Establish thy word to thy servant, in thy fear.
Psalm 119, 38
And Mary said:
Behold the handmaid of the Lord;
be it done to me according to thy word.
And the angel departed from her.
Luke 1, 38
What was essential in the Divine plan of salvation was that the Blessed Virgin Mary should have the freedom to decide whether to be the mother of our Lord and Savior. It was necessary that her liberty of will be honored for the sake of all righteousness in harmony with the Divine essence. God desired that Mary should say Yes, and only then would He become incarnate to redeem the world in the Person of the Divine Word.
In Catholic theology, there is a marked difference between what God desires and what God decrees. What God desires is His antecedent will, and what God decrees is His consequent will. God desires that everyone be saved (Ezek 18:23; 1 Tim 2:4; 1 John 2:2, etc.), but He decrees that unrepentant souls must be cast into the everlasting fire of Hell in eternal expiation for their grave sins (Matt 25:41; Lk 13:3, etc.). So, God desired that Mary should say Yes to His will before He would become a man. What God desired (antecedent will) would not have been realized if Mary had said No to His messenger. But God’s decree (consequent will) that Mary should have the freedom to choose to be the mother of His Only-begotten Son would have been fulfilled whether she said Yes or No to Him.
If God has decreed or determined that we all say Yes to Him with no qualification or condition, then no human soul could possibly perish. Nor could we be at liberty to choose God and accept His will for the sake of His love and goodness above all else. If we choose to say No to God, the negative consequence of being alienated and separated from Him is something we bring upon ourselves (Deut 30:19; 2 Tim 2:12, etc.). God has willed with the necessity that we have the freedom to say Yes or No to His will, for He desires that we genuinely love Him to make our abode with Him (Jn 14:23).
God desires that we say Yes instead of No, and so, He has given each of us the liberty to decide for ourselves. He does not determine that we say Yes to His will, or else our love for God and our faithful obedience to Him, because of our love, become non-sequitur. In the same vein, neither did God determine or coerce Mary to say Yes to the angel Gabriel. God willed with the necessity that our Lady has the freedom to choose Him over any natural desire of hers. This liberty of will that God decreed Mary should have entailed consequences not only for her but also for humanity.
When God fashioned Mary’s soul at the first instant of her conception, He knew that she would confidently say Yes just by having created her without having to peer into the future to discover for Himself what her answer to the angel would be (Scientia media). It’s like someone who can know an entire story from beginning to end by just looking at the cover of a book instead of having to turn the pages in sequential order to see what will happen in the story. The only reason Mary couldn’t have said No was because God infallibly knew in the immediate eternal present that she would say Yes to Him. And since He knew Mary would say Yes, she would then have had to. Thus, neither did God have to depend on her Fiat to become incarnate, though He desired that she say Yes before He would.
For God, it wasn’t a question of will she or won’t she say Yes. God didn’t rely on other possible options either if she should say No. There is nothing outside of God that can constrain Him, for He infallibly knows all things that do or shall exist. But God may obligate Himself to do what is righteous in concurrence with His moral attributes. What God decreed with necessity, therefore, was that He send the angel Gabriel to Mary for her free consent so that all people might be saved as He desired, knowing that she would say Yes to Him according to His will. Elizabeth, too, could then praise her kinswoman for her obedient act of faith to our Lady’s merit (Lk 1:45).
God could only have coerced Mary to say Yes if He did not know for certain what her reply would be or if He knew she would say No. There is nothing glorious about God imposing His will on anyone created in His image and acting like a benevolent tyrant or a patronizer. And, of course, God sent His Son into the world because of His absolute love for us, not because He had to. A Calvinist will tell us that God decreed Adam should sin so that the Son could save the Elect from the bondage of sin and damnation for the glory of God. However, we, in turn, must freely reciprocate our heavenly Father’s love by being obedient to Him if we hope to be saved and make our eternal dwelling with Him as He desires.
Our relationship with God is covenantal from the time He first created Adam who sinned by his own free will, or else there could be no such thing as original sin in the first place and no need for a redeemer and savior. Indeed, Mary proclaims in her Magnificat: “My soul glorifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Lk 1:46-47). Without her Fiat or joyful consent, our Blessed Lady would have no cause to rejoice. God’s glory is proclaimed by the supernatural quality of our souls through co-operation with His saving grace. Our righteousness must be our very own in collaboration with the Holy Spirit for us to enter the kingdom of heaven.
