How Is It That Mary Is Full of Grace?
The angel Gabriel said to Mary, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28). How is it that Mary is full of grace? One reason is that she was chosen from all eternity to be the Mother of Jesus, not an insignificant role in the history of salvation. But did Mary have free will? Yes. Like every human person, Mary had free will.
In fact, one can say that Mary’s free will was truly free because she did not suffer from concupiscence. By her Immaculate Conception, Mary was free from the stain of Original Sin from the moment of her conception. By the grace of God and her free response, Mary remained free of any personal sin for her entire life. She exercised her free will in the most perfect way and merited for herself, and for the whole world, an abundance of grace. Our Blessed Mother conformed her will to God’s will at each moment and cooperated perfectly with every grace given to her by God. She fulfilled her vocation faultlessly, and in doing so, Mary merited and obtained the fullness of grace fitting for her role as the Mother of God and Mother of the Church.
Mary is full of grace not only because she is the Mother of God but also because she is the most perfect of all the disciples of Christ. In fact, Jesus pointed to Mary’s discipleship, rather than her motherhood, as being worthy of praise. In the Gospel of Luke, we read: “A woman in the crowd raised her voice and said to him, ‘Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!’ But he said, ‘Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!’ ” (Luke 11:27–28). Jesus was was saying that Mary is blessed not because she is His Mother but because she hears and observes the word of God in a flawless manner.
Jesus Gave Mary to Be Our Model
As Jesus was about to die, He gave a last commandment to St. John, His disciple standing at the foot of the Cross. This last commandment was meant not only for St. John but for all of Jesus’ disciples, because St. John represents all of us. Scripture tells us: “When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home” (John 19:26–27). Before leaving this world, Jesus gave His Mother, Mary, to all of us to be our Mother, protector, and model.
And because Mary is our Mother, we are to look up to her, learn from her, and take after her. Mary is not only our Mother but also our model. She is the most perfect model of discipleship, a chosen vessel and exemplar of all perfection. Mary is God’s masterpiece, the finest of His creation, and the most perfect of human beings. St. John Vianney writes, “The Eternal Father delights in regarding the Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the masterpiece of His hands.” If we want to grow in grace, we look to Our Lady, who received the fullness of grace and brought it to perfect fruition. Mary received the fullness of grace by responding to God’s grace with her free will in the most sublime way.
A loving and caring Mother, Mary is eager to help her children become everything God created them to be: holy and blameless in His sight. As Mary fulfilled her vocation as the Mother of God, she also wants to fulfill her vocation as our Mother and the Mother of the Church. But Mary can help us only to the extent that we accept her help, go to her, know her, love her, and desire to imitate her.
Mary Teaches Us How to Respond to God’s Gifts
When we learn from Mary and imitate her qualities, we learn how best to respond to God’s gifts and so attain the fullness of grace that He has in store for each one of us. God has different graces for each person. St. Thomas Aquinas confirms that the graces intended for each person are different and explains why:
“Hence the first cause of this diversity is to be sought on the part of the God, Who dispenses His gifts of grace variously, in order that the beauty and perfection of the Church may result from these various degrees; even as He instituted the various conditions of things, that the universe might be perfect.”
The diversity we see in each other reflects God’s own beauty, imagination, and creativity. Made in His image and likeness, each of us reflects certain attributes of God: kindness, humility, beauty, honesty, creativity, intelligence, and more.
Similarly, St. Thérèse of Lisieux writes:
He [Jesus] set before me the book of nature; I understood how all the flowers He had created are beautiful, how the splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the Lily do not take away the perfume of the little violet of its scent or the delightful simplicity of the daisy. I understood that if all flowers wanted to be roses, nature would lose her springtime beauty, and the fields would no longer be decked out with little wild flowers. And so it is in the world of souls, Jesus’ garden. He willed to create great souls comparable to Lilies or roses, but He has created smaller ones, and these must be content to be daisies or violets, destined to give joy to God’s glances when He looks down at his feet. Perfection consist in doing His will, in being what He wills us to be.
We are called to respond fully to the graces that God has in store for us individually. Each of us is unique and unrepeatable. In the history of the world, there will never be another you or another me. God has destined each one of us to exist at this particular time, in this place, and to grow in His grace and bear much fruit. Like Mary, each of us has a role to play in God’s plan of salvation. If we imitate our Blessed Mother, we, too, can fully live out our vocation and fulfill our role in God’s ongoing work of redemption.
Acquire the Habits of Mary
When we imitate our Mother and model, we acquire the temperaments, dispositions, and qualities that are most pleasing to God. The attributes of the Virgin Mary are most conducive to meriting more graces. Mary’s soul is like the rich soil in which God is free to plant seeds of grace knowing that they will blossom into beautiful trees that provide necessary shade and bear much fruit for the world. When our life takes on the qualities of our Blessed Mother, we become like porous sponges that can absorb all the graces that God wants to give us. These qualities make us most receptive to God’s gifts. We will be like that one soul in St. Faustina’s vision who was closest to the heart of Jesus, the one who gathered all the gifts for herself and for others.
The dispositions and actions of Mary are ideal for meriting an increase in graces. Remember, the graces we receive individually also affect the entire Body of Christ. We are all connected. When one member thrives, the whole Body benefits. And vice versa, when members do not live up to their potential, the Body suffers the consequences. Personal holiness contributes to the building of God’s kingdom on earth both positively and negatively. God wants us not only to grow in holiness but also to become a channel of grace for others.
As with Mary, God wants us to become His presence, His instruments, and His representatives, so that through us, He can dispense grace to others. When we go to heaven, we are not meant to go as a lone star but as one star leading a cluster of other stars. If we live out our vocation, we will be forming a new constellation of stars in the sky of heaven. We are called to lead our families, friends, and communities to God. Mary, as our Mother, guide, and example, shows us how to achieve the fullness of grace by meditating upon and imitating her qualities.
Meditating on the Attributes of Mary
These attributes of Mary are not limited to her alone; they are also the attributes of Jesus and the saints.
By meditating on these attributes of the Blessed Virgin Mary and asking the Holy Spirit to enlighten us about the ones in which we are most lacking, we can then focus on and practice those qualities that are most difficult for us. Different qualities will come up at various times to remind us where we still need to grow.
As we practice these qualities, they will become more ingrained and take on the form of habits, and we will develop a permanent disposition that is most conducive to an increase in grace. Once they become part of our personality and way of life, we will grow rapidly in grace and become God’s instrument in the world. We will fulfill our vocation to holiness, bear witness to Christ, and build God’s kingdom on earth.
This article is an excerpt from Fr. Tran’s new book, The Imitation of Mary: Keys to Growth in Virtue and Grace. It is slated to be released on Nov. 19th and available as an ebook or paperback through Sophia Institute Press.