“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: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. Who having heard, was troubled at his saying, and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be” (Luke 1: 26-29).
How would any of us respond in this situation? Imagine being fifteen years old, going about your day, maybe doing some laundry for your parents, and seeing an angel appear in front of you?
The Solemnity of the Annunciation
March 25th is the Solemnity of the Annunciation, the day Gabriel appeared to Mary. It’s also the day she conceived Jesus through the Holy Spirit. This is a monumental day in history, and a core piece of our Catholic religion.
I’m sure we’ve all gotten this question from a Protestant friend some point in our lives. “Why do Catholics worship Mary?” They want to know why we have special devotions, consecrations, and prayers to her.
To start, the first half of the Hail Mary prayer comes directly from the Bible. First, from Gabriel: “Hail (Mary), full of grace. The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women.” Then, later in Luke’s Gospel, from Elizabeth. She greets Mary with the words: “Blessed is the fruit of your womb (Jesus).” The last words of the Hail Mary prayer are “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our deaths. Amen.”
In the last sentence of the prayer, we ask Mary to intercede in Heaven on our behalf. Our prayers to Mary center around asking for her intercession, not for some kind of power. We appeal to Mary and the saints to aid us, to pray with us, but not to change things for us. The day of the Annunciation affirms that we do not worship Mary. It also confirms why we should see her as an example to follow and an intercessor in our lives.
Mary vs. Zechariah
“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. 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 forever. And of his kingdom there shall be no end. And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man?” (Luke 1: 30-34).
If you’re familiar with this sequence of the Gospel, then you know that this all happens just after Zechariah hears that Elizabeth will conceive John the Baptist. Zechariah insists that this cannot be true, as he knows his wife has passed menopause and can no longer become pregnant. As punishment, God takes Zechariah’s voice from him until after John’s birth.
Unlike Zechariah, Mary does not question the Lord; she merely questions his plan. While Zechariah insists that not even God can help him and his wife have a child in their old age, Mary asks the angel for clarity in understanding how her pregnancy will come about. She understands the truth of God’s power, and as a result, receives the reward of understanding His plan.
Mary models obedience
“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. 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” (Luke 1: 35-37).
The Gospel shows Mary in this moment as the Mother of God. Gabriel tells her explicitly that her child will be the Son of God. She does not know all that will happen: Jesus’ preaching in the temple, His miracle at the wedding feast at Cana, His death on the cross, the sword of pain that will pierce her heart. God allows her to ask how all this will come about, and then leaves it at that. She accepts His will.
Mary is a rare case of God making a request
The Church believes that Mary willingly accepted God’s assignment. He did not force pregnancy on her. Fully aware of what was happening, she said yes to God’s call. She was not an unwitting young girl who suddenly “fell pregnant” and then complied. She was the real Mother of God, fully part of the plan, saying yes to whatever difficulties might come. Mary gave us the words we all should use to answer God’s call in our lives.
“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: 38-39).