At the Annunciation, Mary led our way to God in the order of grace by helping make our pilgrimage of faith possible. By her free consent to be the mother of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ came into the world to save us from our sins and to exemplify in his humanity what we must do to be saved in concurrence with his own spiritual disposition. Without free will, we couldn’t possibly possess the supernatural virtues that justify the soul before God and unite it to Him.
That the Son of man should suffer for our transgressions and die as an expiation for our sins wasn’t an option for God either. Jesus himself said: “Was it not necessary for the Messiah to endure these things and to enter into his glory?” (Lk 24:26). So, what was also necessary was that our Lord be “made of a woman” who had the liberty to accept or reject the will of God, as much as Eve had, as to fulfill all righteousness (Gal 4:4). God didn’t depend on Mary’s reply to the angel, but the Incarnation did. Nor did God depend on Eve to cast her and her husband out from Eden. Adam and Eve had themselves banished from paradise by freely disobeying God. They weren’t predetermined to sin or to act as a planet in orbit around the Sun. Their disobedience, therefore, could be undone only by the obedience of Jesus and Mary in their filial love for the Father and complete willingness to propitiate His justice.
So, our Lord didn’t have to become a man to expiate sin, but in His love and mercy for mankind, God willed to reconcile the world to Himself by the sacrifice of the Son, provided a woman should humbly and lovingly receive Him into the world (Rev 3:20). That Mary should say Yes was as necessary as it was for her divine Son to suffer and die to atone for the sins of mankind since the Father graciously willed her moral participation and decreed it should be enough. The sacrifice Jesus made of himself in the person of the Son was his humble and loving Yes to the Father in his humanity (Jn 14:31). God would have it no other way, or else the angel Gabriel wouldn’t have appeared to the Virgin Mary at all.
Thus, God desired that Mary say Yes to His will and decreed that she shouldn’t decide to say No if she hoped to be saved with the rest of humanity. Our Blessed Lady’s Yes to God temporally preceded her Divine Son’s Yes to the Father and brought the Lamb of God into the world so that his Yes may redeem humanity (Jn 1:29). Mary freely chose what God desired, since she desired nothing but what He desired. For this reason, the Holy Spirit overshadowed her, and she conceived and bore God’s holy Son (Lk 1:35).
Mary sought the fulfillment of their shared desire so that it would redound to God’s glory. Whatever reward she might merit for her obedient act of faith was secondary in value to her. What mattered to her above all, apart from her compassion towards fallen humanity, was that in His justice God should be appeased for the sins of the world because of His infinite love and goodness. The handmaid of the Lord proved to be the ideal model of what it means to have the saving theological virtue of faith in charity and grace, without which no person can ever hope to be saved.
γένοιτό μοι κατὰ τὸ ῥῆμά σου
The angel Gabriel departed upon Mary’s Fiat as instantly as when he appeared to her. The purpose of his visit had been accomplished as expected when Mary humbly decided to align her will with God’s will so that what the angel said to her should be fulfilled. The original Greek text is transliterated genoito moi kata to rhēma. What our Lady declared to the angel in Aramaic, therefore, was, “Be it to me what you have said.” In other words, seeing that the angel was God’s messenger, Mary said, “May it be for me in accordance with God’s will.” Our Lady’s response was an act of faith working through love (Gal 5:5-6).
The expression genoito (γένοιτό) or “be it” indicates that our Blessed Lady did not merely act in passive submission like a slave who has no choice but to submit to her master’s command in dreadful fear. Rather, she responded freely and appreciatively in a spirit of great joy and in the steadfastness of faith and trust in the Lord. This Greek word is a form of the verb ginomai (γίνομαι) or “to come into being”. God’s word found fulfillment and the Incarnation happened because Mary found no true joy and absolute confidence in this world except in God. The Divine Logos would not come into the world unless He were joyfully and lovingly received by the young maiden he chose to be His mother.
