Feast of the Annunciation
The Feast of the Annunciation
Today, when we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation, we not only celebrate the angel Gabriel appearing to Mary, but also the great mystery of the Incarnation, taking place at the moment Mary declares, in obedience to the Lord, “be it done.” The dialogue we observe between Mary and the angel (found in Luke, chapter 1) is rather concise; the angel’s greeting to Mary, the announcement of God’s plan, and Mary’s humble acceptance to be the Lord’s handmaid. But in this short narration- just a few handfuls of sentences- a great deal of information and meaning is conveyed.
First there is the greeting God’s messenger uses to address Mary; “Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” (Lk 1:28), indicating that even at this point, Mary is already filled with God’s grace. Mary’s reaction here, first unassuming silence, and then humbly asking how God’s intentions for her will be carried out, is fitting of one who was, as we know, conceived free from original sin. We see Mary react to the angel Gabriel with humility and obedience, even fear- a sharp contrast to the actions of Eve in the garden. St. Irenaeus, considered to be the first great Catholic theologian, elaborates on the contrast between Eve and the Blessed Virgin in book 5 of Against Heresies:
“For as Eve was seduced by the word of an angel to flee from God, having rebelled against his Word, so Mary by the word of an angel received the glad tidings that she would bear God by obeying his Word (Luke 1:38). The former was seduced to disobey God [and so fell], but the latter was persuaded to obey God, so that the Virgin Mary might become the advocate of the virgin Eve. As the human race was subjected to death through [the act of] a virgin, so was it saved by a virgin, and thus the disobedience of one virgin was precisely balanced by the obedience of another.”
And when Mary readily submits to God’s will, she does it in a most humble way, as apologist Dr. Scott Hahn describes in his book Hail, Holy Queen:
“A True Mother, Mary considers none of her glories her own. After all, she points out, she is only doing God’s bidding: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). Even when she recognizes her superior gifts, she recognizes that they are gifts: “All generations will call me blessed” (Lk 1:48). For her part, Mary’s own soul “magnifies” not herself, but “the Lord” (Lk 1:46).”
Stepping back from Mary’s role, which was chosen by God from the very beginning, we can also take a moment to contemplate why the annunciation took place as it did. God is not bound to our expectations, and the virginal conception had been foretold, so why was it necessary for God’s messenger to announce God’s plan to Mary? St. Thomas Aquinas explains the logic of announcing to the Virgin Mary what was to be done to her in his magnum opus, the Summa Theologica:
“It was reasonable that it should be announced to the Blessed Virgin that she was to conceive Christ. First, in order to maintain a becoming order in the union of the Son of God with the Virgin-namely, that she should be informed in mind concerning Him, before conceiving Him in the flesh. Thus Augustine says (De Sancta Virgin. iii): “Mary is more blessed in receiving the faith of Christ, than in conceiving the flesh of Christ”; and further on he adds: “Her nearness as a Mother would have been of no profit to Mary, had she not borne Christ in her heart after a more blessed manner than in her flesh.”
Secondly, that she might be a more certain witness of this mystery, being instructed therein by God.
Thirdly, that she might offer to God the free gift of her obedience: which she proved herself right ready to do, saying: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord.”
Fourthly, in order to show that there is a certain spiritual wedlock between the Son of God and human nature. Wherefore in the Annunciation the Virgin’s consent was besought in lieu of that of the entire human nature.”
To understand, more fully, Mary’s role in the Redemption of the human race, we recommend Adrienne Von Speyr’s Mary in the Redemption.
Rejoice O Virgin, Birthgiver of God, Mary full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb. For you have born the Savior of our souls. Amen.