This pastoral form of blessing is familiar to use all: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
And yet, do we HEAR what is being said?!
“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ … be with you all.”
St. John reiterates this in his gospel account:
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father. (John bore witness to him, and cried, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, for he was before me.’”) And from his fulness have we all received, grace upon grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known. (John 1.14-18)
We are being told that the fullness of grace is ours to receive. We are, by our “yes,” filled with grace by virtue of being overshadowed by the Holy Spirit – “filled with the Holy Spirit.”
Some folks “have a problem with Mary.” Well, the pre-nativity gospel narrative, if read closely, and informed by the Holy Tradition, makes it obvious that we are in the middle of an immense mystery (pun intended as you will learn).
I invite you to read the following texts alongside a VERY CLOSE reading of the pre-nativity narrative. Mark the variety of ways in which every character in the narrative – Mary, Joseph, Zechariah, Elizabeth, prenatal John the Forerunner, and the villagers of Judea are being influenced and/or filled with the grace of the Holy Spirit.
The narrative is all about the fact that the Lord is with them and they are full of grace.
Advent is the season in which we prepare a place for the fullness of grace to be born and dwell within us – a Nativity. There is a reason the icon of the Nativity shows Mary in a black cave. We are the black cave. This world is the black cave.
Yes, of course, Christ is born in our hearts. The light in the midst of darkness – the black cave. But, also in our minds and our bodies – all of the cave. The fullness of grace (light) once it takes up residence – tabernacles and shines – in our hearts. He will enlarge our hearts and purify our minds, emotions, and bodies. But, the expansion will continue. We will realize that the Christian life is a “we” not “me” life. The expansion to include as an aspect of what it means to be “me” must, essentially, include “you.” To quote my monastic brothers, “My brother is my life.” The phrase “fullness of grace” is as immense as the Savior Himself. He whole holds the whole universe in His heart is held in our heart. The indwelling Christ Jesus is born in us and grows up into full manhood. We are Mary who kept not just the memory and profundity of all that had and was happening in her heart, but Christ Jesus Himself because the Holy Spirit who overshadowed her never quit overshadowing her.
We will be Mary in another way, too. We will give birth to Christ. We will bear Christ – offer Christ – to the world through our way of life in relationship – thoughts, words, and deeds. This will be our Theophany, the season of the Church year that follows Nativity.
Hail Mary, full of grace. It has been shown above, how Mary, because of the pure innocence of her life, is rightly saluted by the Ave. We have now to show how, by the abundance of her grace, she deserves the salutation “full of grace.” Consider, dearly beloved, this grace, the grace of Mary, this admirable grace. Consider the truth, the immensity, the multiplicity, the utility of the grace of Mary. For the grace of Mary is a most true grace, a most immense grace, a most manifold grace, and a most useful grace.
… Consider the immensity of the grace because of which Mary is called “full of grace.” The grace of which she was full was certainly immense. An immense vessel cannot be full, unless that is also immense wherewith it is filled. Mary was an immense vessel, since she could contain Him who is greater than the Heavens. Who is greater than the Heavens? Without doubt He of whom Solomon says: “If heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee, how much less this house which I have built?” (3 Kings VIII, 27.) It was not indeed the house which Solomon built, but she of whom that house was the type, which could contain God. Thou, therefore, O most immense Mary, art more capacious than the Heavens, because He whom the Heavens cannot contain was borne in thy womb. Thou art more capacious than the world, because He whom the whole world cannot contain, being made man, was enclosed within thee. If Mary’s womb then had such immensity, how much more had her mind? And if so immense a capacity was full of grace, it was fitting that that grace which could fill so great a capacity, should also be immense. Who can measure the immensity of Mary? Behold what is said in Ecclesiasticus: “Who hath measured the height of heaven, and the breadth of the earth, and the depth of the abyss?” (I, 2.) Mary is a heaven, as much because she abounded in heavenly purity, heavenly light, and other heavenly virtues, as because she was the most high throne of God, as the Prophet saith: “The Lord hath prepared His throne in heaven” (Ps. CII, 19.) Mary was also the earth which brought forth for us that fruit of which the same Prophet saith: “The earth hath given its fruits” (Ps. LXVI, 7.) Mary is also an abyss in goodness and deepest mercy. Therefore she obtaineth for us the mercy of her Son, as it were an abyss calling upon an abyss. Therefore Mary is a heaven, Mary is the earth, Mary is the abyss. Who hath ever measured the height of that heaven, the breadth of that earth, the depth of that abyss, except He who hath made her, not only in grace and glory, but in mercy so high, so wide, so deep? Therefore it is especially of her mercy that Bernard saith: “Who can search into the length and breadth and depth and sublimity of thy mercy, O blessed one? For the length of it will help all who call upon her till the last day; the breadth of it fills the whole world, so that the earth is full of her mercy; and the sublimity of it will bring about the restoration of the heavenly city, and its depth hath obtained redemption for them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death.(“Serm. de Assumpt.,” 4.) Mirror Of The Blessed Virgin Mary, Chapter V, by Saint Bonaventure
Again, we offer this spiritual worship for those who repose in the faith, forefathers, fathers, patriarchs, prophets, apostles, preachers, evangelists, martyrs, confessors, ascetics, and for every righteous spirit made perfect in faith.
Especially for our most holy, pure, blessed, and glorious Lady, the Theotokos and ever virgin Mary. It is truly right to bless you, O Theotokos, ever-blessed and most pure, and the Mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim, and more glorious beyond compare than the Seraphim, without defilement you gave birth to God the Word. True Theotokos we magnify you! The Divine Liturgy
By John Donne
Immensity, cloister’d in thy dear womb,
Now leaves His well-beloved imprisonment.
There he hath made himself to his intent
Weak enough, now into our world to come.
But O! for thee, for Him, hath th’ inn no room?
Yet lay Him in this stall, 1 and from th’ orient,
Stars, and wise men will travel to prevent
The effects of Herod’s jealous general doom.
See’st thou, my soul, with thy faith’s eye, how He
Which fills all place, yet none holds Him, doth lie?
Was not His pity towards thee wondrous high,
That would have need to be pitied by thee?
Kiss Him, and with Him into Egypt go,
With His kind mother, who partakes thy woe.