaire is translated as rejoice. He explains that this verb is used “for salvationally relevant rejoicing,” which the annunciation, in fact, is. The translation of chaire as rejoice, however, was a “commonplace enough greeting” and was pushed by the “Greek-speaking Alexandrian Jews” especially in the Septuagint, and thus in the Greek it takes upon the connotation of rejoicing. Kecharitomene, the word translated as “full of grace,” belongs to a family of verbs which expresses a “causal action”. Nichols explains that the best translation which flows most literally is “you who have already been transformed by grace.” This also points to the Immaculate Conception showing that she already has been transformed by grace even before her fiat. St. Lawrence Brindisi, Doctor of the Apostolic Faith, also harkens on Mary as “full of grace”: “this remarkable angel, God’s messenger and groomsman, comes to the Virgin to greet and praise her: Hail, full of grace.” In this, St. Lawrence not only confirms that Mary is praised, and thus is rightly and worthily done so because God is truth, but he also uses the translation of the Vulgate: Hail, full of grace. He continues to illustrate the cultural precedence of what the angel said to Mary. He explains how the saying “hail, full of grace” is not simply as greeting as was customary of the time, especially a greeting of peace, but actually confirmed the presence of God within Mary. Hence, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you.” The Lord is with Mary in the most perfect way possible because she is “full of grace.”
Maximus the Confessor highlights another possible translation. In his book, The Life of the Virgin, he uses the translation “Rejoice, favored one!” instead of “Hail, full of grace.” Although this may be Shoemaker’s translation, this expounds upon the Septuagint translation as seen above. St. Maximus uses this translation to highlight key insights that can be brought out of this passage. Namely, the rejoicing is a result of “the new grace that now has been given to human understanding, and “favored one” because of the Virgin’s wealth of virtue and the grace that had come upon her.” One ought to reverence Mary and give praise to God for this abundance of grace given to Mary. St. John Paul II also beautifully illustrates the importance of this greeting declaring that this is more than just a praise, it is a name: “For the messenger greets Mary as ‘full of grace’; he calls her thus as if it were her real name. He does not call her by her proper earthly name: Miryam (= Mary), but by this new name: ‘full of grace’.” Ultimately, he explains how Mary’s fiat is interwoven with her Divine Motherhood. She was giving this grace for the purpose of her role as Divine Mother, and later, her role at Calvary.
Both the ante-Chalcedon and post-Chalcedon Church Fathers beautifully articulate the praises of Mary and truly show why she is “full of grace” and worthy to be called so. St. Augustine, a Latin Father, states: “for whence do we know what greater grace or complete triumph over sin may have been given to her who merited to conceive and bear him who certainly was without sin,” Here St. Augustine, intertwines Mary’s perfection with her Divine Motherhood, a theme consistent throughout the Church. Just prior he exclaims: “When it comes to sin, I want no further questioning regarding the holy Virgin Mary because of the Lord’s honor.” Ultimately, St. Augustine shows that because of her role as Mother of the Lord, she is, as he seems to indicate, is sinless. St. Irenaeus, an ante-Chalcedon Church Father, also illustrates the sanctity of the Mother of God. M.C. Steenberg in his article The Role of Mary as Co-Recapitulator in St. Irenaeus of Lyons, summarizes Irenaeus stating that “while Mary’s transition to motherhood was in perfect accord with the divine will, to such a degree that not even her virginity was lost. Eve was convinced, through her own lack of faith and the lie of the serpent, to disobey the charge of God, while Mary’s faith in the word of the angel led her to obey God’s command.” This understanding of Mary that Irenaeus fleshes out shows that He not only holds Mary in high regard, but also sees her obedience as perfect. Manuel Miguens elaborates on this role of Mary’s obedience and motherhood and explains that just as Old Testament prophets were called to be a servant of salvation, so to Mary is also a “Servant of the Lord”, an instrument of salvation: “They [Old Testament figures] were called to become true and living instruments of salvation actually utilized by God in the implementation of his saving plan.” Thus, as a result of Mary being “full of grace” she becomes not only Mother, but also servant of the Lord in the economy of salvation.
A “group of writers” emerged on the scene in the seventh century called the Philotheotokoi. This word meaning, “lovers of the God-bearer”, is attributed to post-Chalcedon Church fathers such as Sophronius of Jerusalem, Andrew of Crete, Germanus of Constantinople, and John Damascene. As Nichols notes, “in their praise of Mary” they discussed her “pre-moral or, if you prefer, a supra-moral holiness which finds expression in moral perfection but also preexists it.” These fathers of the Church truly honored Mary and saw her purity and holiness. Andrew of Crete explicates regarding her “advance purification” that “[Mary] recovers in her person its [humans nature’s] ancient privilege, and is fashioned according to a perfect model, truly worthy of God.” This ancient privilege is nothing other than perfection of being “full of grace.” All of the Philotheotokoi consistently honor Mary’s “preparatory graces” which she received because of her mission “of being the Mother of God.” Here again is the motif that all of Mary’s graces are rooted in and intertwined with her mission as Mother of God. These “lovers of the God-bearer” prepare the Church for a deeper understanding of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, which will later to be defined in 1854.
