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Solemnity of the Annunciation, Jubilee 2000

Pope Saint John Paul II celebrated Mass in Nazareth on the Feast of the Annunciation of the Lord, during his Jubilee pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

Pope St John Paul II's homily at Mass  
Basilica of the Annunciation, Nazareth, Israel - 25 March 2000 - also in French, German, Italian, Portuguese & Spanish

“Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to your word”

"Your Beatitude, Venerable Brother Bishops, Fr Custos,
Dearest Brothers and Sisters,

1. 25th March 2000, the Solemnity of the Annunciation in the Year of the Great Jubilee: today the eyes of the whole Church are directed to Nazareth. I have desired to return to the town of Jesus, to feel once again, in contact with this place, the presence of the woman of whom St Augustine wrote: “He chose the mother he had created; he created the mother he had chosen” (cf Sermon 69, 3, 4). Here it is particularly easy to understand why all generations call Mary blessed (cf Lk 2, 48).

I warmly greet His Beatitude Patriarch Michel Sabbah, and thank him for his kind words of introduction. With Archbishop Boutros Mouallem and you all – bishops, priests, religious women and men, and lay people – I rejoice in the grace of this solemn celebration. I am pleased to have this opportunity to greet the Franciscan Minister General, Father Giacomo Bini, who welcomed me on my arrival, and to express to the Custos, Father Giovanni Battistelli, and the Friars of the Custody the admiration of the entire Church for the devotion with which you carry out your unique vocation. With gratitude I pay tribute to your faithfulness to the task entrusted to you by Saint Francis himself and confirmed by the Popes down the centuries.

2. We are gathered to celebrate the great mystery that was accomplished here 2000 years ago. The Evangelist Luke places the event clearly in time and place: “In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph ... The virgin’s name was Mary” (Lk 1, 26-27). However to understand what took place in Nazareth 2000 years ago, we must return to the reading from the Letter to the Hebrews. That text allows us to listen to a conversation between the Father and the Son about God’s plan from all eternity. “You wanted neither sacrifice nor oblation, instead a body you prepared for me. You took no pleasure in holocausts or sacrifices for sin. Then I said: "Behold, I come ... to do your will, O God! (Heb 10, 5-7). The Letter to the Hebrews tells us that, by obeying the will of the Father, the Eternal Verb comes among us to offer the sacrifice which surpasses all the sacrifices offered under the former Covenant. His is the eternal and perfect sacrifice which redeems the world.

The divine plan is gradually revealed in the Old Testament, in particular in the words of the prophet Isaiah, which we have just heard: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold: the virgin shall conceive and will bear a son, who will be called Emmanuel” (Is 7, 14). Emmanuel: God with us. With these words is foretold the unique event that would be accomplished at Nazareth in the fullness of time, and it is this event that we are celebrating today with intense joy and happiness.

3. Our jubilee pilgrimage has been a journey in spirit, begun in the footsteps of Abraham, “our father in faith” (Roman Canon; cf Rom 4, 11-12). This journey has led us today to Nazareth, where we meet Mary, the most authentic daughter of Abraham. It is Mary, more than anyone else, who can teach us what it means to live the faith of “our father”. Mary is in many ways clearly different from Abraham; but at a more profound level “the friend of God” (cf Is 41, 8) and the young woman of Nazareth are very alike.

Both receive a wonderful promise from God. Abraham would become father of a son, from whom would be born a great nation. Mary would become Mother of a Son who would be the Messiah, the Anointed of the Lord. Gabriel says, “Behold, you will conceive and bear a son ... the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David ... and his reign will have no end” (Lk 1, 31-33).

For both Abraham and Mary, the promise comes as something totally unexpected. God changes the daily course of their lives, overturning its settled rhythms and normal expectations. For both Abraham and Mary the promise appears impossible. Abraham’s wife Sarah was barren, and Mary was not yet married: “How is this possible?” she asks. “I do not know man” (Lk 1, 34).

4. Like Abraham, Mary is asked to answer "yes" to something that has never happened before. Sarah is the first of the barren women in the Bible who conceive by the power of God, just as Elizabeth will be the last. Gabriel speaks of Elizabeth to reassure Mary: “See: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived a son” (Lk 1, 36).

Like Abraham, Mary must walk in the dark, trusting in the One who has called her. However, even her question “How is it possible?” suggests that Mary is ready to answer "yes", notwithstanding her fears and uncertainties. Mary does not ask if the promise is realizable, but only how it will be realised. It is not surprising, therefore, that finally she pronounces her fiat: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to your word” (Lk 1, 38). With these words Mary shows herself the true daughter of Abraham and becomes the Mother of Christ and Mother of all believers.

5. So as to penetrate even more profoundly into this mystery, let us return to the moment of Abraham’s journey when he received the promise. It was when he welcomed to his home three mysterious guests (cf Gen 18, 1-15), offering them the adoration due to God: tres vidit et unum adoravit. That mysterious encounter prefigures the Annunciation, when Mary is powerfully drawn into communion with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Through the fiat pronounced by Mary in Nazareth, the Incarnation became the wondrous fulfilment of Abraham’s encounter with God. Following in the footsteps of Abraham, therefore, we have come to Nazareth so as to sing the praises of the woman “who bears into the world the light” (Hymn Ave Regina Caelorum).

6. But we have also come here to supplicate her. What do we pilgrims, on the journey into the third Christian millennium, ask the Mother of God? Here, in the town which Pope Paul VI, when he visited Nazareth, defined “The school of the Gospel. Here one learns to observe, to listen, to ponder, to penetrate the meaning, so deep and mysterious, of that most simple, most humble and most beautiful appearance” (Speech in Nazareth, 5 January 1964), I pray first of all for a great renewal of faith in all the children of the Church. A deep renewal of faith: not only a general attitude of life, but a conscious and courageous profession of the Creed: “Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine, et homo factus est.”

In Nazareth, where Jesus “grew in wisdom, age and grace before God and men” (Lk 2, 52), I ask the Holy Family to inspire all Christians to defend the family against the numerous threats that currently loom over its nature, its stability and its mission. To the Holy Family I entrust the efforts of Christians and of all people of good will to defend life and to promote respect for the dignity of every human being.

To Mary, the Theotókos, the great Mother of God, I consecrate the families of the Holy Land, the families of the world.

In Nazareth, where Jesus began his public ministry, I ask Mary to help the Church everywhere to preach the “good news” to the poor, just as He did (cf Lk 4, 18). In this “year of grace of the Lord”, I ask her to teach us the way of humble and joyful obedience to the Gospel in the service of our brothers and sisters, without preferences and without prejudices.

“O Mother of the Verb Incarnate, despise not my prayer, but in your mercy hear and answer me. Amen” (Memorare)."