Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord. The Gospel reading from St. Luke chapter one gives us the wonderful dialogue between the Blessed Mother and the angel Gabriel. We are told nothing less than that the Word has taken on flesh and has come to dwell among us. The Incarnation happens at the conception in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The passage today contains many important details that are easy to overlook. Many books by great people of faith have been dedicated to these subjects. Not to mention the lives of the saints and their testimonies and biographies. I hope to share just a few brief thoughts on this profound passage.
For many years as a Protestant, I struggled with the Marian dogmas taught by the Church. Of course, the Virgin birth was unproblematic. But Mary as the Mother of God (Theotokos), her immaculate conception, perpetual virginity, bodily assumption, and coronation as Queen of Heaven were, to my mind, unbiblical. Yet, reading the first chapter of Luke without a high view of Mary is ultimately a very difficult task. The more we read and are attentive to the text, the more we see something profound unfold before our eyes. The Annunciation and the Magnificat present solid biblical grounds for what the Catholic Church teaches about Mary.
The angel Gabriel greets Mary as being full of grace. The only plausible meaning of these words is that Mary already possesses God's special grace. It is not a random thing that happens or is subsequent to the angel’s appearance. The grace did not fill her at only that moment. It was something Mary had. She likewise maintains her state of grace in perfect obedience to God throughout her entire life. We see her at the first miracle in Cana, at the foot of the Cross, and in the upper room after the Ascension. As she was cared for by St. John the Evangelist, we can surmise a reasonably strong influence on the writing of John's Gospel in addition to many details provided to St. Luke. Mary's influence on the Church can be overlooked if we are not attentive.
We read that Mary is to be the bearer of God, thus becoming the Ark of the New Covenant. How does she react to this news? With faith and reverence. Her ready ‘yes’ is evident to even the most casual reader. We also read a tremendous sense of awe and wonder in the Blessed Mother, the same way we should view this amazing news each time we are reminded. It is utterly beyond comprehension, but we must give our ‘yes’, our assent, to God unflinchingly. Mary shows us by example the essence of true obedience to our heavenly Father. She shows us what faith means.
The translation of her response to being the bearer of a child is best rendered as ‘having no relations with a man’, meaning she lives a consecrated life to God. Of course, she knew how children came into the world. Her response acknowledges the deep regard she has for the mission God has given to her. Gabriel tells her that the child is not from a natural conception, but a supernatural one. The child will thus have a divine nature and a human nature. The child is from both God by origination. His human nature will be fully and truly human, coming (as it were) from the Blessed Mother. The Son of God joins to Himself a human nature. There exists in the womb of Mary one Person with a human nature and a divine nature. Since Mary gives birth to a Person, and this Person is God (by communication of idioms), Mary is the Mother of God. Even the most ardent Protestants should not object to this title.
From these passages, we can see the powerful (high) Christological implications of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, in which no doubt is left about the human nature of Jesus being void of Original Sin. Again, Mary is said by the angel to be “full of grace”. What are we left without because of the sin of Adam? Grace. And how can one be full of grace without some special gift of God? The fact that Mary is full of grace makes evident how distinct she is. Where Eve failed, Mary succeeds. Each was born in a state of grace, only the latter - the New Eve - continually ratifies the grace by perfect obedience.
Mary’s closing words to Gabriel echo through the ages. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” She accepts the will of God with gladness, despite the sure knowledge she has about what it will mean for her life to be the Mother of God.
May we look to the Blessed Mother as the supreme example of loving God above all things.
Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.