Full of Grace or Highly Favored?

12-05-2021Weekly Reflection

Sometimes a question arises with respect to the translation of the Angel Gabriel’s words at the Annunciation: why do some Bibles say Rejoice O highly favored daughter instead of Hail full of grace in reporting the words of the angel Gabriel at the annunciation. A number of years ago, the New American Bible translation was revised and the current translation says Hail full of grace because it is a superior translation of the Greek word used in St. Luke’s Gospel.

The Greek word used is kekaritomene, which is a perfect passive participle, which means graced or favored one. In the New Testament this verb refers to divine grace. The perfect tense in the biblical Greek indicates something that happened in the past with consequences that are still operating in the present.

The great Cardinal St. John Henry Newman indicates that “full of grace” is an interpretation of the original word which is undoubtedly the right one because as the Fathers teach the angel was referring to a real inward condition or superadded quality of soul and not merely external approbation or acceptance answering to the word favor. ( Letter to Rev. E.B. Pusey D.D. On His Recent Eirenicon pp.48-49Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer 1866) As an example of the teaching of Fathers of the Church about the correct way to interpret kekaritomene is that of St.Jerome. He says full of grace is right the fullness of grace was at once wholly infused into Mary. This happened at her conception. She truly is full of grace through whom the abundant rain of the Holy Spirit has been poured forth upon every creature

This reference to the Fathers of the Church is a reminder of an important teaching of the Church set forth in the Second Vatican Council’s decree on Diving Revelation #12: In interpreting the Bible there is always a twofold process: (1) You look to determine the original meaning of the text according to the rules of scholarship to determine what the sacred author wished to communicate at that time; AND (2) you must also equally take into account the Tradition of the entire Church, which includes the Fathers of the Church, in order to get at the true meaning; AND (3) you must use the analogy of faith. The analogy of faith means the constant and perpetual harmony of all of God’s word in the fundamental points of faith and practice. Eg. One Scripture passage can aid in interpreting another Scripture passage. Finally it is Christ’s Church who ultimately exercises the commission from God to watch over and interpret the Word of God.

St. Jerome’s translation of the Bible into Latin is called the Vulgate and was declared by the Council of Trent to be normative for Catholics. The Vulgate translation was revised according to the decrees of the Roman Pontiffs and the Second Vatican Council. Hence new translations in the vernacular like the New American Bible were issued including a new translation in Latin called the New Vulgate. From the original and the oldest available texts of the sacred books, the new translations aim to convey as directly as possible the thought and individual style of the inspired writers. The better understanding of Hebrew and Greek, and the steady development of the science of textual criticism, the fruit of patient study since the time of St. Jerome, have allowed the translators and editors in their use of all available materials to approach more closely than ever before the sense of what the sacred authors actually wrote.