Category: Litany

5 Reasons to Stay Until the End of Mass

5 Reasons to Stay Until the End of Mass

We hope our pastor and friends won’t notice if we leave early, but Someone does

Most of us have probably done it at least once or twice.

We make a beeline for the door with our heads down after receiving communion because we have something important to do.

We hope our pastor and friends won’t notice. And perhaps they don’t. But Someone does.

As a religious sister who has moved around quite a bit, I am surprised by how drastically different parishes in some areas of the country are from others. I am from Oklahoma and rarely see people leaving Mass early. I used to live in California, and in the parish I attended, people came late and sometimes left early. I am now in the northeast and am surprised by how many people leave Mass early. But these patterns also depend on the parish. It is an interesting phenomenon. An isolated incident is not that concerning to me. But when half the parishioners have disappeared to the parking lot before the closing song has ended, it makes my heart a little sad.

Sometimes I want to run after the people I see walking briskly out of church straight from the communion line and shake them and say, “You have Jesus inside you! Take a minute to talk to him, to thank him, to love him!”

Do you need some motivation to stay a little longer to attend the entire Mass? Do you know some other people who might?

Here are some reasons I stay until the end of Mass, (besides the fact that I am a nun and it would be scandalous if I ran out right after communion every Sunday):

1. Communion Is About Communing: When we receive communion, we receive Jesus himself. When we eat and run it is like visiting a friend and the moment he is able to sit down and be present to us we jump up and run out the door yelling, “It was so great to spend time with you, see you next week!” Communion is about communing with our Lord and Savior. In order to commune, we have to actually savor this special time with him and take a few moments to be with our Lord.

2. It’s Not Nice to Be Rude: Before Mass in the convent, we have a half hour of silent meditation on the Gospel. Sometimes I am late. I walk quickly in with my head down, embarrassed that everyone can see that I slept in. Recently, I realized that my motivation to be on time should not be to avoid embarrassment but because I am going to see Jesus. Why are we often more concerned with other people’s reactions than we are with Jesus’? We think, I have to run because I have so much to do, so-and-so is waiting for me! But why is it easy for us to leave early and come late when it is the Creator of the Universe who is hoping to see us?

3. Mass Is Not An Activity on a To-Do List: Often when I see people running out of Mass, it seems like they are checking off an activity on their to-do list and want to be done with it. The Christian life is not a to-do list. It is an invitation to be in relationship with God. If we are going to Mass out of a sense of responsibility, sure we may be avoiding mortal sin, but barely scraping by in the avoidance of mortal sin is not the calling of our spiritual life. We are called to much more. We are called to relationship, to holiness, to transformation.

4. The Final Blessing Is Important: On the Day of Atonement, Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, had the honor of going into the holy of holies on the day the angel told him that he and his wife would have a child. The people eagerly waited outside for him to give them a blessing after he offered incense. When Zechariah came out mute because he did not believe the angel’s message, the lack of a blessing amplifies the dishonor and the tragedy of losing his voice. I am sure the people went home very disappointed. Blessings are precious. When a priest, who by his ordination is configured to Christ, gives his final blessing, we are being blessed by God himself. If Jesus were standing ready to give us a blessing before we left Mass and went back out into the world, wouldn’t you wait for it?

5. You Get MORE Grace: According to the Catechism, “the fruits of the sacraments … depend on the disposition of the one who receives them” (CCC 1128). There is a power in the sacraments in and of themselves, but how much of that power seeps into our souls and plays out in our lives depends on our disposition. If we are rushing out of church after communion, chances are our disposition is not such that we are reverentially aware of the amazing fact that we are consuming the body, blood, soul and divinity of God himself. It’s heavy stuff. And it deserves a disposition of great respect, if only because we all need all the grace we can get.

8 Things You Need to Know About the Immaculate Conception

8 Things You Need to Know About the Immaculate Conception

Here are 8 things you need to know about the teaching and the way we celebrate it.

1. Who does the Immaculate Conception refer to?

There’s a popular idea that it refers to Jesus’ conception by the Virgin Mary.

It doesn’t.

Instead, it refers to the special way in which the Virgin Mary herself was conceived.

This conception was not virginal. (That is, she had a human father as well as a human mother.) But it was special and unique in another way. . . .

