In Part 1 we saw that Mary is the “woman” from Genesis 3:15 and Revelation 12 who is at enmity with the devil. In Part 2 we saw that Mary is the “Ark of the New Covenant.” In Part 3 we saw that Gabriel’s salutation points to Mary as an extraordinarily graced individual. Here in Part 4 I would like to examine what it means that Mary is “blessed among women.”
Blessed Are You Among Women
Elizabeth’s words to Mary continue to be important here:
… [A]nd she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:42)
We have already seen how Elizabeth’s words echo similar exclamations from the Old Testament and how this confirms Mary’s identity as the “woman” of Genesis 3:15, Revelation 12, and the Ark of the New Covenant. Even with all this, we have yet to exhaust the implications of this verse upon Mary’s sinlessness. What I would like to address here is what the phrase, “Blessed are you among women” would have meant to the people of Elizabeth’s time and culture.
The Greek here is attempting to express a Hewbrew/Aramaic idiom that Elizabeth is using in response to seeing Mary. The idiom is baruchah att minnashim: “blessed [are] you from women,” which is another way of saying, “You [are more] blessed than [other or all] women.” Hebrew and Aramaic do not have superlatives, but they do have ways of expressing the superlative sense: for example, “Holy of Holies” means “Holiest.”
Technically, this phrase in Luke 1:42 is a comparative, but when you have a comparative where one party is an individual and the other party is everybody else, it ends up with the force of a superlative. If Mary is more blessed than other women, then she is the most blessed of all women. It’s a grammatical comparative with the force of a superlative.
You may be asking yourself, “Why is this important?” For some reason, most Catholic apologists simply point out that Mary was the most blessed of all women and they never tell the reader what bearing that has upon the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. I think the answer is found once we examine why it is that Elizabeth called Mary, “blessed among women.”
The obvious reason, of course, is because Mary, out of all the women who have ever lived, was chosen to be the mother of our Lord. That certainly makes her the most blessed woman there ever was. But, I think there is also another reason. After all, Mary said of herself, “henceforth all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48). Why? “for he who is mighty has done great things [plural] for me” (Luke 1:49). Her unique motherhood would only be one thing. So, what else has God done in her life that has made her more blessed than any other woman?
I think that something else is the unparalleled divine favor, or grace, that He has given her. Within the context of the account of the Annunciation and the Visitation, the Incarnation and her miraculous motherhood is ever present. But, her very real gracefulness is there too. “Hail, O favored one” [or “full of grace”] (Luke 1:28); “you have found favor with God” (Luke 1:30); “My soul magnifies the Lord” (Luke 1:46).
Why else did God choose her above all other women to be the mother of our Lord? What was it about this particular woman that made her suited for the task? Only Catholics have an answer to that question, and we believe that it is found in the words of the angel. The Holy Spirit overshadowed her and caused our Savior to be conceived within her because God had already prepared her for motherhood by filling her with his grace. Thus, she is “blessed among women” not just in her motherhood but in the preparation for motherhood that she received.
Taken together, Scripture provides some very strong indications that Mary’s grace-filled life precluded sin. The early Church, through meditating upon these examples and with the guidance of the apostles and their successors, came to understand that Mary was a creature whom God had spared from the stain of original sin and who, consequently, committed no sins in her life. See, for example, the following collections of early Christian witness:
- Mary: Full of Grace
- Immaculate Conception of Mary
- The Early Church Fathers on the Immaculate Conception
There is really no point in history in which this was not the common belief of all Christianity until the Protestant Reformation, one thousand and five hundred years after the birth of the Church. To me that is very significant. The mere novelty of the Protestant objection is I think the first mark against it.
In Part 5, I will begin to tackle some of the objections that are often raised against this dogma. I will link here to Part 5 once it is posted.