Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Lake Charles, Louisiana
December 18, 2011
Fourth Sunday of Advent

“Hail, full of grace!” Luke 1:28

If we are truly going to break open the Sacred Scripture, then we cannot ignore the words of Gabriel addressed to the Virgin Mary in the Gospel of St. Luke.  “Hail, full of grace!” (Luke 1:28).   The greeting is extraordinary and symbolic of a great deal. 

“Hail” is sometimes translated “Rejoice.”  The meaning is the same, and it is not an ordinary greeting.  In the Greek and Roman world, “hail” (χαΐρε) was a common form of greeting, but the words that follow next, “full of grace,” are truly exceptional.  In some translations, the words of Gabriel are translated, “Hail, favored one!” or “Rejoice, O highly favored daughter!”  In using these words, the archangel Gabriel brings us back to the prophets of the Jewish people.

The prophet Zephaniah, when speaking of God’s promises fulfilled, addresses Israel in the same way.  “Shout for joy, O daughter Zion!  Sing joyfully, O Israel!” (Zephaniah 3:14).   The point is that the People of God, Israel, is the “daughter” to whom the message is addressed.  To carry the point further using other Old Testament imagery, God is married to His People, who are represented by the “daughter,” whom He will renew “in his love” (Zephaniah 3:17).  This is not an isolated greeting.  It is used again by the prophet Zechariah in the same way.  Zechariah announces the coming of the Messiah and tells God’s people, “Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion, shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem!” (Zechariah 9:9).   The woman, the daughter, represents the People.  She is the personification of the People of God (cf. Xavier Léon-Dufour).     

“Full of grace” captures the same meaning.  She is “highly favored.”  God is showering His love upon His People.  Mary represents that People.  She is the first beneficiary of not only the message but the fruits of what the reality of God’s love will bring.  God has prepared Mary for this.  Just as He prepared His People to receive Him, so God has brought Mary to this moment in salvation history.  God has always been present in the history of His chosen People.  Now, God takes a step further.  We move from poetry and prophecy to reality.  He takes flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary.  In the words of Gabriel, she will conceive by the power of the Holy Spirit.  “Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). 

 Gabriel enters the room of the Virgin of Nazareth like a messenger in the ancient world would enter the palace of a king.  He would clearly and emphatically say, “Hail,” to the sovereign.  “You are fortunate,” he would add, “because I have good news for you and your people.” 

It is in this sense, I think, that we can speak of Mary as Mother of the Church.  From the first moment we meet her in the Gospel of St. Luke, she represents the People of God.  And in being Mother, she lets us know how it is we are to respond as a People to God.  “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).  I am a servant.  God is my master.  The Son is my lord.  As a servant, I will place my faith in the words of the master, and even though I have had questions, I do not doubt for one instant that God “has done great things for me” (Luke 1:49). 

A great Catholic theologian of the past century (Henri de Lubac) once wrote, “For what would I ever know of Him, without her?”  He was speaking of Christ and His Church.  He could have just as well been speaking of Christ and His mother. 

To continue an analogy which I spoke of earlier in Advent, we need someone to make introductions.  Gabriel must make an introduction of God’s will to Mary.  Mary must introduce her Son to us and does so powerfully at Christmas by giving birth to Jesus.  Then, Mary becomes a model of what Christ’s Body is, the Church called to bring Christ to the world.  It is all the work of the Incarnation.  “For what would I ever know of Him, without her?”

We should never take the Church for granted, any more than we should ever discount the words of the angel Gabriel or the woman to whom he speaks.  The daughter “full of grace” has spoken.  She speaks to us and through us.  “For what would I ever know of Him, without her?”