First Joyful Mystery: The Annunciation

Anthony Zimmerman
December 17, 2002
Reproduced with Permission

The Annunciation to Mary by Gabriel, and her positive response, are at the center of cosmic history. You and I would not likely have come into being had Mary said NO. For the Bible translation I will use the Douay Reims version which is more elegant than others (Luke 1: 26-38):

And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hall, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.

The greeting is magnificent, coming from Gabriel, who was sent by God. The Church treasures the greeting, and her members greet Mary every day with the Gabriel's words: "Hail Mary, full of grace." The name Mary (Maryam in Hebrew) means "exalted one." This is the most respectful greeting recorded in the Bible, Old and New Testament, ever given by an angel to anyone. It indicates the exalted reputation Mary already had in heaven even before the Annunciation. It was likely an open secret in heaven that she was created as the Immaculate Conception, that she was marked to become the Mother of God, and to eventually be enthroned as the Queen of Angels.

Who having heard, was troubled at his saying, and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be.

Why should Mary be troubled? Likely she remembered that when God sends a greeting, that is not the end of the communication. Great issues of divine intervention in human history are likely to follow. When God called to Moses from the burning bush, the call was a commission to lead the Israelites out of Egypt into the Promised Land, a major task for one man to perform in the History of Salvation. At another time an angel of the Lord had appeared to Gideon and said to him: "The Lord is with you, O champion!" He charged Gideon with the task of mustering an army to battle the Midianites. With God's mighty help Gideon then delivered the Israelites from the hands of their oppressors. Again, an angel of the Lord had appeared to the wife of Manoah and said to her: "Though you are barren and have no children, yet you will conceive and bear a son." As a result Samson, the great warrior, was born. We need not be surprised, then, that Mary was troubled when she heard the angel's salutation: "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee." What might God have in mind to ask Mary to do? Gabriel encouraged her not to be afraid:

And the angel said to her: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. Behold thou shalt conceive In thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus.

That the name is to be Jesus must have given Mary a premonition of what was to follow. Jesus, Joshua in Hebrew, means "God is Salvation." Some great work of the Lord would surely be associated with that name. And she was right. She would be asked to become the mother of the Messiah, the Son of God.

He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the most High; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever. And of his kingdom there shall be no end.

There could be no mistake now: her child was to be the Messiah, the long awaited ruler of Israel. Perhaps things were coming together in the mind of Mary. Seven hundred years previously the prophet Isaiah had spoken of a virgin who would bear a son. The name of the son would be Emmanuel, meaning "God with us". The prophecy had solemnly proclaimed: "Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and his name shall be called "Emmanuel" (Isaiah 7:14). A virgin shall bear Emmanuel? Mary needed to know something:

And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man?

She spoke with Gabriel confidently now, aware that he must know about her vow of virginity since he must have been instructed by God about that. She remembered well that she had made the vow under God's inspiration. Gabriel would also know that. God must have briefed him before He sent Gabriel with the message. The angel then explained that her thinking was correct. Isaiah's prophesy was to be fulfilled: Emmanuel was to be born of a virgin through the miraculous power of God:

And the angel answering, said to her: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

Did Mary understand the angel correctly? Was she being asked to be the Mother of the Son of God, of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity? The Mystery of the Blessed Trinity had not yet been revealed to the Israelites. Even the Church would not clarify the doctrine in lucid terms for three more centuries, at Nicea in the year 325 A.D.: "We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father." Can Mary have understood from Gabriel that the one to be born from her was truly God, and indeed the Son of God?

The Gospel passage indicates nothing less. Before the Church would learn about the Mystery of the Blessed Trinity, God already revealed it to Mary, whom Vatican II hailed as the "Mother of the Church." God was instructing her through Gabriel exactly and precisely and wonderfully, that God was asking her to become the Mother of the Son of God, that the Son was to become incarnate in her womb, that the Holy Spirit would work the wonder within her. So instructed, she believed the word spoken to her. Elizabeth would congratulate her for this magnificent faith: "And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord." Her Son, when twelve years of age, would speak to her about His eternal Father, being aware of her faith: "Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?"

Shall we wonder that God would reveal divine mysteries to Mary before He revealed them to the Church? We should rather believe that God wanted Mary to know what her responsibilities would be, before He would ask for her consent. He would not ask her to voluntarily accept a responsibility that would be hidden from her knowledge and belief. Just as today we speak of the rights of people to know before they give consent, so God dealt with Mary in a manner worthy of her great vocation. Theological terms she may not need to know, but that Jesus is God and that the same Jesus is man, that she needed to know.

One more thing she may have pondered before she gave consent was her future mission associated with the name Jesus, meaning Savior. His Mother must be of the same mind as that of Jesus, devoted to human salvation. Most marvelous of all, the Mother of Jesus should have the privilege of educating her Child, from babyhood on, to think and live as Our Savior. She must model in herself a great love for mankind, a love that will enkindle in Jesus the desire to save all of humanity.

And that is exactly the reason why Jesus so loves His Mother. A testimony by Mother Teresa tells of the high regard Jesus cherishes for His Mother because she gave everything that she could give. When Jesus was urging Mother Teresa to give her all, he encouraged her to do as He and His Mother had done: "Your heart was never drowned in sorrow as was My Mother's. We both gave our all for souls" ("The Soul of Mother Teresa: Hidden Aspects of her Interior Life. The testimony was written on June 2, 1962; see Part 1, Fr. Brian Kolodiejchuk, M.C. Postulator).

Back to Nazareth: When Mary had begun to grasp the meaning of her vocation, Gabriel gave her final assurance that the conception would indeed be miraculous:

And behold thy cousin Elizabeth, she also hath conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her that is called barren: because no word shall be impossible with God.

Now Mary was ready. Oh yes, she was ready indeed. So long had she prayed for the Saviour of Israel to come and save His People. With a fervent virginal YES, she committed herself to become the Mother of God, the Theotokos:

And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.

"Be it done" - genoito in Greek - can mean more than just consent. It can mean: "Oh, how I love this! Please, please, please!"

We bow our heads in reverence with Mary and wait. Heaven and earth are poised and tremble. The sun and the moon pause in their course. The stars ask: "What is this?" Then the Holy Spirit makes His move. And God becomes Man. We bend our knee.

Thank you, our valiant Virgin Mother Mary, Mother of God. I ask you to spend some time with me every day, especially while I pray the rosary.