By Luke Lancaster
When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary in Luke 1, he announced that she would be the Mother of Jesus. However, the words of greeting he chose were packed with meaning. He said, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you" (Luke 1:28). Notice that he does not say, "Greetings, Mary." Instead, he greeted Mary without addressing her by name. Rather odd, right?
We normally greet people by their names, such as, "Hey Tom" or "What's up, Chris?" Or if not a name, then a title. For example, Jesus was addressed with "Hail, king of the Jews" in John 19:3. If "Hail" was the greeting, then "king of the Jews" was the title. So, when the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, he must have meant "Hail" as his greeting, and "full of grace" as her title.
What does "full of grace" mean, though? For after Gabriel called Mary this, she was "greatly troubled" (Luke 1:29). Well, what does "grace" mean? "Grace" refers to God's own life in somebody. Whenever we are baptized, we receive the presence of God's life within us. We become mini-Tabernacles of God.
Mary is said to be completely "full" of this grace. This would be similar to a full cup of water. In such a cup, there is no room for anything else but water. Similarly, if Mary is totally filled with God, then there would be zero room for anything else. Mary was free from sin. Because she was full of grace, she received the fullness of Grace, Jesus. Full of grace refers to both her soul and her body, for Jesus was in the former, and was about to enter the latter.
Pope John Paul II agrees with this, "the messenger greets Mary as "full of grace"; he calls her thus as if it were her real name...in the context of the angel's announcement ["full of grace"] refer[s] first of all to the election of Mary as Mother of the Son of God. But at the same time the "fullness of grace" indicates all the supernatural munificence from which Mary benefits by being chosen and destined to be the Mother of Christ" (Redemptoris Mater).
Mary received the grace of Jesus into her soul, so she was filled with that grace, yet also she was prepared for that grace by being totally filled with God's life. Now, the New Testament was originally written in Greek, for that was the normal language of the day. The Greek word translated "full of grace" is "kecharitomene." The root word, charis, means grace. This is in the perfect passive participle, meaning an evant completed in the past that had a permanent effect continuing on into the future. So, to be "full of grace" literally means that she was perfected in grace.
This is what Greek Scripture scholars have to say, "'Highly favored' (kecharitomene). The perfect passive participle of charitoo [grace], it means 'endowed with grace' (charis), enriched with grace as in Ephesians 1:6..." (Robertson, Wood Pictures in the New Testament, vol. 2, 14). She was enriched with God's life to be the pure vessel for Jesus. Another group of scholar say, "It is permissible, on Greek grammatical and linguistic grounds, to paraphrase kecharitomene as completely, perfectly, enduringly endowed with grace" (Blass and DeBrunner, Greek Grammar of the New Testament).
As we have seen, for Mary to be called "full of grace" by the angel Gabriel would mean something very profound. She was created to be the pure and spotless channel for God to enter into this world. Just as the Ark of the Covenant was perfect and without blemish to house all-holy God, so Mary was created perfect and without blemish to house all-holy God.