What gave Mary much cause to rejoice was the thought that what God had decreed from all eternity should come to be through His chosen handmaid. Mary freely chose to do God’s will by giving her salutary consent because she cherished the spirit of the Torah and yearned for God’s justice and mercy to be visibly manifested in a wicked world. She constantly sought the Lord throughout her life, understanding and appreciating everything that pleased God. The Annunciation happened because, in her humility and poverty of spirit, Mary sought nothing for her own glory, owning that only God Himself could exalt her by looking with favor on the lowliness of his handmaid (Lk 1:48).
The Annunciation happened because of Mary’s love of God and her poverty of spirit. Eve helped alienate mankind from God because of her pride and vanity. The Lord’s chosen handmaid was called not only to undo Eve’s disobedience but to do so in a reciprocal way, that is by being of a radically opposed disposition. God’s goodness and love required no other path than this one in His plan of redemption. Through Mary’s faith and love should the Son undo the sin of Adam and conquer the serpent once and for all. Mary was called to be more of a faithful helpmate than a physically nurturing mother of the new Adam (Gen 2:18; Lk 11:27-28).
Thus, what happened was that the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary with a Divine proposition. She wasn’t commanded to be the mother of our Lord in the least. The angel simply revealed God’s plan to her, which Mary was at liberty to either embrace or reject. Now the angel speaks of the conception and birth of a son, whom Mary is to call Jesus, as being definite future events. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that Mary had no choice but to be the mother of the Lord. God’s foreknowledge doesn’t determine our actions. Rather, God knew from all eternity that His faithful handmaid would find no joy in this world except in life with Him. And so, our Blessed Lady would joyfully choose to say Yes to His will without any hesitation.
God knew that by the efficacious influence of His actual grace and the prompting of the Holy Spirit that Mary would never want to say No to Him. Perhaps the apostle Paul had the mother of our Lord in the back of his mind when he wrote: ‘For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them’ (Eph 2:10). And since “God desires that everyone be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth,” He sent His angelic messenger to the woman who He foretold to the serpent would crush its head by her act of faith in charity and grace which bore the redemptive fruit of her womb.
The Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary because He was already dwelling in her soul. The angel appeared to her since she was a pure and chaste temple of God, the worthiest of all young maidens to be the mother of the Lord (cf. 1 Cor 3:16). Mary understood through the Spirit’s gift of wisdom and humbly accepted in faith that she was God’s creative handiwork, and as such she was not “her own” but belonged primarily to God her Creator Spirit (cf. 1 Cor 6:19). “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14), for Mary’s soul “magnified the Lord” (Lk 1:46). Being “the temple of the living God,” there were no worldly idols in her soul that could defile her. Mary was chosen to be the mother of God because she was a true servant of Israel in the spirit – God’s chosen daughter who had no affinity with sinful humanity (cf. 2 Cor 6:16).
God had put His Spirit in Mary when He fashioned and sanctified her soul at the first instant of her conception and preserved her free from contracting the stain of original sin so that His handmaid would always walk in His statutes and observe His ordinances without ever falling from His grace. Without violating Mary’s liberty of the will, but being exceptionally persuasive, God caused her to never want to say No to Him by the efficacy of His actual graces and the gifts of the Holy Spirit which enabled her to refrain from committing any personal sins in either thought, word, or deed (Ezek 36:27; Lk 1:28).
Our Blessed Lady “guarded the treasures” of the Holy Spirit that were entrusted to her as His gifts throughout her entire life (cf. 2 Tim 1:14). She would have had to, or else God wouldn’t have sent His messenger to her with His proposal. The mother of God must never fall from grace but should always find favor with Him (Lk 1:30). Mary had no cause to fear the Divine justice, having been preserved free from all stain of sin. The Annunciation happened because she bore the fruit of the Spirit in conducting her life: “love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, faithfulness” – and I should add humility and poverty of spirit (cf. Gal 5:22).
Our Lord’s faithful and chaste handmaid lived her life “not in the flesh, but in the spirit.” She conceived Christ because His Spirit dwelled in her. Mary could be his mother, for she belonged to him, having been pledged to her Divine Son by the grace of God in her own mother’s womb (cf. Rom 8:9). Mary received a singular anointing from Him upon her Immaculate Conception, so that she would always abide in him, as to be a mother worthiest of him (1 Jn 2:27; cf. Lk 11:28). St. Augustine (A.D. 390-430) concurs that “Mary was more blessed in receiving the faith of Christ than in conceiving the body of Christ… Her motherly closeness would have meant nothing if she had not carried Christ more happily in her heart than in her womb” (Sermon 215.1).
