These words, the first lines of the “Hail Mary” prayer, were spoken to Mary by the angel Gabriel when he came to her to share the glorious news that she was to be the mother of the Son of God. This was not a casual greeting. These words, short though they may be, held deep meaning within them, and Mary knew it.
“But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be.” (Luke 1:29)
What is it about these words? Mary was not troubled simply by the presence of Gabriel, but by the words he spoke and the meaning they held. They must have great importance. If not, we could skip the greeting altogether and head right to Luke 1:30 and continue on from there,
“30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there will be no end”.
But that is not where the story begins. Luke includes the specific words spoken in greeting to the Virgin Mary for a reason. Mary pondered over these words for a reason. This greeting is more than just a few words strung together as a way to say hello. They hold profound meaning.
Today, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, we celebrate the meaning of these words.
The Immaculate Conception does not refer to the birth or conception of Christ, but rather to the Immaculate Conception of Mary within the womb of her mother, St. Anne. The Immaculate Conception refers to the fact that Mary was conceived immaculately, free from sin from the very beginning of her life. She was miraculously preserved free of original sin and thus was in a state of grace from her very conception. Where does this teaching come from?
The official dogma of the Immaculate Conception was not proclaimed until 1854 but the belief in Mary as being immaculately conceived goes back to the earliest church teachings and beliefs. This belief was not invented in 1854, but rather simply defined. The belief itself stems from looking at the very verses mentioned above.
“Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.”
That peculiar greeting holds within it the deep meaning of the Immaculate Conception. Mary is not told that if she agrees to give birth to the Son of God, then she will have the Lord within her and will thus be filled with His grace. She is not told that the Son she will bear will die for all sins and His sanctifying grace will then fill her. The angel Gabriel announces that Mary is already full of grace!
The grace of God filled Mary’s soul from the very moment of her creation so that she would be worthy of carrying the Son of God within her womb. But Mary was still a created being. She was fully human. At any moment during her life, she could have chosen to give in to the temptations around her. She could have chosen disobedience and sin, but she did not. She remained filled with the grace of God and free from sin throughout her life. In her perfect obedience to the will of the Lord we see exactly why it is that Mary proclaims “All generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48).
On this feast day of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we praise God for His miraculous grace that allowed Our Lady to be preserved from sin and thus worthy of carrying Our Lord, Jesus Christ. Through her example and love for the Lord, we grow closer to Him. With Mary ever by our side, we grow in grace and are constantly drawn closer to Our Savior.
+ Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death, Amen. +