“Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the Handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to Me according to your word’. And the Angel left Her.”
– Luke 1:38
We live in a world of great noise and hubbub. There seems always to be conversation, words, noise of one sort or another. That constant din can be very distracting and I sometimes find it difficult to think amidst it all. Silence truly is golden – and as rare as gold, too. It is also a very visual world we live in, and the constant barrage of images of one sort or another seems always to vie for our attention, to catch our eye, each image with it’s own purpose and intent.
Silence, inner quiet, peace – how elusive these can seem at times. And yet, how necessary.
Sitting quietly and leafing through the Scriptures, one of the most striking features of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Gospels, is how little She actually says. She displays a great economy of words, never saying more than is required, Her words always purposeful and direct. Just the right amount of words – no more, no less. That itself is a gift. But the real gift is what She says, and when.
I am always struck, when reading the account of the Annunciation, at how little is actually said at this singular moment in the history of mankind, when the Word of God is about to take flesh and live among us. Everything depends on Mary, on Her freely giving Her consent to the plan unveiled to Her by the Angel on behalf of the Most High. The Angel, too, shows a great economy of words. He reveals the plan very simply and directly. And in response, Mary seeks qualification – She does not, as some think, express disbelief. Knowing Herself to be a virgin, She simply asks how this will be. And when the explanation is given to Her, Her consent is freely and instantly given. There is no hesitation. It is a very beautiful account indeed.
I only wish that the account told us something of how Mary felt in the moments after the departure of the Angel, but that is such a deeply intimate and personal moment that I do not go into it any further than that. Anyway, I know that Mary then did what She always does – turned Her concern outward; on this occasion, to thoughts of Her cousin, also expecting a child.
Perhaps it is in the account of the Visitation that the story of the Annunciation finds something of an explanation, for on this occasion, the Heart of Mary seems ready to burst, filled to fullness with the grace of God, which is overflowing. Here, She gives us Her own Canticle, the Magnificat. And this sums up Mary perfectly.
She is the one who magnifies the Lord, who believes that His promises would be fulfilled, the soul who rejoices in God, Her Saviour. Perhaps these are earthly echoes of the three theological virtues of Faith, Hope and Charity.
This is the longest record of the words of Mary, echoing back to much older texts in the Old Testament. Afterwards, Her words will again be simple and direct. The entire thrust of Her life will later be expressed so beautifully at Cana in five short words – “Do whatever He tells you”.
And as the centuries on earth have passed, these five words really sum up the role of the Blessed Virgin in the life of each one of us, individually and as a Church.
In February of 1974, Pope Paul VI wrote very beautifully on the form and nature of authentic Marian devotion in his Apostolic Exhortation, Marialis Cultus. He speaks eloquently and with authority on what constitutes authentic devotion to the Mother of the Lord, and also on the purpose of that devotion. It can be summarised in these short lines –
“..We would like to repeat that the ultimate purpose of devotion to the Blessed Virgin is to glorify God and to lead Christians to commit themselves to a life which is in absolute conformity with His will..”
The Holy Father notes that this place of the Blessed Virgin applies to the Church as a whole, as well as to each member who forms this Mystical Body –
“Mary is not only an example for the whole Church in the exercise of divine worship but is also, clearly, a teacher of the spiritual life for individual Christians..”
Toward the end of his letter, he writes more fully in expanding the thoughts above –
“Devotion to the Mother of the Lord becomes for the faithful an opportunity for growing in divine grace, and this is the ultimate aim of all pastoral activity. For it is impossible to honour Her who is ‘full of grace’ (Lk. 1:28) without thereby honoring in oneself the state of grace, which is friendship with God, communion with Him and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is this divine grace which takes possession of the whole man and conforms him to the image of the Son of God (cf. Rom. 8:29; Col. 1:18). The Catholic Church, endowed with centuries of experience, recognizes in devotion to the Blessed Virgin a powerful aid for man as he strives for fulfillment. Mary, the New Woman, stands at the side of Christ, the New Man, within whose mystery the mystery of man(124) alone finds true light; She is given to it as a pledge and guarantee that God’s plan in Christ for the salvation of the whole man has already achieved realization in a creature: in Her. Contemplated in the episodes of the Gospels and in the reality which She already possesses in the City of God, the Blessed Virgin Mary offers a calm vision and a reassuring word to modern man..”
He speaks of the place of Mary in the Liturgy of the Church and in the devotion of the faithful, and goes on to point out that devotion to Mary is the express will of God. Also, and contrary to much of what has been said of the Rosary over the last four or five decades, Pope Paul notes that it is a beautiful and always Christological prayer, one especially suited to communal recitation in the family, adding his own personal devotion to it’s prayerful recitation –
“We, too, from the first general audience of our pontificate on July 13, 1963, have shown our great esteem for the pious practice of the Rosary. Since that time we have underlined its value on many different occasions, some ordinary, some grave..
..the Rosary should be considered as one of the best and most efficacious prayers in common that the Christian family is invited to recite. We like to think, and sincerely hope, that when the family gathering becomes a time of prayer, the Rosary is a frequent and favored manner of praying..”
At the end of his conclusion, Pope Paul writes this –
“Let the very words that She spoke to the servants at the marriage feast of Cana, ‘Do whatever He tells you’ (Jn. 2:5), be a seal on our Exhortation and a further reason in favor of the pastoral value of devotion to the Blessed Virgin as a means of leading men to Christ.”