Bookmark and Share

The Annunciation

Pope St John Paul II's Catechesis on Mary, Mother of God (33/70)
18 September 1996 - also in Italian & Spanish

"1. Commenting on the episode of the Annunciation, the Second Vatican Council gives special emphasis to the value of Mary's assent to the divine messenger's words. Unlike what occurs in similar biblical accounts, it is expressly awaited by the angel: "The Father of mercies willed that the Incarnation should be preceded by assent on the part of the predestined mother, so that just as a woman had a share in bringing about death, so also a woman should contribute to life" (Lumen gentium, 56).

Lumen gentium recalls the contrast between Eve's behaviour and that of Mary, described by St Irenaeus: "Just as the former — that is, Eve — was seduced by the words of an angel so that she turned away from God by disobeying his word, so the latter — Mary — received the good news from an angel's announcement in such a way as to give birth to God by obeying his word; and as the former was seduced so that she disobeyed God, the latter let herself be convinced to obey God, and so the Virgin Mary became the advocate of the virgin Eve. And as the human race was subjected to death by a virgin, it was liberated by a Virgin; a virgin's disobedience was thus counterbalanced by a Virgin's obedience..." (Adv. Haer., V, 19, 1).

2. In stating her total "yes" to the divine plan, Mary is completely free before God. At the same time, she feels personally responsible for humanity, whose future was linked with her reply.

God puts the destiny of all mankind in a young woman's hands. Mary's "yes" is the premise for fulfilling the plan which God in his love had prepared for the world's salvation.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church briefly and effectively summarizes the decisive value for all humanity of Mary's free consent to the divine plan of salvation. "The Virgin Mary 'cooperated through free faith and obedience in human salvation'. She uttered her yes 'in the name of all human nature'. By her obedience she became the New Eve, mother of the living" (n 511).

3. By her conduct, Mary reminds each of us of our serious responsibility to accept God's plan for our lives. In total obedience to the saving will of God expressed in the angel's words, she becomes a model for those whom the Lord proclaims blessed, because they "hear the word of God and keep it" (Lk 11, 28). Jesus, in answering the woman in the crowd who proclaimed his mother blessed, discloses the true reason for Mary's blessedness: her adherence to God's will, which led her to accept the divine motherhood.

In the encyclical Redemptoris Mater, I pointed out that the new spiritual motherhood of which Jesus speaks is primarily concerned with her. Indeed, "Is not Mary the first of 'those who hear the word of God and do it'? And therefore does not the blessing uttered by Jesus in response to the woman in the crowd refer primarily to her?" (n 20). In a certain sense therefore Mary is proclaimed the first disciple of her Son (cf RM) and, by her example, invites all believers to respond generously to the Lord's grace.

4. The Second Vatican Council explains Mary's total dedication to the person and work of Christ: "She devoted herself totally, as a handmaid of the Lord, to the person and work of her Son, under and with him, serving the mystery of redemption, by the grace of almighty God" (LG, 56).

For Mary, dedication to the person and work of Jesus means intimate union with her Son, motherly involvement in nurturing his human growth and co-operation with his work of salvation.

Mary carries out this last aspect of her dedication to Jesus "under him", that is, in a condition of subordination, which is the fruit of grace. However this is true co-operation, because it is realized "with him" and, beginning with the Annunciation, it involves active participation in the work of redemption. "Rightly, therefore", the Second Vatican Council observes, "the Fathers see Mary not merely as passively engaged by God, but as freely co-operating in the work of man's salvation through faith and obedience. For, as St Irenaeus says, she 'being obedient, became the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race (Adv. Haer. III, 22, 4)’" (ibid.).

Mary, associated with Christ's victory over the sin of our first parents, appears as the true "mother of the living" (ibid.). Her motherhood, freely accepted in obedience to the divine plan, becomes a source of life for all humanity."