2. What is the Immaculate Conception?

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains it this way:

490 To become the mother of the Saviour, Mary “was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role.” The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as “full of grace”. In fact, in order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God’s grace.

491 Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, “full of grace” through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854:

The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.

3. Does this mean Mary never sinned?

Yes. Because of the way redemption was applied to Mary at the moment of her conception, she not only was protected from contracting original sin but also personal sin. The Catechism explains:

493 The Fathers of the Eastern tradition call the Mother of God “the All-Holy” (Panagia), and celebrate her as “free from any stain of sin, as though fashioned by the Holy Spirit and formed as a new creature”. By the grace of God Mary remained free of every personal sin her whole life long. “Let it be done to me according to your word. . .”

4. Does this mean Mary didn’t need Jesus to die on the Cross for her?

No. What we’ve already quoted states that Mary was immaculately conceived as part of her being “full of grace” and thus “redeemed from the moment of her conception” by “a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race.”

The Catechism goes on to state:

492 The “splendour of an entirely unique holiness” by which Mary is “enriched from the first instant of her conception” comes wholly from Christ: she is “redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son”. The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person “in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” and chose her “in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him in love”.

508 From among the descendants of Eve, God chose the Virgin Mary to be the mother of his Son. “Full of grace”, Mary is “the most excellent fruit of redemption” (SC 103): from the first instant of her conception, she was totally preserved from the stain of original sin and she remained pure from all personal sin throughout her life.

5. How does this make Mary a parallel of Eve?

Adam and Eve were both created immaculate–without original sin or its stain. They fell from grace, and through them mankind was bound to sin.

Christ and Mary were also conceived immaculate. They remained faithful, and through them mankind was redeemed from sin.

Christ is thus the New Adam, and Mary the New Eve.

The Catechism notes:

494 . . . As St. Irenaeus says, “Being obedient she became the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race.” Hence not a few of the early Fathers gladly assert. . .: “The knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience: what the virgin Eve bound through her disbelief, Mary loosened by her faith.” Comparing her with Eve, they call Mary “the Mother of the living” and frequently claim: “Death through Eve, life through Mary.”

6. How does this make Mary an icon of our own destiny?

Those who die in God’s friendship and thus go to heaven will be freed from all sin and stain of sin. We will thus all be rendered “immaculate” (Latin, immaculatus = “stainless”) if we remain faithful to God.

Even in this life, God purifies us and trains us in holiness and, if we die in his friendship but imperfectly purified, he will purify us in purgatory and render us immaculate.

By giving Mary this grace from the first moment of her conception, God showed us an image of our own destiny. He shows us that this is possible for humans by his grace.

John Paul II noted:

In contemplating this mystery in a Marian perspective, we can say that “Mary, at the side of her Son, is the most perfect image of freedom and of the liberation of humanity and of the universe. It is to her as Mother and Model that the Church must look in order to understand in its completeness the meaning of her own mission” (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Libertatis conscientia, 22 March, 1986, n. 97; cf. Redemptoris Mater, n. 37).

Let us fix our gaze, then, on Mary, the icon of the pilgrim Church in the wilderness of history but on her way to the glorious destination of the heavenly Jerusalem, where she [the Church] will shine as the Bride of the Lamb, Christ the Lord

7. Was it necessary for God to make Mary immaculate at her conception so that she could be Jesus’ mother?

No. The Church only speaks of the Immaculate Conception as something that was “fitting,” something that made Mary a “fit habitation” (i.e., suitable dwelling) for the Son of God, not something that was necessary. Thus in preparing to define the dogma, Pope Pius IX stated:

And hence they [the Church Fathers] affirmed that the Blessed Virgin was, through grace, entirely free from every stain of sin, and from all corruption of body, soul and mind; that she was always united with God and joined to him by an eternal covenant; that she was never in darkness but always in light; and that, therefore, she was entirely a fit habitation for Christ, not because of the state of her body, but because of her original grace. . . .

