Q: Was Mary made full of grace because she would never sin, or would she never sin because she was made full of grace?
A: It is because she was predestined to be the Mother of God that Our Lady was made full of grace, being without original sin from the first moment of her conception, becoming – as she introduced herself to St. Bernadette at Lourdes – the Immaculate Conception.
In the apostolic constitution that defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, “Ineffabilis Deus” (1854), Blessed Pope Pius IX wrote that from “the very beginning, and before time began, the eternal Father chose and prepared for his only-begotten Son a Mother in whom the Son of God would become incarnate and from whom, in the blessed fullness of time, he would be born into this world.”
The pope’s words speak to the reality of Marian predestination, that from the very beginning – before she even existed – Our Lady was predestined by God to become the chosen Mother of his Son and, therefore, to possess a unique role in helping Jesus redeem humanity by bringing him into the world.
Given the unmatched and sublime dignity of this mission, it was fitting that Our Lady, in virtue of her divine maternity, was conceived without sin, full of grace. It was also fitting that she lived a sinless life because she gave birth to God, to the Messiah, to Jesus who received his human nature from his Mother. That means that he, the sinless one, would receive a sinless nature from her.
The earliest Marian prophecy that hints at Our Lady being full of grace is found in the first book of the Bible, Genesis. Right after Adam and Eve sin, disobeying God, we receive what is known as the protoevangelium – the “first Gospel,” or the “first Good News.” This is a reference to Genesis 3:15, the first text to prophesy the coming of Christ, who will defeat sin and death in the cosmic battle against Satan by coming into the world through a woman. In the passage, God says to the serpent:
“And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
she will crush your head,
and you will strike her heel.”
The key word to understand in relation to Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception is “enmity.” God says that he will put enmity between the serpent and the woman.
“Enmity” is a word that signifies radical and complete opposition. It means that Our Lady had never anything to do with Satan, being completely opposed to him in every way: being his arch-enemy, the one who will defeat him through Jesus Christ. That complete opposition means that she never sinned, and was never touched by sin – even in her earliest, embryonic stage of conception – because to partake in sin is to partake in the work of Satan.
However, there is no question that being full of grace would help Mary lead a sinless life. This is how the great Dominican theologian Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange puts it:
“Mary’s progress was the most continuous of all. It encountered no obstacle, was not halted nor delayed by attachment to self or to the things of this world. It was the most rapid of all, because the rate at which it commenced was determined by Mary’s fullness of grace and therefore surpassed that of all the saints.”
Our Lady’s fullness of grace did help her, as Garrigou-Lagrange notes, to constantly make progress in the spiritual life without halt, growing in holiness and living a sinless life. The inversion of this is most evident in how we creatures who have been touched by sin possess concupiscence, that inner battle in our souls between our passions and reason which often leads us to falling into sin, while Our Lady (lacking sin) would possess integrity, perfect harmony between the passions and reason.
It may be tempting to think, therefore, that Our Lady had it “easier” and that this takes away from her merit in terms of leading a sinless life. That would be a false assertion, however, because Adam and Eve were created with fullness of grace – and yet, they still sinned.
Why? Because all that it takes to sin is a free will. Therefore, being created full of grace does not automatically predetermine that one will not sin.
Our Lady still had to, throughout her life, keep vigilant against the smallest sin and temptation. How remarkable this reality is: that she never spoke a word of gossip or slander about another, that she never even entertained a thought – be it one lustful, vengeful or hate-filled thought – that constituted a venial sin (despite the absolute horror of seeing ruthless men brutally torturing, mocking and murdering her beloved Son before her very eyes).
She was able to accomplish a sinless life, through God’s plentiful grace and her merits, because as the Mother of God and as his perfect disciple, there was no one who loved Jesus and wanted to do his will more. That intimate and mystical love inspired her life of perfection, living up to the sacred privileges that she was bestowed with from the moment of her conception.
– Br. Daniel Maria Klimek, T.O.R.