“You have knowledge of all things, and you know that I hate the splendor of the wicked and abhor the bed of the uncircumcised
and of any alien. You know my necessity—that I abhor the sign of my proud position, which is upon my head on days when I
appear in public. I abhor it like a filthy rag, and I do not wear it on the days when I am at leisure. And your handmaid has
not eaten at Haman’s table, and I have not honored the king’s feast or drunk the wine of libations. Your handmaid has had no
joy since the day that I was brought here until now, except in you, O Lord God of Abraham. O God, whose might is over all,
hear the voice of the despairing, and save us from the hands of evildoers. And save me from my fear!”
Esther [C] 14, 14-19 (NAB)
In the spirit of Queen Esther, the Virgin Mary possessed a steadfast love of God and trust in His mercy. She felt sorrowful compassion for humanity in exile no less than the Jewish heroine had for her people in their captivity. Mary’s Fiat rose to heaven as sweetly as Esther’s prayer had risen to God, that He may deliver His people from slavery to sin and the clutches of impending death. Mary understood that God desired to be merciful to mankind and offer sinful humanity its redemption with the coming of the promised Messiah. She desired as much that God’s justice is manifested so that the enemies of mankind, viz., suffering, and death, could be destroyed once and for all.
When our Blessed Lady declared “Be it done to me,” she wished to relieve the world of its distress that was brought about by its sinful condition. She believed that only God could deliver the world from the powers of darkness through His Messiah if it were His will. Mary saw, by the sanctifying light of faith, that her Yes to God would contribute to casting the prince of darkness from his throne and bring permanent ruin to his dominion on earth along with his wicked seed who have cause to fear the Divine justice. God’s hatred for sin would now be turned against the author of sin for the love and tender compassion He had for His people (Gen 3:14). God would honor Mary’s consent, for His beloved handmaid was a daughter after His own heart.
Mary couldn’t possibly want to say No, for the child that she shall bear will inherit the throne of his father David and establish his heavenly kingdom on earth upon deposing the dark ruler of this world (Lk 1:31-33). It was “in the presence of the lion” which prowled around in the world to devour vulnerable souls that Mary freely consented to be the mother of the divine Messiah. God honored her decision by becoming incarnate since her will aligned with His. Her soul “magnified the Lord” being unaffected by pride and inordinate desires. There was no place for alluring idols in the depths of her soul. Mary “never graced the banquets of earthly kings or drank the wine of libations” to any idols, for the God of Abraham was her only true joy (cf. Esther 4, (C) 28-30, NAB).
Indeed, the Messiah was forever her King and Savior, in whom her spirit rejoiced (Lk 1:46-47). In him, she had hoped to find refuge and receive strength in a wicked world. It was He who she always yearned would finally come to satisfy the righteous in their hunger for justice and send away the wicked empty along with their vain riches. Mary couldn’t resist the joy of bearing the One who she desired would rule the world with a rod of iron or justice (Rev 2:27; 19:15). From his throne, he would “scatter the proud in their conceit, cast down the mighty from their thrones, and lift up the lowly” (Lk 1:50-51).
Mary was blessed (eulogemene) above all women for having been chosen to be the Mother of God. But unless she first found joy in helping to accomplish what God desired, she would never have been graced with the joy of being His mother; nor could there be any explanation for Mary’s joy if she were nothing more than a subjected slave who had no choice but to submit to her master’s command in fear of his wrath. The angel assured our Blessed Lady that she had no cause to fear his presence, and that was because she had found favor with God by having observed His word throughout her life (Lk 1:30). And he implicitly assured her that she would remain in God’s grace from that time on, or else she wouldn’t have been chosen to be the mother of the Lord (Lk 1:28). Jesus himself would affirm that his mother Mary was more (menoun) blessed for her faith and impeccable obedience to God than she was for being a natural mother to him (Lk 11:27-28).
