39In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, 40 and she entered the house of Zechari′ah and greeted Elizabeth. 41 And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit 42 and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! 43 And why is this granted me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. 45 And blessed is she who believed that there would be[a] a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.”
1:29–30. Our Lady is troubled by the presence of the archangel and by the confusion truly humble people experience when they receive praise.
1:30. The Annunciation is the moment when our Lady is given to know the vocation which God planned for her from eternity. When the archangel sets her mind at ease by saying “Do not be afraid, Mary,” he is helping her to overcome that initial fear which a person normally experiences when God gives him or her a special calling. The fact that Mary felt this fear does not imply the least trace of imperfection in her: hers is a perfectly natural reaction in the face of the supernatural. Imperfection would arise if one did not overcome this fear or rejected the advice of those in a position to help—as St Gabriel helped Mary.
1:31–33. The archangel Gabriel tells the Blessed Virgin that she is to be the Mother of God by reminding her of the words of Isaiah which announced that the Messiah would be born of a virgin, a prophecy which will find its fulfilment in Mary (cf. Mt 1:22–23; Is 7:14).
He reveals that the Child will be “great”: his greatness comes from his being God, a greatness he does not lose when he takes on the lowliness of human nature. He also reveals that Jesus will be the king of the Davidic dynasty sent by God in keeping with his promise of salvation; that his Kingdom will last forever, for his humanity will remain forever joined to his divinity; that “he will be called Son of the Most High”, that is, he really will be the Son of the Most High and will be publicly recognized as such; in other words, the Child will be the Son of God.
The archangel’s announcement evokes the ancient prophecies which foretold these prerogatives. Mary, who was well-versed in Holy Scripture, clearly realized that she was to be the Mother of God.
1:34–38. Commenting on this passage John Paul II said: “Virgo fidelis, the faithful Virgin. What does this faithfulness of Mary’s mean? What are the dimensions of this faithfulness? The first dimension is called search. Mary was faithful first of all when she began, lovingly, to seek the deep sense of God’s plan in her and for the world. Quomodo fiet? How shall this be?, she asked the Angel of the Annunciation […].
“The second dimension of faithfulness is called reception, acceptance. The quomodo fiet? is changed, on Mary’s lips, to a fiat: Let it be done, I am ready, I accept. This is the crucial moment of faithfulness, the moment in which man perceives that he will never completely understand the ‘how’; that there are in God’s plan more areas of mystery than of clarity; that, however he may try, he will never succeed in understanding it completely […].
“The third dimension of faithfulness is consistency to live in accordance with what one believes; to adapt one’s own life to the object of one’s adherence. To accept misunderstanding, persecutions, rather than a break between what one practises and what one believes: this is consistency […].
“But all faithfulness must pass the most exacting test, that of duration.
“Therefore, the fourth dimension of faithfulness is constancy. It is easy to be consistent for a day or two. It is difficult and important to be consistent for one’s whole life. It is easy to be consistent in the hour of enthusiasm, it is difficult to be so in the hour of tribulation. And only a consistency that lasts throughout the whole of life can be called faithfulness. Mary’s ‘fiat’ in the Annunciation finds its fullness in the silent ‘fiat’ that she repeats at the foot of the Cross” (Homily in Mexico City Cathedral, 26 January 1979).
1:34. Mary believed the archangel’s words absolutely; she did not doubt as Zechariah had done (cf. Lk 1:18). Her question, “How can this be?”, expresses her readiness to obey the will of God even though at first sight it implied a contradiction: on the one hand, she was convinced that God wished her to remain a virgin; on the other, here was God also announcing that she would become a mother. The archangel announces God’s mysterious design, and what had seemed impossible, according to the laws of nature, is explained by a unique intervention on the part of God.
Mary’s resolution to remain a virgin was certainly something very unusual, not in line with the practice of righteous people under the Old Covenant, for, as St Augustine explains, “particularly attentive to the propagation and growth of the people of God, through whom the Prince and Saviour of the world might be prophesied and be born, the saints were obliged to make use of the good of matrimony” (De bono matrimonii, 9, 9). However, in the Old Testament there were some who, in keeping with God’s plan, did remain celibate—for example, Jeremiah, Elijah, Eliseus and John the Baptist. The Blessed Virgin, who received a very special inspiration of the Holy Spirit to practise virginity, is a first-fruit of the New Testament, which will establish the excellence of virginity over marriage while not taking from the holiness of the married state, which it raises to the level of a sacrament (cf. Vatican II, Gaudium et spes, 48).
1:35. The “shadow” is a symbol of the presence of God. When Israel was journeying through the wilderness, the glory of God filled the Tabernacle and a cloud covered the Ark of the Covenant (Ex 40:34–36). And when God gave Moses the tablets of the Law, a cloud covered Mount Sinai (Ex 24:15–16); and also, at the transfiguration of Jesus, the voice of God the Father was heard coming out of a cloud (Lk 9:35).
At the moment of the incarnation the power of God envelopes our Lady—an expression of God’s omnipotence. The Spirit of God—which, according to the account in Genesis (1:2), moved over the face of the waters, bringing things to life—now comes down on Mary. And the fruit of her womb will be the work of the Holy Spirit. The Virgin Mary, who herself was conceived without any stain of sin (cf. Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus) becomes, after the incarnation, a new tabernacle of God. This is the mystery we recall every day when saying the Angelus.
Source: The Navarre Bible: Text and Commentaries. Biblical text from the Revised Standard Version and New Vulgate. Commentaries by members of the Faculty of Theology, University of Navarre, Spain.
Published by Four Courts Press, Kill Lane, Blackrock, Co. Dublin, Ireland, and by Scepter Publishers in the United States. We encourage readers to purchase The Navarre Bible for personal study. See Scepter Publishers for details.
“Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” St Jerome
I am a cradle Catholic, wandered in the desert of sin for 20 years and returned into full communion with the Roman Catholic Church in 2005. I am the founder of Joe Catholic, a lay apostolate designed by men for men. Our mission is to aid lay men in answering the universal call to holiness and equipping them to be the spiritual leaders of their families. Simply put, we help people learn, live and share their faith.
I recently completed my Masters in pastoral theology from Ave Maria University and work as the Magnet Program Coordinator at the Judge Barefoot Sanders Law Magnet in Dallas.