For it was certainly not fitting that this vessel of election should be wounded by the common injuries, since she, differing so much from the others, had only nature in common with them, not sin. In fact, it was quite fitting that, as the Only-Begotten has a Father in heaven, whom the Seraphim extol as thrice holy, so he should have a Mother on earth who would never be without the splendor of holiness

8. How do we celebrate the Immaculate Conception today?

In the Latin rite of the Catholic Church, December 8th is the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. In the United States and in a number of other countries, it is a holy day of obligation.

When December 8th falls on Saturday, the precept of attending Mass is still observed in the United States, even though it will mean going to Mass two days in a row (since every Sunday is also a holy day of obligation)

What Mary’s Example Can Teach Us

What Mary’s Example Can Teach Us

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by an unexpected challenge or responsibility? Do you feel worn down by the daily struggle of making ends meet? Maybe you are among the millions who feel bewildered and afraid because they have had to leave their homeland as refugees. And who of us has not experienced deep pain and emptiness after losing a loved one in death?

DID you know that Mary, the mother of Jesus, faced all those challenges? What is more, she met them successfully! What can we learn from her example?

Mary is certainly known worldwide. And no wonder, for she played a unique role in the outworking of God’s purposes. Moreover, Mary is venerated by many millions of people. The Catholic Church reveres her as a beloved Mother and as a model in faith, hope, and charity. Many have been taught that Mary leads humans to God.

How do you view Jesus’ mother? And more important, how does God view her?

A Unique Assignment

Mary, the daughter of Heli, belonged to the Israelite tribe of Judah. The first mention of her in the Bible is in connection with an extraordinary event. An angel visited her and said: “Good day, highly favored one, Jehovah is with you.” At first, Mary was disturbed and “began to reason out what sort of greeting this might be.” So the angel told her that she had been chosen for the amazing but also extremely serious assignment of conceiving, bearing, and raising God’s Son.​—Luke 1:26-33.

What a responsibility was placed on the shoulders of this young, unmarried woman! How did she react? Mary might well have wondered who would believe her story. Might such a pregnancy cost her the love of Joseph, her fiancé, or might it subject her to public shame? (Deuteronomy 22:20-24) She did not hesitate to accept this weighty assignment.

Mary’s strong faith enabled her to submit to the will of her God, Jehovah. She was convinced that he would look after her. She thus exclaimed: “Look! Jehovah’s slave girl! May it take place with me according to your declaration.” Mary was willing to face the challenges that lay ahead because she valued the spiritual privilege she had been offered.​—Luke 1:38.

When Mary told Joseph that she was pregnant, he intended to break off their engagement. That must have been a time of great anguish for both of them. The Bible does not say how long this difficult period lasted. However, both Mary and Joseph must have felt extremely relieved when Jehovah’s angel appeared to Joseph. That spirit emissary explained Mary’s extraordinary pregnancy and directed Joseph to take her home as his wife.​—Matthew 1:19-24.

Hard Times

Today, many mothers-to-be spend months preparing for the arrival of a baby, and Mary may have done the same. This was to be her first child. Yet, unexpected events complicated her plans. Caesar Augustus decreed a census, requiring all to register in their town of origin. So Joseph took Mary, now in her ninth month of pregnancy, on a journey of about 90 miles [150 km], likely on a donkey’s back! Bethlehem was crowded and Mary needed somewhere private to give birth, but the only place available was a stable. Giving birth in a stable must have been hard for Mary. She may well have been both embarrassed and scared.

In these critical moments of her life, Mary surely poured her heart out to Jehovah, trusting that he would care for her and her baby. Later some shepherds arrived, eager to see the baby. They reported that angels had called this child “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Then we read: “Mary began to preserve all these sayings, drawing conclusions in her heart.” She meditated on these words and drew strength from them.​—Luke 2:11, 16-19.

What about us? We are likely to suffer pain in life. Furthermore, the Bible shows that “time and unforeseen occurrence” can befall any of us, throwing all manner of hardships and challenges in our path. (Ecclesiastes 9:11) If that happens, do we turn bitter, blaming God? Would it not be better to imitate Mary’s attitude and draw closer to Jehovah God by learning from his Word, the Bible, and then meditating on what we have learned? Doing so will surely help us to endure trials.

