In considering the Annunciation, we need not review the exterior setting; a single detail will fix our attention: the angel Gabriel’s salutation to Mary, “Hail, full of grace!” At her entrance into the world, Mary is filled with a plenitude of grace so great that we are lost in trying to conceive a proper idea of it, and we have seen that this plenitude increased at every conscious moment. At this time, however, Mary is to receive a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
St. Luke notes the angel’s words in answer to Mary’s question: “The Holy Spirit will descend upon you — Spiritus Sanctus superveniet in te — and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Nothing is impossible with God.” What does this mean if not: “You are already filled to overflowing with divine grace, but now the Holy Trinity wishes to have a still greater place in you, wishes to unite Himself with your soul in a more royal manner. There is already plenitude; there is to be a new outpouring, a still more abundant fulness.”
When we read the explanations of the Fathers and the Doctors of the Church on the profound mystery of the Annunciation, the most prodigious of the whole career of Mary, we notice that some seem to say that Mary already possessed fullness of grace when the angel appeared to her. Others say the salutation gratia plena meant that she was to receive this fullness through the descent of the Word of God into her womb.
The two opinions are true. Through the Incarnation and to qualify her for it, Mary was to receive, in virtue of her brave acceptance of God’s plan, an unparalleled outpouring of the Holy Spirit. That does not mean, however, that before the divine message she was not already gratia plena. The Doctors of the Church do not base, merely on the message of the angel, their recognition of Mary’s universal fullness of grace which she possessed and in which she increased daily from her Immaculate Conception.
The first Protestants, with Luther and Calvin, have tried to reject the interpretation consistently given by the Doctors of the Church to the words full of grace. Luther translates the word of the angel Ave, Gratiosa — “Hail, O thou beautiful one”; Calvin: gratiam consecuta — “Hail, O thou who hast obtained grace”; Theodore de Beze: gratis dilecta — “thou who has been gratuitously loved.” These interpretations boldly deny the evidence and alter freely the meaning of the clearest expressions.
The master of Don Scotus, the ardent William Ware of Warou, having treated the question of the Immaculate Conception with his students, said to them: “If I make a mistake in speaking of the Blessed Virgin, I prefer that it be in granting her too much, rather than too little, volo deficere per superabundantiam.” The Protestant masters have preferred to minimize Mary’s prerogatives. Let us leave them to their futile attempt.
At the message of the angel, Mary, always eager to correspond completely with the desires of God, opened her soul: “For an instant,” writes Father Faber with becoming dignity, “Mary’s blood was all her own. The immaculate young girl was not yet invested with the special prerogative of being at the same time virgin and mother. One awful moment sufficed to change all; from the pure blood of Mary the Holy Ghost formed the pure Body of Jesus; the human soul of Jesus sprang from nothingness. . . Until then, the Word had not condescended, if it may be so expressed, to become a part of His own creation.”
At that moment, He accomplished the great plan He had formed from all eternity. Until that momentous hour, the Blessed Trinity had scarcely been revealed on the earth. God was uniquely the one God, Deus unus. The virgin motherhood of Mary, in making known the person of the Son, and in distinguishing Him for us from the Father, by all the personal difference peculiar to the invisible Divinity in heaven and the Divinity clothed in humanity on earth, has made obvious the plurality of the Persons in God, their personal relation, and their substantial unity. Mary is the ostensorium of the Holy Trinity, not only because she held the Three Divine Persons as no other in the world, but because she has manifested the Three Divine Persons as no other.
If every motherhood is wonderful, what must we say of the motherhood in which Mary is the Mother, and the Son is God Himself? Father Olier calls attention to the fact that some feasts are celebrated for one day only, others have an octave, and Easter is celebrated for forty days. To honor Jesus Christ hidden in the womb of Mary and adoring the eternal Father, the Church gives six months, for, from the Visitation until Christmas, she proposes for our adoration no other mystery of our Lord. The only exception to this is the feast of Christ the King, a very recent feast, celebrated the last Sunday of October. Could we say that six months is too long for the contemplation of so great a mystery as the Incarnation?
If Jesus, hidden in the womb of Mary, sanctified John the Baptist in the womb of Elizabeth, what must have been the sanctifying power communicated to His Mother, to whom He was bound by the most intimate union. Later, during the course of His public ministry, the sick touched the hem of His garment and at once they were cured, “and all the multitude sought to touch Him, for virtue went out of him and healed all.”
What wondrous sanctifying power was to emanate for Mary from the holy humanity of Jesus while this humanity was being formed in her womb! “Was it possible,” notes a pious author [Guerric of Igny], “that Mary could have conceived the Holy of Holies without having received a supereminent principle of holiness?”