The Lord’s handmaid heard the word of God and kept it treasured in the depths of her immaculate heart, not because she feared the Divine wrath, but rather because she loved God more than any created thing. So, she had no cause to fear His wrath, unlike the wicked. ‘There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment’ (1 Jn 4:18). God’s grace went before the Virgin Mary from the first instant of her conception, through her birth, and until her Dormition; since she was predestined to be the Mother of God (Isa 7:14; Lk 1:35, 43). She was infallibly made and kept pure of heart and inviolate in body and soul by the power of divine grace which our Blessed Lady was exceptionally endowed with, and opened her soul to, because of her election to the Divine Maternity. Now to Him, the one who could keep Mary from falling and to present her before His glorious presence without fault and with great joy, be glory, power, majesty, and authority through Jesus Christ our Lord (Jude 1:24-25).
From the time God first promised Abraham that He would make him the father of many nations, at the time God established His covenant with His chosen people through Moses at Mount Sinai, during the reign of the Davidic kings, and through the time of the prophets, all things were hastening towards the day when the Holy Spirit would come, bringing the light of life and fire from heaven. Ezekiel envisioned the coming of the Paraclete whom Christ would send as he promised he would after his resurrection and ascension into heaven: “Therefore prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and k bring you into the land of Israel. “Then you shall know that I am the LORD, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. “I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land” (Ezek 37:12-14). And again: “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh” (Ezek 36:26; cf. Acts 2:17).
It was on Pentecost that the Scriptures were fulfilled. On this day, the Mystical Body of Christ, that is the Church, was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit came down in the upper room while all the disciples were “persevering with one mind in prayer with the women, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren” (Acts 1:14). Mary was placed at the center of this small company of disciples when the Holy Spirit came down upon them in a rush of wind and with fire because of her association with Him in the hypostatic order of Christ’s incarnation. The Holy Spirit descended upon the Apostles and the disciples present there since He had already come upon Mary. By the descent of the Holy Spirit, the Church was born. The word of God was conceived by all the faithful in the upper room in the womb of the newborn Church as the living Word of God had been conceived in the womb of his most Blessed Mother because of her immaculate heart.
All this came to be starting with the Blessed Virgin Mary, the handmaid of the Lord when the angel Gabriel appeared to her in the month of Nisan (March) to give her the good news of salvation. Mary conceived the Divine Word in her womb, for she had found favor with God, who had put His spirit within her at the first instant of her conception. The Spirit came into her heart and filled her soul with a full abundance of His grace. And, so, she physically conceived Jesus, as the Apostles and all the disciples would spiritually conceive him, for the Church to be born. There could be no Church if it weren’t for her spotless and unblemished prototype: The Blessed Virgin Mary. No bride of Christ could have been born without the personal spouse of the Holy Spirit who has sanctified the Church by His presence only by having first sanctified Mary’s womb. Our Blessed Lady represents in her person the nuptial union between Christ and his Church.
What was fulfilled on Pentecost in the heart and soul of mankind was anticipated in the heart and soul of Mary. She was the first member to have formed the mystical Body of Christ with her Son as Head. Our Blessed Lady pronounced her Fiat because the charity of God was poured forth into her heart by His sanctifying grace through the Spirit who was given to her (cf. Rom 5:5). She received the Spirit of adoption as a daughter of God whereby she could joyfully cry “Abba Father” (cf. Rom 8:15): “May it be done to me according to thy word.” There could be no Pentecost without the Incarnation, no incarnation without the Virgin Mary. Her Fiat or loving consent was her “I do.” The Annunciation was Mary’s wedding day. Her marriage with the Divine Bridegroom in the Holy Spirit was consummated the first instant she conceived him in her womb so that he would be conceived in the womb of the virgin Church and born into the world through the proclamation of the Gospel and the administration of the Sacraments – signs of our new life with God.
Perhaps we could say the Church was born at the Annunciation. The Incarnation did occur within the sanctuary of Mary’s immaculate heart. Her innermost being was where her Divine Son was initially conceived before he should physically enter his mother’s sacred womb. Mary the Immaculate Mother was in her person the “holy and unblemished bride” of her Son – a living symbol of the Church (Eph 5:27). The Holy Spirit overshadowed and filled her with an abundance of even more grace since she was trusting and obedient to God whom she loved and adored above all created things. The heart of Mary was a redeemed heart of flesh which foreshadowed the upper room where the redeemed would be gathered waiting for the promised Spirit to inflame their hearts with the law of Christ.