Poor and a Refugee

Mary faced other hardships too​—including poverty and a forced flight from her homeland. Have you faced such challenges? According to one report, “half the world​—nearly three billion people—​live on less than two dollars a day,” and millions more struggle to make ends meet even though they live in so-called wealthy countries. What about you? Does the day-to-day grind of providing your family with food, clothing, and shelter tire you out, even overwhelm you at times?

The Bible indicates that Joseph and Mary were relatively poor. How so? Among the few facts that the Gospels​—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—​reveal about this couple is that 40 days after Mary gave birth, she and Joseph went to the temple to make the required offering​—“a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”* (Luke 2:22-24) This sacrifice was allowed only for those who were too poor to offer a young male sheep. Thus, making ends meet was likely a struggle for Joseph and Mary. Even so, they succeeded admirably in creating a loving family environment. Doubtless, spiritual concerns were their priority.​—Deuteronomy 6:6, 7.

Not long after Jesus’ birth, Mary’s life was once again turned upside down. An angel told Joseph to take his family and flee to Egypt. (Matthew 2:13-15) This was the second time that Mary had to leave a familiar environment, but this time she had to go to a foreign country. Egypt hosted a large Jewish community, so Mary and Joseph may have been able to live among their own people. Nonetheless, living in a foreign country can be challenging and disorienting. Are you and your family among the many millions who have left their homeland, perhaps for the welfare of their children or to escape danger? If so, you can well understand some of the hardships that Mary may have faced in Egypt.

A Devoted Wife and Mother

Apart from the accounts of the birth and infancy of Jesus, Mary is mentioned little in the Gospels. Yet, we know that Mary and Joseph had at least six other children. You may find this surprising. However, consider what the Gospels say.

Joseph had great respect for Mary’s privilege of bearing God’s Son. Consequently, he refrained from having sexual intercourse with her before Jesus’ birth. Matthew 1:25 states that Joseph “had no intercourse with her until she gave birth to a son.” The word “until” in this verse indicates that after Jesus’ birth, Joseph and Mary had normal sexual relations as husband and wife. The Gospel accounts say that, as a result, Mary had children with Joseph, both sons and daughters. James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas were Jesus’ half brothers. She had at least two daughters. (Matthew 13:55, 56) However, these children were conceived in the usual manner.

Mary was a spiritually-minded person. Although the Law did not require women to attend the Passover celebration, Mary customarily accompanied Joseph on the annual journey to Jerusalem for the festival. (Luke 2:41) That would have involved a round-trip of nearly 190 miles [300 km] each year​—with a growing family! But these trips were doubtless happy family occasions.

Many women today imitate Mary’s fine example. They work hard and selflessly to fulfill their Scriptural obligations. How often these devoted wives show great patience, endurance, and humility! Reflecting on Mary’s attitude helps them keep spiritual matters ahead of their own desire for comfort and pleasure. They know, as Mary doubtless did, that worshipping God together with their husband and children strengthens and unifies the family.

Once when Mary and Joseph were returning from a festival in Jerusalem​—probably with several children now—​they realized that 12-year-old Jesus was not with them. Can you imagine the distress Mary felt during the frantic three-day search for her son? When she and Joseph finally found him in the temple, Jesus said: “Did you not know that I must be in the house of my Father?” Again, says the account, Mary “carefully kept all these sayings in her heart.” Here is another indication of Mary’s depth of spirituality. She carefully meditated upon all that happened regarding Jesus. Years later, she likely recounted vivid memories concerning this and other events of Jesus’ early life to the Gospel writers.​—Luke 2:41-52.

Enduring in the Face of Suffering and Loss

What became of Joseph, Jesus’ adoptive father? After briefly appearing in the description of that one incident from Jesus’ youth, Joseph disappears from the Gospel record. Some take this absence as an indication that Joseph died sometime before Jesus’ ministry began.* In any case, it does seem that Mary was a widow by the end of Jesus’ ministry. At the time of his death, Jesus entrusted his mother to the apostle John. (John 19:26, 27) Jesus would not likely have done so if Joseph were still living.

Mary and Joseph had been through so much together! They were visited by angels, escaped a tyrant, relocated several times, and raised a large family. How many evenings must they have sat together and talked about Jesus, wondering what he would have to face in the future, concerned about whether they were training him and preparing him in the right way? Then suddenly Mary found herself alone.