St. Thomas Aquinas, among other notable theologians struggled with accepting Mary as immaculately conceived. St. Thomas Aquinas argued in his writings “that to contract original sin in one’s own person and to be redeemed from it are correlative concepts.” In essence, Aquinas is here stating that in order for one to be purified or cleansed from a certain state, they have to be in that state for at least a moment. He thus did not hold to the Immaculate Conception, but only that she was purified and made perfect only immediately after her conception because she had to be redeemed from a negative state. Blessed Duns Scotus, in the fourteenth century, came to the defense of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. He explains that it is very possible for a soul to be created and given perfect grace at the same moment. The key explanation Scotus gives is that “nature is just as much prior to the privation of justice as it is to justice itself.” Blessed Scotus here is explaining that justice is not included within the understanding of nature. He does follow up, however, stating that so just as we need a Mediator in Christ because we have sinned, so too Mary but in a different way: “So Mary would have been in still greater need of a Mediator preventing her from contracting sin.” Within this understanding lies the essential element of Mary’s subordination to Christ, yet also her participation in His mysteries. All in all, Blessed Duns Scotus paves the way for a deeper understanding regarding Mary’s Immaculate Conception.
St. Lawrence Brindisi aids tremendously in the understanding of Mary as immaculately conceived. St. Lawrence illustrates that if God gave such great beauty and adornment to the temples as seen in the Old Testament, how much more the living temple of the Word of God, Mary, the God-bearer. He explains that although the Church, at his time, had not yet defined as dogma the Immaculate Conception, “it is certainly reasonable to believe that God by a special privilege and grace could preserve the Virgin Mother of God from that stain of sin.” Again, St. Lawrence bases his arguments for the Immaculate Conception in Sacred Scripture as he demonstrates that just as God has preserved Noah from the flood, or Elijah from death, so too he can preserve Mary from the stain of sin. A key point St. Brindisi exemplifies is Mary’s twofold virginity: “God’s honor, Christ’s honor, Mary’s honor demand that we consider her inviolate not only in body but also in soul, a virgin totally pure in spirit and undefiled, and that we honor her with the garland of twofold virginity.” In essence, Mary is perfect not only in body, but in soul.
Mary has purity and perfection like no other creature. She truly is a perfect and worthy dwelling place for the Lord. St. Brindisi thus connects her purity and virginity with her Immaculate Conception: “Mary, full of grace, always full of grace, was conceived in the grace of the Holy Spirit. As God separated the light from the darkness, so he distanced Mary from all sin.” Here St. Brindisi helps to overcome concerns regarding the Immaculate Conception. He explicates that Mary was always perfect both in body and soul. Thus, is a perfect temple adorned for the Most High. The Immaculate Conception Dogma definition itself mirrors what St. Brindisi had fleshed out:
We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.
Just as St. Brindisi had explained, the Church in her development of doctrine also definitively and infallibly states that Mary, by the grace of God, was preserved from original sin.
Mary’s graces and privileges received at the moment of her conception prepare her for her for her Divine Motherhood, her role as New Eve, and her role as Co-Redemptrix. Mary’s motherhood is that of New Eve. Mary, the antithesis of Eve, undoes the disobedience of Eve when she obeys God through her fiat. Mary through her obedience to the angel, the messenger of God, reverses the disobedience of Eve when she disobeyed God through a fallen angel. Ultimately, “Eve’s change from virgin to mother was the result of seduction, sin and disobedience to the command of God, while Mary’s transition to motherhood was in perfect accord with the divine will, to such a degree that not even her virginity was lost.” It is demonstrated here that Mary’s perfection in soul, “perfect accord with the divine will,” and body is intertwined and must not be separated from her role both as Mother of God and New Eve. Mary’s Divine Motherhood is the basis for all of her perfections and her mission in its totality, especially her role as Co-Redemptrix. A mother gives birth to a child, and that child has a purpose. In Mary’s case, she is uniquely involved in a special way in her Son’s mission to redeem mankind.
Thus, Mary’s role as co-redemptrix is deeply rooted in her Divine Motherhood and her unique participation in the sacrifice of her Son on the Cross. As Nichols notes, “Whereas the first Eve by her disobedience solicited the old Adam to total soteriological ruin, the New Eve, in her perfect obedience, ratifies the Second Adam in his achieving of all saving good.” This ultimately means that just as Eve’s falling negatively affected the economy of salvation, so Mary’s fiat and perfect obedience to the will of God positively affects the economy of salvation by her “subordinate, dependent, and participatory character of her involvement” at the foot of the Cross. It is vital to note the Mary’s role as Co-Redemptrix is not only seen at the Annunciation, as the minimalist view portrays, but also her participation at the foot of the cross. Even the early church has explicated, at least in part, that Mary did have a Co-Redemptrix role at the foot of the Cross: “She [Mary] stood before the Cross, animated by sentiments worthy of the Mother of Christ… knowing that by the death of her Son the redemption of the world was worked, she hoped to be able by her own death-to-herself to contribute some little to what was accomplished for the profit of all.” St. Ambrose, as quoted here, roots Mary’s specific graces to her Divine Motherhood. Mary through her prayers and sufferings is connected deeply to the Sacrifice of Calvary. As a result of her fiat and role as Divine Mother, she uniquely participates in the act of redemption, although subordinate to and participatory in that of Christ’s. Nichols wisely concludes this by the notion of “causa causae est causa causatae, ‘the cause of a cause is the cause of what is caused’.” From this it is determined that because of the Immaculate Conception, which was for the purpose of Divine Motherhood, in which she gave birth to the Son of God who redeemed all mankind by the Paschal Mysteries, Mary participated in the act of redemption in a unique way only giving to her, that culminates at the foot of the Cross.