The mystery of the heart of the Church was originally manifested in the heart of Mary when she joyfully consented to be the mother of God incarnate and our Divine Bridegroom. She kept God’s words and signs, pondering them in her heart all her life, and even more fervently from the time the angel appeared to her. (Lk 2:19, 51). The Holy Spirit came down in the upper room because Mary had persevered in faith to the end. By her perseverance in faith, conversions of the heart in living souls would take place from the day the Church was born (Acts 2:41). Mary truly is the Mother of the Church, our mother in virtue of our marriage covenant with her divine Son (Jn 2:2-11).
Thus, Mary represents the Church her Son has established – the New Jerusalem coming down from heaven – as the proto-type of all faithful believers. Because of her faith working through love, God’s only Son became man by the power of the Holy Spirit. By her salutary consent, many sons and daughters were to be born to God from the womb of the Church by the power of that same Holy Spirit who overshadowed her. All the prophecies were fulfilled in Mary, Isaiah’s sign of the restoration, for the Holy Spirit had breathed life into her soul, this same Spirit who shall change the world in the last age in collaboration with her. St. Cyril of Alexander invites us to “praise with songs of joy Mary ever-virgin, who herself is clearly the holy Church together with her Son and most chaste spouse” (Homily 4 at the Council of Ephesus: A.D. 431).
I delight to do Your will, O my God;
Your Law is within my heart.
Psalm 40, 8
What Ezekiel envisioned with other prophets was God’s establishment of His New Dispensation which would replace the Old and include the Gentiles, who together with the faithful remnant of Israel would constitute His heavenly kingdom, the Church of the New Testament. The Christian ethic was not to be found in a collection of commands and norms but was to be the Holy Spirit Himself, who in essence is love. Mary was the first of God’s newly chosen people who were to be moved and motivated by the Holy Spirit as God is in His deeds.
Mary is the prototype of the Church: the living members of Christ’s mystical body in virtue of their baptism and adherence to the one true faith. She conceived the living Word of God in her womb because she faithfully collaborated with the Holy Spirit, who prompted her to live in the same way as God in the emulation of her Divine Son. God looked with favor on His handmaid because she opened her heart and soul to the Spirit that was given to her. Mary was chosen to be the mother of God incarnate because she lived her life in accordance with the spirit of the law, the natural law of love and freedom which God had inscribed in every human heart. This law is love, which is the person of the Holy Spirit, our instructor. By following this single command, Mary could abide in God as all her Son’s faithful disciples do by fulfilling their baptismal commitments (Mt 22:37-40; 1 Jn 4:16).
Our Lord and Savior came into the world because the young maiden he had chosen to be His mother was filled with the Holy Spirit, specially prepared by God to receive Him in her holy womb. He had filled her soul with His sanctifying grace and regenerated her heart in anticipation of sanctifying her womb and His personal dwelling place with His presence. There was unity and harmony between the Holy Spirit and Mary who was a true daughter of God and His covenant with her people. Unlike most of the Jews in her time, she was in no dire need to be solely dependent upon the religious instructions of her elders and kept in rein. God Himself was her counselor whom she heeded with spiritual perfection.
Indeed, Mary was free of the curse of the law, for the Holy Spirit dwelled inside her and ruled her soul instructing her how to live. Not once did she ever commit a personal sin, for her heart was totally pure and untainted by original sin. Mary abided in God’s love, for the door to her heart was always left open to Him. She joyfully received all she was taught in the depths of her heart and soul (cf. 1 Jn 2:27) just as she had the words of the angel in humility and poverty of spirit. The Annunciation happened because Mary was like a little child who depended on her father for all her spiritual needs. In humble silence, Mary pondered all His words and kept them in her heart. The Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary because she allowed Him to lead her in doing what He desired. In this sense, she was totally free, being completely personalized in the divine image she was originally created in (cf. 2 Cor 3:17).
Hence, Mary conceived and bore the Divine Word made man because she desired only what God desired of her. The Spirit Himself bore witness with her spirit (which rejoiced in God her savior) that she was truly a daughter of God after His own heart (cf. Rom 8:16). And so, the Church was born when Mary joyfully declared: “May it be done to me according to thy word.” The mystery of Mary is the same mystery of the Church, whose existence is grounded in the faith and love she possessed as the result of the Spirit’s presence (the life-giving water of Christ that draws us to the Father) within her (cf. Rev 22:17), without which Christ would not have been conceived in her womb and entered the world for our redemption.
