The angel’s message: meditation on the Annunciation
By Fr Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen OCD | 22 March 2023
At your side, O Mary, I wish to learn how to repeat, in every circumstance, your Ecce ancilla Domini — “Behold the handmaid of the Lord”!
Let us try, through the inspired narrative of St Luke (1:26–38), to enter into the dispositions of Mary’s soul at the time of the Annunciation.
The Angel sent by God finds the Virgin recollected in solitude, and “being come in”, says to her: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.” At these words, according to the sacred text, Mary is “troubled”; we must not, however, take this phrase to mean real disturbance, which destroys the peace of the spirit; it means rather a profound astonishment at this unusual greeting, an astonishment so great as to cause a kind of fear. This is Mary’s first reaction to the angelical message, a reaction arising from her deep humility, which makes her think this extraordinary eulogy very strange.
Meanwhile the Angel communicates to her his great message: God wishes her to become the Mother of the Redeemer. Mary had always lived under the continual direction of the Holy Spirit and under His inspiration had made a vow of virginity; therefore, she was convinced that she should remain a virgin and that this was God’s will. But now God lets her know that He has chosen her to be the Mother of His Son, and she, humble handmaid that she is, is ready to adhere to the divine plan. However, she does not yet understand how she can be at the same time a mother and a virgin, and she questions the Angel on this point: “How shall this be done?”
The Angel explains: “The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee.” Her maternity will be the direct work of the Holy Spirit and will respect her virginity.
The will of God is then entirely clear to Mary, and she, who during her whole life has always been moved by the divine will alone, accepts it immediately, with an entire adherence and a most intense pure love: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to Thy word.” The total acceptance is accompanied by a total donation: Mary accepts by offering herself, and she offers herself by giving herself. She offers herself as a servant, or rather, as a slave, if we take the word in the full sense of the Greek text; she gives herself by abandoning herself as a prey to the divine will, accepting by anticipation everything that God may ask of her. Her adherence to Him is both active and passive: Mary wills all that God wills, and she accepts all that He does. Thus Mary appears as the model of a soul completely united to God, fully given up to His divine will.
The Angel’s explanation does not prevent many future events and circumstances from remaining hidden and obscure to Mary. She finds herself face to face with a mystery, a mystery which she knows intuitively to be rich in suffering; for she has learned from the Sacred Scriptures that the Redeemer will be a man of sorrows, sacrificed for the salvation of mankind. Therefore, the ineffable joy of the divine maternity is presented to her wrapped in a mystery of sorrow: to be willing to be the Mother of the Son of God means consenting to be the Mother of one condemned to death. Yet Mary accepts everything in her fiat: in the joy, as well as in the sorrow of the mystery, she has but one simple answer: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord.” By this acceptance, the Blessed Virgin becomes intimately associated with the life of suffering of her Son Jesus, and, therefore, with His work of Redemption, thus becoming the spiritual Mother of the human race. This is the divine plan for her, and Mary accepts it wholly, without reserve, precisely because her will is wholly united to the will of God.
Every Christian receives a vocation from God, a mission to fulfil, by means of which he is called to participate in the redemptive work of Jesus. For souls consecrated to God, this mission always finds its culminating point in a task of spiritual paternity or maternity. Oh, if every soul would respond to the divine appeal by as complete an acceptance as Mary’s Ecce ancilla Domini: fiat — “Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it done!”
Many times in the course of our life we have received invitations from the Lord — and we shall certainly continue to receive them — invitations to suffering, to sacrifice, to the gift of self. How have we corresponded? Perhaps the thought of the fatigue and suffering which we would have to embrace has held us back. Let us try, in the future, to keep the eyes of our soul open to the light of faith, so that, like Mary, we shall understand that it is through suffering that God calls us to collaborate with Jesus in the sanctification of souls.
“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee! Not only is God the Son with you, to whom you gave your blood, but also God the Holy Spirit, by means of whose operation you conceived, and also God the Father, who generated from all eternity Him whom you conceived. The Father, who gives you His Son, is with you; the Son is with you, who, wishing to accomplish a prodigious mystery, conceals Himself in your maternal bosom without violating your virginal integrity; the Holy Spirit is with you, who, together with the Father and the Son, sanctifies you. God is truly with you.”St Bernard
“O Mary, Mary, temple of the Trinity … O Mary, vessel of humility, you were pleasing to the eternal Father, and in His own singular love, He has captivated you and drawn you to Him. By the fire of your charity, by the unction of your humility, you have drawn the Divinity to come within you.
“Did fear disturb you at the Angel’s word, O Mary? It does not seem that it did, although you were astonished. At what, then, were you astonished? At the great goodness of God, when, considering yourself, you knew you were unworthy of so great a grace. You wondered at the sight of your unworthiness, your weakness and at God’s ineffable grace … and thus you showed profound humility. But there also appears today in you, O Mary, the dignity and liberty of man, for before the Word was made incarnate, the Angel was sent to ask your consent. The Son of God did not descend into your bosom before you had consented; He waited at the door of your will which you opened to Him, for although He wanted to come to you, He would never have entered if you had not opened to Him saying: ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to Thy word’.
“O Mary, my sweet love, you opened to the eternal Divinity the door of your will, and the Word immediately became incarnate within you. By this you teach me that God, who created me without my help, will not save me without it … but knocks at the door of my will and waits for me to open it to Him.”St Catherine of Siena
O Mary, by the ineffable mystery which was accomplished in you I beg you to teach me and help me always to open wide the door of my soul to every divine appeal, to every solicitation of grace. At each manifestation of the divine will, may I repeat with you a humble, prompt Ecce, fiat!