All in all, Mary offers a perfect fiat, in accordance with the Divine Will, by which she becomes the Mother of God. God, in His great love for mankind, has redeemed mankind uniquely by the birth, suffering, death, and resurrection of His only Son. God granted Mary the great grace of participating in the dispensing of the fruits of Calvary to all mankind, even though she did not add any “intrinsic value of Christ’s sacrifice.” Mary, who was given the new name of “full of grace”, participates perfectly in her mission as Theotokos. This clarity regarding Mary as “full of grace” and her roles intertwined within are vital because “a flawed perception of Mary leads ultimately to a flawed perception of the person of Jesus Christ.” Mary fulfills her mission as Mother of God, New Eve, and as Co-Redemptrix perfectly and continues it from heaven today. The mystery of Christ cannot be seen without the mystery of Mary, and the mystery of Mary is distorted without the mystery of Christ.
Bl. Pius IX. Ineffabilis Deus: The Immaculate Conception. 8 December 1854. Papal Encyclicals Online (accessed April 4, 2022).
Brindisi, Lawrence. “Sermon One: The Angelic Salutation in General.” Christendom Class Pages (accessed April 4, 2022).
Brindisi, Lawrence. “Sermon One: The Immaculate Conception in General.” Christendom Class Pages (accessed April 4, 2022).
Migne, Jacques Paul. “Patrologia Cursus Completus: Series Latina.” http://patristica.net/latina/.
Miguens, Manuel. Mary, “Servant of the Lord,” 14-35. Boston, MA: Daughters of St. Paul, 1978.
Nichols, Aidan OP. There Is No Rose: The Mariology of the Catholic Church. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2015.
Shoemaker, Stephen J., trans. “The Life of the Virgin.” In Maximus the Confessor, 50-60. Yale University Press, 2012. JSTOR (accessed March 28, 2022).
Steenberg, M.C. “The Role of Mary as Co-Recapitulator in St Irenaeus of Lyons.” Virgiliae Christianae 58, no. 2 (May 2004): 117-137. JSTOR (accessed March 28, 2022).
St. John Paul II. Redemptoris Mater. 25 March 1987. Vatican Translation: Mother of the Redeemer. Boston: St. Paul Books, n.d.
Walker, Adrian, trans. Mary: The Church at the Source. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1980.
Luke 1:28 (D-R). Original Latin of Vulgate is as follows: Et ingressus angelus ad eam dixit have gratia plena Dominus tecum benedicta tu in mulieribus.
St. John Paul II, Redemptoris Mater (25 March 1987), Vatican Translation: Mother of the Redeemer (Boston: St. Paul Books, n.d.), 8.
Aidan Nichols, There is No Rose: The Mariology of the Catholic Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), 87.
Lawrence Brindisi, “Sermon One: The Angelic Salutation in General,” 4. Christendom Class Pages (accessed April 4, 2022).
Maximus the Confessor, “The Annunciation,” in The Life of the Virgin, trans. Stephen Shoemaker (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University), 2. JSTOR (accessed April 4, 2022).
St. John Paul II, 8.
St. Augustine of Hippo, On Nature and Grace, 36.42, quoted in Nichols, 51.
St. Augustine of Hippo, On Nature and Grace, 36.42, quoted in Nichols, 51. “Excepta itaque sancta virgine maria, de qua propter honorem Domini nullam prorsus cum de peccatis agitur, haberi volo quaestionem.” PL 44: 267 (Digital).
M.C. Steenberg, “The Role of Mary as Co-Recapitulator in St Irenaeus of Lyons,” Virgiliae Christianae 58, no. 2 (May 2004): 128. JSTOR (accessed March 28, 2022).
Manuel Miguens, “Servant of the Lord,” in Mary, (Boston, MA: Daughters of St. Paul, 1978), 29.
Andrew of Crete, First Homily on the Nativity of the Blessed Mary, quoted in Nichols, 49.
 Lawrence Brindisi, “Sermons One: The Immaculate Conception in General,” 302-303. Christendom Class Pages (accessed April 4, 2022).
Bl. Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus: The Immaculate Conception (8 December 1854). Papal Encyclicals Online (accessed April 4, 2022).
St. Ambrose, Expositio Evangelii Secundum Lucam, 10.132, quoted in Nichols, 72.