Every day, Catholics around the world pray to Mary saying, “Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” The problem with this prayer is that not only is there no biblical warrant for offering prayers to anyone besides God, but this common Marian prayer is based on a mistranslation of Luke 1:28. The reason Catholics proclaim Mary to be full of grace in this prayer is because the Catholic Douay-Rheims Bible mistranslated the Greek verb kecharitōmenē as “full of grace.” It is then argued that Mary was free from all sin because only one who is sinless could be full of grace.

But no modern translation translates the verse as “full of grace.” Even the Catholic NAB translation translates the verse as “Hail, favored one!” instead of “full of grace.” The same word is used to describe all Christians in Ephesians 1:6 who are “blessed” by God. But we do not conclude from this that all Christians are sinless. An even closer parallel is found in Sirach 18:17 which uses the same verb in its perfect passive participial form just as Luke 1:28 does to describe a “gracious man.” The text reads: “Indeed, does not a word surpass a good gift? Both are to be found in a gracious man.” Does that mean this man is sinless and immaculately conceived as well? In Luke 1:28, the greeting Mary receives does not mean that she is sinless, but that she has been favored or blessed by God to become the mother of the Messiah. She has been favored by God because of his choice of her, not because she is without sin.

It was not necessary for Mary to be sinless in order to conceive Christ because his conception was different from all other conceptions. His virginal conception took place in a different manner than all other conceptions which ensured that he would be born without any desire to sin. The work of the Holy Spirit ensured that he would be born without the guilt and depravity which come from original sin. “Therefore the child to be born will be called holy” in Luke 1:35 is connected to the Spirit’s work, not because of something in Mary preventing him from becoming a sinner.

If Mary had to be sinless in order for Christ to be conceived without sin, then it would follow that Mary’s mother had to be sinless as well in order for Mary to be conceived without sin, thus creating an endless chain of regression. If Mary was conceived without original sin even though her mother was a sinner, then Christ too can be conceived without original sin even though his mother was a sinner because of the work of the Holy Spirit.

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