In Luke 1:28 the archangel hails her as, "full of grace". Most versions today do not use that rendering, but greatly weaken it. Yet it is the correct translation as we can see from the Magisterium (Pius XII, Fulgens Corona, AAS 45, 579, and constant use of the Church) and also from philology.
For the Greek word in the Gospel is kecharitomene. It is a perfect passive participle of the verb charitoo. A perfect passive participle is very strong. In addition, charitoo belongs to a group of verbs ending in omicron omega. They have in common that they mean to put a person or thing into the state indicated by the root. Thus leukos means white, so leukoo means to make white. Then charitoo should mean to put into charis. That word charis can mean either favor or grace. But if we translate by favor, we must keep firmly in mind that favor must not mean merely that God, as it were, sits there and smiles at someone, without giving anything. That would be Pelagian: salvation possible without grace. So for certain, God does give something, and that something is grace, a share in His own life. So charitoo means to put into grace. But then too, kecharitomene is used in place of the name "Mary". This is like our English usage in which we say, for example, someone is Mr. Tennis. That means he is the ultimate in tennis. So then kecharitomene should mean "Miss Grace", the ultimate in grace. Hence we could reason that fullness of grace implies an Immaculate Conception.
Overflowing grace: Pius IX, in the document, Ineffabilis Deus, defining the Immaculate Conception in 1854 wrote: "He [God] attended her with such great love, more than all other creatures, that in her alone He took singular pleasure. Wherefore He so wonderfully filled her, more than all angelic spirits and all the Saints, with an abundance of all heavenly gifts taken from the treasury of the divinity, that she, always free from absolutely every stain of sin, and completely beautiful and perfect, presented such a fullness of innocence and holiness that none greater under God can be thought of, and no one but God can comprehend it."
What about the words of Jesus in Luke 11:27-28 (cf. Matthew 12:46-50 and Mark 3:35)? A woman in the crowd exclaimed: "Blessed is the womb that bore you...." He replied: "Rather blessed are they who hear the word of God and keep it."
The dignity of being Mother of God is a quasi infinite dignity, as we just saw from the words of Pius XI. Yet here, our Lord is teaching us that the holiness coming from hearing the word of God and keeping it is something greater still. Her holiness must indeed be great -- so great that "none greater under God can be thought of, and no one but God can comprehend it."
Even though Mary was full of grace at the start of her life, yet she could still grow, for, as it were, her capacity for grace could increase.
In general, a soul will grow in proportion to these things: (1) The greater the dignity of the person, the greater the merit. In her case, the dignity of Mother of God is the highest possible for a creature. (2) The greater the work, the greater the merit: her cooperation in the redemption was the greatest work possible to a creature. (3) The greater the love, the greater the merit. Love of God means the attachment of our will to His. Her will adhered supremely, with no obstacle at all, so that even ordinary household duties, which she saw as the will of the Father for her, were supremely valuable.
Excerpted and adapted from Theology 523: Our Lady in Doctrine and Devotion, by Father William G. Most.
Copyright (c) 1994 William G. Most.