Handmaid of the Lord

Angel and Mary

  I delight to do Your will, O my God;
Your Law is within my heart.
Psalm 40, 8

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
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γένοιτό μοι κατ τ ῥῆμά σου
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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. This Greek word is a form of the verb ginomai (γίνομαι) or “to come into being”. God’s word found fulfilment and the Incarnation happened because Mary found no true joy in this world except in God. The Divine Word or 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 favour on the lowliness of his handmaid (Lk 1:48).

“O, how marvellous it is! She acts as a mediatrix
between the loftiness of God and the lowliness of the flesh
and becomes Mother of the Creator.”
St. Andrew of Crete
Homily 1 on Mary’s Nativity
(740 A.D.)

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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.

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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 centre 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 their souls as the living Word of God had been conceived in the womb of his most Blessed Mother because of her immaculate heart.

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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 to give her the good news of salvation. Mary conceived the Divine Word in her womb, for she had found favour 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 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 proto-type: 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 (Rom 5:5). She received the Spirit of adoption as a daughter of God whereby she could joyfully cry “Abba Father” (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.

“Mary was more blessed in receiving the faith of Christ than in conceiving the body of Christ…. Her motherly closeness to Christ would have meant nothing if she had not carried Christ more happily in her heart than in her womb.
St. Augustine, Sermon 215, 1
(391-430 A.D.)

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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 redeemed man would be gathered waiting for the promised Spirit.

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 since 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 come 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.

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Mary is the proto-type 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 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 but became obscure. 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 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. There was a unity and harmony between the Holy Spirit and Mary who was a true daughter of God and His covenant with her people.

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 (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, without which Christ would not have been conceived in her womb and entered the world for our redemption.

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Our Blessed Lady and Handmaid of the Lord was the first labourer 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.

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 Saviour, 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. Fortunately for us, Mary was full of grace when the angel appeared to her in the month of Nisan.

“And so, brethren, may it be granted to us to adore with deep humility the indivisible Trinity. And then let us praise with songs of joy Mary ever-virgin, who herself is clearly the holy Church, together with her Son and most chaste spouse. To God be praise forever.”
St. Cyril of Alexandria, Council of Ephesus
(431 A.D.)
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This man and that man is born in her,
and the Highest himself hath founded her?
Psalm 87, 5
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Salve Regina!
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On the Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary,
Mother of the Church
10 June 2019