Our Blessed Lady and Handmaid of the Lord was the first laborer to joyfully work in her Son’s vineyard for the salvation of souls in faith working through love by consenting to be his mother and following him all the way to the Cross on Calvary (Mt 20:1-16). Without her presence at the foot of the Cross, no blood (justification) and water (regeneration) would have flowed from our Lord’s side to give birth to the Church as one visible corporate entity united in faith, for there could be no Calvary unless Mary faithfully stood beneath the Cross uniting her interior suffering with her Son’s anguish because of sin. Without the Blessed Virgin Mary, there could be no Disciple standing there with her as a fellow pilgrim of faith rejoicing in God’s salvation despite the great trials.
Shall not Zion say:
This man and that man is born in her,
and the Highest himself hath founded her?
Psalm 87, 5
Early Sacred Tradition
“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.
The former was seduced to disobey God, 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 it was saved by a virgin.”
St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, V:19,1
“Holy and wise in all things was the all-blessed Virgin; in all ways peerless among all nations, and unrivaled
among women. Not as the first virgin Eva, who being alone in the garden, was in her weak mind led astray by
the serpent; and so took his advice and brought death into the world; and because of that hath been all the
suffering of saints. But in her alone, in this Holy Virgin Mary, the Stem of Life hath shot up for us. For she
alone was spotless in soul and body.”
St. Gregory Thaumaturgus, On the Holy Mother of God
“It was, to divulge by the manner of His Incarnation this great secret; that purity is the only complete
indication of the presence of God and of His coming, and that no one can in reality secure this for himself,
unless he has altogether estranged himself from the passions of the flesh. What happened in the stainless
Mary when the fullness of the Godhead which was in Christ shone out through her, that happens in every
soul that leads by rule the virgin life.”
St. Gregory of Nyssa, On Virginity, 2
“And if the God-bearing flesh was not ordained to be assumed of the lump of Adam,
what need was there of the Holy Virgin?”
St. Basil, To the Sozopolitans, Epistle 261
“The first thing which kindles ardour in learning is the greatness of the teacher. What is greater than
the Mother of God? What more glorious than she whom Glory Itself chose? What more chaste than
she who bore a body without contact with another body? For why should I speak of her other virtues?
She was a virgin not only in body but also in mind, who stained the sincerity of its disposition by no guile,
who was humble in heart, grave in speech, prudent in mind, sparing of words, studious in reading,
resting her hope not on uncertain riches, but on the prayer of the poor, intent on work, modest in discourse;
wont to seek not man but God as the judge of her thoughts, to injure no one, to have goodwill towards all,
to rise up before her elders, not to envy her equals, to avoid boastfulness, to follow reason, to love virtue.”
St. Ambrose, On Virginity, 2:15
“‘There shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a flower shall grow out of his roots.’
The rod is the mother of the Lord–simple, pure, unsullied; drawing no germ of life from without but
fruitful in singleness like God Himself…Set before you the blessed Mary, whose surpassing purity
made her meet to be the mother of the Lord.”
St. Jerome, To Eustochium, Epistle 22:19,38
“Mary, the holy Virgin, is truly great before God and men.
For how shall we not proclaim her great,
who held within her the uncontainable One,
whom neither heaven nor earth can contain?”
St. Epiphanius, Panarion, 30:31
(ante A.D. 403)
“We must except the holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom I wish to raise no question
when it touches the subject of sins, out of honor to the Lord; for from Him we know
what abundance of grace for overcoming sin in every particular was conferred upon her who
had the merit to conceive and bear Him who undoubtedly had no sin.”
St. Augustine, Nature and Grace, 36:42
“Hail, Mary, you are the most precious creature in the whole world;
hail, Mary, uncorrupt dove; hail, Mary, inextinguishable lamp;
for from you was born the Sun of justice… through you, every
faithful soul achieves salvation.”
St. Cyril of Alexandria, Homily 11 at the Council of Ephesus
Holy Mary, Mother of God
Pray for us sinners!