by Ethan Hicks
Hail Mary, full of grace!1 Clothed with the sun, the moon your footstool,2 you sit beneath the juniper tree with three white leopards.3 Upon your head a crown of twelve stars.4 Ever-virgin,5 queen-mother of heaven and earth, you live to guide our weary gazes to your Son. In the juvenescence of the year, you bore the Word.6 You are the daughter of your only Son.7 You rest His precious body in a manger. The food and drink of all who humble themselves and like animals partake, to gnaw and chew to devour and live.8 In your mouth forever is a song: your soul doth magnify your Lord, your God, your Savior.9 Now and forever, you shall be called blessed. Else we lie.
There are several special occasions and seasons that mark the Christian calendar. During the season of Advent, we are invited to take advantage of some unique graces God has on offer for us uniquely in this season. We do well to meditate on the grace of the incarnation – God becoming man. Though some Christian communities may place different emphasis on her role in the redemption narrative, I would argue that a proper meditation on this season cannot be done without considering blessed Mary. She is the material and instrumental cause of the incarnation (though in neither case the cause necessarily) and therefore our salvation, through her Son. Thus, when the angel bestows her with the title “Full of Grace,” we should pause in our Advent meditations to consider what grace is, how grace is mediated to us, and the fruit of grace. This will be the purpose of this article while returning finally to the role of the blessed Mother of God in our life with God.
First, what is grace? While the word grace is used in many senses in scripture and theology, grace can be precisely understood as our created participation in the divine life.10 The first aspect of this approach to grace is to see that it’s a created thing. Though immaterial and invisible, it is still created. Second, it’s a participation in the divine life. The divine life refers to the life of God – Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Coming from the Anglican Catholic tradition, this is the logic behind the use of sacraments. A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace.11 Examples of sacraments would be baptism and holy Communion. We call them means of grace because they bring us into the divine life. For example, by baptism we are united to Christ’s death and resurrected life.12 In these sacraments we receive invisible grace, this invisible life of God manifest in his Son, made visible through created things and actions done in imitation and remembrance of Christ.13
There is an overarching principle here which connects sacraments, grace, and salvation. It’s a principle articulated well by St. Gregory Nazianzen, who writes “that which Christ assumes, he saves.”14 This is spelled out by St. John in his gospel when he writes “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was God, and the Word was with God . . . in him was life; and the life was the light of men. . . and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us . . . full of grace and truth” [emphasis added].15 The Word, in whom was life, became man. The Word of God assumed our humanity yet without sin so that we, body and soul, might be saved by his life made manifest in his assumed human body and human soul. Our Lord’s sacred humanity is his participation in human nature so that we could become partakers in his divine life. This means, except for sin, all of what we experience – pain, joy, hunger, and even death, are shared experiences between us and God and are thus in some way a means of salvation because they belong to his life through his Son. Thus, not even death can separate us from the love of God.16 The sacraments are unique in that theory are the means by which we have access to Christ’s own life, such as his death, his resurrection, and his righteousness.
All that to say, in the incarnation which we commemorate in this season, we find the radix of grace. Meditating on the incarnation should give us a sacramental view of reality, from the dust under our feet to the starry skies above.
Finally, the product of grace is sanctity, or holiness. Those who live life according to grace, meaning they look each day for the grace God has on offer to them, are saints. They are God’s friends. The Saints manifest the many shades of Christ’s life, a life so full of personality that God desires that it be shared with us. His body has many members,17 and each member has its own modicum of glory gifted by God.18 Here, grace can be seen as our allotted placement in Christ’s body. The mystery of Christ’s incarnation contains the mystery of our personhood which is only actualized by our participation in that body. Hence, even we can become something like living sacraments, means of God’s grace to others. Blessed Mary herself is the greatest living sacrament second only to her Son. She is the means, the channel, the chosen vessel by which Christ came into the world and lived. God assumed her and made her his mother. She, being the humble handmaid19 of God, is the greatest of the saints. Therefore, we cannot truly appreciate this season without looking to blessed Mary. In her life is contained the future of the whole body of Christ: full of grace.
As we look to Christ in the season of Advent, we must also keep an eye on blessed Mary. She has been given to us as our example, friend, and mother.20 She prefigures the life of the entire Church and she illumines the world by her purity. Her life with her Son harkens us back to the garden of Eden, back to where and when we lost some sense of our personality, our glory, our life with God, our grace.21 What Eve ate; Mary, the new Eve,22 gave us to eat: that fruit hung upon some cursed tree. This Advent, let us in every way we can, partake of the blessed fruit of her womb, Jesus, so that the life which is the light of all may be ours forever.
Ethan Hicks is a Ph.D. candidate in the Pratt School of Engineering, studying Civil and Environmental Engineering.
- Luke 1:28
- Revelation 12:1
- T.S. Eliot, Ash-Wednesday
- Revelation 12:1
- Council of Ephesus, 431 AD
- T.S. Eliot, Gerontion
- Dante Alighieri, Canto 23 of the Paradiso, Line 1
- John 6:51-57
- From Mary’s Magnificat: Luke 1:46-55
- 2 Peter 1:2-4; Catechism of the Catholic Church. Part 3, section 1, chapter 3, Article 2, II. (Paragraph 1997); John 17
- Article 25, of the 39 Articles of Religion. As established by the. Bishops, the Clergy, and the Laity of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. Sept. 12th, 1801.
- Romans 6: 3-8; Article 27, of the afore cited Articles.
- 1 Cor. 11:23-25; Matt. 28:16-20; Article 25, of the aforementioned 39 Articles.
- St. Gregory Nazianzen, Epistle 101. Text accessed through New Advent at: https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3103a.htm
- From John 1:1-14 KJV
- Romans 8:38-39
- 1 Corinthians 12:12-27
- Ephesians 4:7
- Luke 1:38
- John 19:25-29
- Genesis 3
- St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 2: chapter 22, paragraph 4. Accessed via: https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0103322.htm