Our Lady of the Gospels

May Crowning 2016

Today the Church commemorates Our Lady of the Rosary, one week into the month of October, dedicated to the Rosary. To honor her, we are diving deeper into the mysteries that are quoted in the Gospel and in the Hail Mary — thereby reflecting on the Blessed Mother’s role through the Gospels.

The first mystery we will reflect upon is the Annunciation from St. Gabriel, the archangel.

The Annunciation

Mary stands here at the turn of salvation history, embodying the faithful of Israel and making way for the Messiah. In fact, the angel’s greeting “Hail” (χαῖρε) is the exact same as that given to Daughter Zion in the Greek version of Zephaniah 3:14. This is significant because “Daughter Zion” in the prophets generally refers to the eschatological people of God — that is, the people of God as God has called them to be; Mary, then, embodies this glorious radiance which God has always destined for his people. And the Zephaniah passage continues: “The King is in her midst” (Zephaniah 3:15); indeed, in the Annunciation the King is in her midst, in the womb of the Blessed Virgin (see Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s book, Daughter Zion, pages 42-3).

Moreover, the angel doesn’t address Mary by name, but rather astonishingly as:

“Hail, full of grace.”

This breathtaking greeting offers a glimpse of the grandeur of the Incarnation, as seen from heaven’s vantage point.

Further, the phrase “the Lord is with you,” used by the angel with reference to Mary, occurs throughout the Bible in order to indicate God’s presence and support for accomplishing his mission, as for example with Moses (Exodus 3:12), Joshua (Joshua 1:5, 9), Gideon (Judges 6:12), and Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:8). This means that Mary, too, stands on the cusp of some great moment in salvation history. And Mary responds with unflinching faith:

“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)

In a sense, God’s plan hinges on the faith and obedience of the Virgin Mary; and for that, all generations call her “blessed” (Luke 1:42).

Sometimes much is made of the distinction between Jesus’ physical family and his spiritual family—the latter marked by those who “hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21; 11:27-28). But a distinction need not entail a separation; and in fact, St. Luke portrays Mary as the one who quintessentially “hears the word of God and does it” (see Luke 1:38-39; 2:19, 51); in other words, she goes before us as model disciple and embodiment of the Church; and in Luke’s sequel (Acts of the Apostles), she is there persevering to the end with the disciples (Acts 1:14).

May we follow Mary’s path of saying “yes” to the Lord from beginning to end:

“For with God nothing will be impossible.” (Luke 1:37)

The Visitation

After the Annunciation, Mary arises “with haste” (Luke 1:39) to visit Elizabeth, who greets her with familiar words:

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” (Luke 1:42)

St. Luke then depicts Mary’s journey in a manner reminiscent of David’s bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem in 2 Samuel 6. Such a parallel would be enormously significant, since the Ark was the holiest object in all of Israel—made holy because it bore the very presence of God; overlaid with gold (Ezekiel 25:11), it held the Ten Commandments, a jar that held the manna, and Aaron’s high priestly rod (Hebrews 9:4). Likewise, Mary bears Jesus who is the Word of God Incarnate, the bread of life, and eternal high priest.

Moreover, the following parallels in both journeys emerge:

  • David and Mary “arose and went” (2 Samuel 6:2; Luke 1:39);
  • David leaps before the ark, as John leaps in the womb of Elizabeth (2 Samuel 6:16b;
  • Luke 1:41); David asks, “How can the ark of the Lord come to me” (2 Samuel 6:9), as Elizabeth asks how can “the mother of my Lord come to me?” (Luke 1:43);
  • the Ark remains at the house of Obed-edom three months (2 Samuel 6:11), just as Mary remained at the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth three months (Luke 1:56).

It’s hard to overstate what these parallels would mean: no Jew in the ancient world could have proclaimed his love for God and yet been indifferent to the Ark.

Blessed Is She

And just in case we missed it, St. Luke uses a very rare word in Luke 1:42 to describe how Elizabeth “exclaimed” (anaphoneo) such praises before Mary.

This Greek word occurs only here in the New Testament, and only five times in the entire Greek Old Testament — every single time with reference to Levites praising the Ark of the Covenant (see 1 Chronicles 15:28; 16:4, 5, 42; 2 Chronicles 5:13; also see Scott Hahn’s book, Kingdom of God as Liturgical Empire, page 65). The reference, then, is unmistakable: here we have once again a Levite — in Elizabeth (see Luke 1:5) — praising the Ark of the New Covenant.

Mary is revered for what God has done in and through her; but she is also called “blessed” for her great faith:

“Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Luke 1:45).

This appeared at Ascension Press.
Image: Mary’s Grotto at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.

Andrew Swafford

Andrew Swafford is Associate Professor of Theology at Benedictine College. He is general editor and contributor to The Great Adventure Catholic Bible published by Ascension Press and host of the video series (and author of the companion books) Hebrews: the New and Eternal Covenant, and Romans: The Gospel of Salvation, both published by Ascension. Andrew is also author of Nature and Grace, John Paul to Aristotle and Back Again; and Spiritual Survival in the Modern World. He holds a doctorate in Sacred Theology from the University of St. Mary of the Lake and a master’s degree in Old Testament & Semitic Languages from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is member of the Society of Biblical Literature, Academy of Catholic Theology, and a senior fellow at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology. He lives with his wife Sarah and their five children in Atchison, Kansas.