Have you lost your mate in death? Do you still feel the pain and emptiness such a loss causes, even after many years? No doubt Mary found solace in her faith and in the knowledge that there will be a resurrection. (John 5:28, 29) Such comforting thoughts, however, did not end Mary’s problems. Like so many single mothers today, she faced the challenge of caring for her children without the help of a husband.

It is reasonable to believe that Jesus took over as the main breadwinner of the family when Joseph died. As Jesus’ brothers grew, they would be able to accept their share of family responsibilities. When Jesus “was about thirty years old,” he left home and commenced his ministry. (Luke 3:23) Most parents have mixed emotions when a grown son or daughter leaves home. So much time, effort, and emotion are invested in children that a huge void may seem to linger when they leave. Have any of your sons or daughters left home to pursue their goals? Are you proud of them, but at the same time, do you sometimes wish they were nearer? Then you can imagine how Mary may have felt when Jesus left home.

Unexpected Trials

Another of Mary’s trials was one she probably never expected. As Jesus preached, many followed him​—but not his own brothers. “His brothers were, in fact, not exercising faith in him,” say the Scriptures. (John 7:5) Mary, no doubt, told them what the angel had told her​—that Jesus was “God’s Son.” (Luke 1:35) Still, to James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas, Jesus was just their older brother. So Mary found herself in a family with differing religious viewpoints.

Did Mary get discouraged and give up on the situation? Absolutely not! On one occasion when Jesus was preaching in Galilee, he went to a house to eat, and a crowd gathered to listen to him. Whom do we find outside looking for him? Mary and Jesus’ brothers. So when Jesus was near the family home, she followed him and evidently took her other children along with her, maybe hoping that they would change their attitude toward him.​—Matthew 12:46, 47.

You may similarly be faced with the challenge of striving to follow Jesus while other members of your family do not want to do so. Do not become downhearted, and do not give up! Many, like Mary, have patiently encouraged family members for years before seeing any real change. Such endurance is precious to God, whether other humans respond or not.​—1 Peter 3:1, 2.

The Hardest Challenge

Mary’s last trial, as recorded in the Scriptures, was no doubt the most heart-wrenching. She watched her beloved son die in agony after he was rejected by his people. The death of a child has been described as “the ultimate loss,” “the most devastating death,” whether the child is still young or he is an adult. Just as had been foretold decades earlier, Mary felt as if a sword had been run through her!​—Luke 2:34, 35.

Did Mary let this final test destroy her emotionally or let it weaken her faith in God? No. The next time Mary is mentioned in the Bible record, we find her with Jesus’ disciples, “persisting in prayer” with them. And she was not alone. Her other sons, who by this time had begun to exercise faith in their older brother, were with her. How that must have comforted Mary!—Acts 1:14.

Mary had a full and satisfying life as a faithful woman, wife, and mother. She had many spiritually rewarding experiences. She overcame many tests and trials. When we face unexpected challenges or when we are anxious over family problems, we can certainly learn from her example of faithful endurance.​—Hebrews 10:36.

What though, can be said about Mary as an object of special religious devotion? Does the Bible account of Mary’s unique role justify her being venerated?

[Footnotes]

One of the birds was offered as a sin offering. (Leviticus 12:6, 8) By presenting it, Mary acknowledged that she, like all other imperfect humans, had inherited the consequences of the sin of Adam, the first human.​—Romans 5:12.

It has been noted that Joseph’s absence from the record of Jesus’ ministry is remarkable because Jesus’ other family members​—his mother, brothers, and sisters—​are mentioned. At the wedding feast in Cana, for example, we see Mary actively involved and even taking some initiative, but there is no sign of Joseph. (John 2:1-11) In another incident, we find the people of Christ’s hometown referring to the man Jesus, not as the son of Joseph, but as “the son of Mary.”​—Mark 6:3.

Did Jesus Have Brothers and Sisters?

Yes, he did. Some theologians have tried to argue their way out of that truth, though the Gospels several times clearly reveal the fact. (Matthew 12:46, 47; 13:54-56; Mark 6:3) However, Bible scholars have noted two things about the theories that Mary bore no other children. One, there is a motive behind such theories​—to uphold a doctrine that arose much later, the church teaching that Mary remained a virgin throughout her life. Two, the theories themselves do not hold up under scrutiny.

