The Annunciation and Mary's Response

03-27-2022Weekly ReflectionFr. Chris Axline

I hope you had a great Solemnity of the Annunciation! Did you know that the Annunciation liturgically is celebrated as a solemnity (meaning equal to a Sunday)? This means that on such solemnities, one is dispensed from Lenten disciplines such as no meat? That means Friday the 25th, you could have had bacon (and I hope you did, because I sure did!!!). The reason first for this solemnity is that it’s nine (9) months until Christmas. So, you now have a little less than 9 months to get your Christmas shopping done. Nine months before Christmas, that means that March 25th the Church celebrates that this is the day when the Archangel Gabriel came to visit Mary and Announce to her that she was to become the Mother of God!

That’s such a fascinating passage to pray on. I remember reading a reflection that transformed this passage for me in a good way. I don’t remember who wrote it but it was that once Gabriel had delivered his message, in between Mary’s reply, all of Heaven was still awaiting this young woman’s answer to God’s invitation! What a beautiful image to think about, God waits for us with anticipation and eagerness for us to respond to Him! God waits and invites. Mary then gave a yes which echoes to this very day and on this great solemnity we venerate her and honor her yes by renewing our own yes to Christ and His plan for our life.

Shortly thereafter, Mary visits her cousin Elizabeth who acknowledges Mary’s role in salvation history and her great faith. Mary’s response to Elizabeth’s greeting is worth a deeper look in order to help us better say yes to God’s plan for our own life. I’m going to use the Latin text of her prayer with an English translation in order to help appreciate and draw out some of the nuances that an English translation misses.

Her response, known as the “Magnificat” is a wonderful prayer (I pray it at least once each day) for us as we strive to unite our wills to God’s in Marian fashion. “Magnificat, anima mea Dominum” (My soul magnifies the Lord) Mary says in response indicating that her soul literally “magnifies” the Lord. “Magnificat” literally means to magnify an object (in her case God) like we do when using a magnifying lens. Her soul therefore makes the Lord bigger both in her life and in the world. That’s the cool part about when we too can say yes to the Lord, we make it easier not just for us to see God’s Providence, but also for others as well to see Him at work. There’s also a challenge in her words, in what way do I make the Lord “bigger” in my life and in the lives of others?

Mary’s response continues, “et exsultavit spiritus meus in Deo salvatore meo” (“and my spirit exults in God my savior”). Here she’s showing that God’s Will brings joy to the depths of her being. Mary, in other words, is showing us that the deepest source of joy comes from abiding in God’s eternal love as she does. Do I rejoice in God’s plan for my life?

But, Mary’s response does not cast her aside nor cause her to fade into the background, “...quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae (for He has gazed at the lowliness of His handmaid).” Respexit in Latin means “to look back at/to gaze” which means that Mary sees God looking back at her, acknowledging her, and lifting her up. This exaltation comes through God’s generosity and not from her claiming it herself. Do I allow the Lord to lift me up or do I try to claim glory by my own merits and bootstraps?

God’s delight in us though isn’t just temporary, but for eternity, “Ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent omnes generationes, quia fecit mihi magna, qui potens est, et sanctum nomen eius” continues Mary’s prayer, “Behold, from this day all generations will call me blessed for the Almighty has done good things for me and holy is His name.” Mary, in all humility knows she has been chosen to play a singular part in God’s great plan, a part which will be noticed and venerated forever. Scripture comes alive for Mary, she’s the chosen one to fulfill the prophecy and, she’s asked to do something great as were the men and women Sacred Scripture records for us. Through this line, am I able to recognize that the Lord has a role only I can play in His Divine Plan? Am I willing to do my part when He calls me and asks me to “suit up?”

Resting in God’s Mercy, she recognizes that His mercy never fails, “et misericordia eius in progenies et progenies timentibus eum,” “He [God] has mercy on those who fear Him from progeny to progeny (every generation). Am I able to see God’s mercy at work in my life, and in the life of others? Do I desire God’s Mercy be applied to all, or only to some (those perhaps we think worthy or get along with)?

Mary then recognizes that the Lord looks at us not through the eyes of the world, but through His gaze of pure love, “Fecit potentiam in brachio suo, dispersit superbos mente cordis sui; deposuit potentes de sede et exaltavit humiles.” “He has shown the power of his arm scattering the proud in their conceit, He has cast down the powerful from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly/humble.” He makes us powerful when the world would say otherwise and trusts us enough to accomplish His plan. We are qualified because He chooses us, not through our own strength. Like Mary, do I recognize the gifts/talents God has given me and do I use them to further God’s plan?

Mary remembers too that God gives her all she needs and is able to trust in God’s Providence, “Esurientes implevit bonis et divites dimisit inanes,” “He [God] has filled the hungry with good things while the rich He has sent away empty.” Do I know the Lord’s Providence in my life? If not, how can I grow more in my trust in God’s grace?

In the final line of Mary’s prayer she recalls God’s fidelity to all His promises, “Suscepit Israel puerum suum, recordatus misericordiae, sicut locutus est ad patres nostros, Abraham et semini eius in saecula,” “He has come to the help of servant/child Israel for He has remembered His promise of mercy, the promise He made to our fathers, to Abraham and His children forever.” Am I able to recall the good things God has done, even in times of trial/distress? Do I believe that God will keep His promise?

What’s fascinating to me, too, about Mary’s Magnificat is that many of the details of her assent to God’s Plan weren’t revealed all at once. Yet, she didn’t need to know the details, that God was guiding her was enough. She didn’t know all the details of her life (the flight into Egypt, the threat to Jesus’ life as an infant, or how Joseph would react to her pregnancy) and still she trusted. Mary trusted that the Lord was with her in all things.

Personally, as I pray and reflect with the Magnificat I can’t help but think of my own life and the way the Lord “hid the details” from me and how that actually turned out to be a good thing. I like knowing the details and the way actions/ events/conversations will play out and so often the Lord keeps those hidden inviting me into greater trust in His providence. There’s actually been a great freedom in this! I don’t have to know the details of my life or the exact order of events, that’s God’s job. My job is to emulate Mary, by responding to God’s grace in every moment. Holy Mary, Mother of God, give us a greater trust that, like you, our souls may magnify the Lord! God bless, you all!