For example, one such theory suggests that the “brothers” in question were stepbrothers​—sons of Joseph by an earlier marriage. This notion lacks substance, for it would actually deny Jesus the legal right of the firstborn to inherit the kingship of David.​—2 Samuel 7:12, 13.

Another theory is that these brothers were actually cousins of Jesus, although the Greek Scriptures use distinct words for “brother,” “cousin,” and “relative.” Thus, scholar Frank E. Gaebelein calls these theological theories farfetched. He concludes: “The most natural way to understand ‘brothers’ . . . is that the term refers to sons of Mary and Joseph and thus to brothers of Jesus on his mother’s side.”

She Had the Courage to Change

Mary was born into a Jewish family, and she followed the Jewish religion. She attended the local synagogue, as the Jewish place of worship is called, and she visited the temple in Jerusalem. As Mary’s knowledge of God’s purposes grew, however, she came to see that the traditions of her fathers no longer had God’s approval. Jewish religious leaders had her Son, the Messiah, put to death. Before that happened, Jesus announced to them: “Look! Your house is abandoned to you.” (Matthew 23:38) God withdrew his blessing from the religious system in which Mary had been raised.​—Galatians 2:15, 16.

When the Christian congregation was formed, Mary may have been about 50 or so. What would she do? Did she reason that she had been born into the Jewish religious system and that she wanted to remain loyal to the traditions of her forefathers? Did she say that she was too old to change? Of course not! Mary understood that God’s blessing was now with the Christian congregation, so she had the faith and courage to change.

Fleeing to Egypt as refugees

The worst experience a mother can go through

8 things to know and share about the Annunciation

8 things to know and share about the Annunciation

The day we celebrates the appearance of the Angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary to announce of the birth of Christ.

Here are 8 things you need to know.

1. What does the word “Annunciation” mean?

It’s derived from the same root as the word “announce.” Gabriel is announcing the birth of Christ in advance.

“Annunciation” is simply an old-fashioned way of saying “announcement.”

Although we are most familiar with this term being applied to the announcement of Christ’s birth, it can be applied in other ways also.

For example, in his book Jesus of Nazareth 3: The Infancy Narratives, Benedict XVI has sections on both “The annunciation of the birth of John” and “The annunciation to Mary,” because John the Baptist’s birth was also announced in advance.

2. When is the Annunciation normally celebrated and why does it sometimes move?

Normally the Solemnity of the Annunciation is celebrated on March 25th.

This date is used because it is nine months before Christmas (December 25th), and it is assumed that Jesus spent the normal nine months in the womb.

However, March 25th sometimes falls during Holy Week, and the days of Holy Week have a higher liturgical rank than this solemnity (weekdays of Holy Week have rank I:2, while this solemnity has a rank of I:3

Still, the Annunciation is an important solemnity, and so it doesn’t just vanish from the calendar. Instead, as the rubrics in the Roman Missal note:

Whenever this Solemnity occurs during Holy Week, it is transferred to the Monday after the Second Sunday of Easter. It is thus celebrated on the first available day after Holy Week and the Octave of Easter (which ends on the Second Sunday of Easter).

3. How does this story parallel the birth of John the Baptist?

As noted above, John the Baptist’s birth was announced in advance also. In both stories there are multiple parallels:

  • The Angel Gabriel makes the announcement.
  • He announces to a single individual: Zechariah in John the Baptist’s case and Mary in Jesus’ case.
  • He announces the miraculous birth of an individual who has a prominent place in God’s plan.
  • He is met with a question in both cases (Zechariah asks how he can know this will happen; Mary asks how it will happen)
  • A miraculous sign is offered as evidence (Zechariah is struck dumb; Mary is told of Elizabeth’s miraculous pregnancy, which is in its sixth month) 
  • Gabriel departs.

4. How is Mary’s reaction different than Zechariah’s?

At first glance, Mary’s reaction to Gabriel could appear like Zechariah’s unbelieving reaction, but it is fundamentally different.

Like Zechariah, she asks a question, but it is a question of a different sort:

  • Zechariah asked how he could know what the angel says would be true. His attitude was one of skepticism.
  • Mary does not ask for proof. Instead, she asks how the angel’s words will be fulfilled. He accepts what he says and wants to understand specifically how it will take place. Her attitude is thus one of faith seeking understanding, not a lack of faith.

5. What does Mary’s reaction say about her perpetual virginity?

Mary’s question is translated in the RSV:CE as “How shall this be, since I have no husband?”

This is not a good translation, because she does, in fact, have a husband: Joseph.Luke has already told us that she is betrothed to Joseph, which means that they were legally married (thus Joseph would have had to divorce her, not just “break the engagement” as one might today; cf. Matt. 1:19).

What the text literally says in Greek is “since I do not know man.”

This relies on the common biblical euphemism of “knowing” for sexual relations. Mary’s question indicates that she understands the facts of life, and it is surprising since she is legally married and awaiting the time that she and Joseph would begin to cohabit.

If she were planning on an ordinary marriage then the most natural interpretation of the angel’s statement would be that, after she and Joseph begin to cohabit, they will together conceive a child, who the angel is now telling her about.

The fact that she asks the question indicates that this is not her understanding, and it has often been taken as a sign that she was not planning on an ordinary marriage.

Early Christian writings from the second century onward, beginning with the Protoevangelium of James, indicate that Mary was a consecrated virgin who was entrusted to the care of Joseph.

6. How does Gabriel respond to Mary’s question?

Gabriel informs her: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”

Here Gabriel indicates the involvement of all three Persons of the Trinity: Through the action of the Holy Spirit, the Father causes the Son to be conceived in human form. There will be no human father, making clear the fact that the child will be the Son of God.

As a further illustration of God’s power, he points to the fact that Elizabeth, though old and apparently barren, has miraculously conceived a son and is in her sixth month of pregnancy. “For with God nothing will be impossible.”

7. Is Elizabeth Mary’s “Cousin”?

This question sometimes comes up in discussions of Mary’s perpetual virginity, because it is sometimes thought that the “brothers” of the Lord were his cousins and that they are described as brothers because Aramaic has no word for “cousin.”

Yet the New American Bible described Elizabeth as Mary’s cousin.

Who Jesus “brothers” were has been understood in different ways. The earliest sources that comment on the question (including the second century Protoevangelium of James) say that they were step-brothers through Joseph. They also, hypothetically, could have been adopted (adoption was very common in the ancient world since people often died early). So they need not have been cousins.

While it’s true that Aramaic does not have a word for cousin, Greek does (anepsios), but that is not the word used here.

Despite the well-known mistranslation in the NAB (later corrected in the NAB:RE), Elizabeth is not described as Mary’s “cousin.” The Greek word in this passage (sungenis) indicates a female relative–a kinswoman–not a cousin in particular.

8. Why is Mary’s “Fiat” (Latin, “Let it be”) important?

Mary’s acceptance of this role is momentous and will entail suffering. It is momentous because she will be the mother of the Son of God himself. It will entail suffering in ways that she cannot yet foresee (e.g., witnessing the Crucifixion), but some she could foresee.

In particular, she will be regarded as having been unfaithful to Joseph, and that would involve not only public shame but, as Matthew records, endangered her relationship with Joseph and her future livelihood and social position. Yet she placed herself completely at the service of God’s will.

Commenting on this, Pope Benedict writes:

“In one of his Advent homilies, Bernard of Clairvaux offers a stirring presentation of the drama of this moment. After the error of our first parents, the whole world was shrouded in darkness, under the dominion of death. Now God seeks to enter the world anew. He knocks at Mary’s door. He needs human freedom. The only way he can redeem man, who was created free, is by means of a free ‘yes’ to his will. In creating freedom, he made himself in a certain sense dependent upon man. His power is tied to the unenforceable ‘yes’ of a human being. So Bernard portrays heaven and earth as it were holding its breath at this moment of the question addressed to Mary. Will she say yes? She hesitates … will her humility hold her back? Just this once—Bernard tells her—do not be humble but daring! Give us your ‘yes’! This is the crucial moment when, from her lips, from her heart, the answer comes: ‘Let it be to me according to your word.’ It is the moment of free, humble yet magnanimous obedience in which the loftiest choice of human freedom is made”