Today, the Church celebrates the great mystery to begin all mysteries: The Annunciation. This may be the most important announcement of all time (just barely squeaking past Ron Burgundy’s prolific Cannonball Announcement). This is the first mystery of the rosary and the linchpin of all subsequent mysteries. We all know the story, but do we really know what it reveals about Jesus, Mary, and our own plan in salvation? Let’s take a closer look at this mystery and how we can participate in it.
The mystery begins with a striking encounter between the two main characters: Gabriel, an angel of God, and Mary, a betrothed Virgin of Nazareth. Gabriel was sent from God to Mary and his very first words manifest that this is no ordinary encounter, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28). As readers, we can see immediately both the excitement in this encounter as well as the mystery. The excitement can be seen in the word “Hail”, which is not the normal Hebrew greeting, but a word meaning “rejoice” (Jesus of Nazareth). Gabriel is telling Mary to rejoice for the Lord is with her, however, he makes a move that no other angel has done in salvation history up to this point; he addresses Mary by something other than her name (Ignatius Study Bible). The title “full of grace” is the first hint at something deeper than what is initially visible.
Gabriel gives two titles in this mystery that reveal a great deal about both Mary and her future son. Gabriel refers to Mary as “full of Grace” which shows that Mary is someone special and different from other humans. Mary recognizes that this is an odd greeting and is “greatly troubled” (Luke 1:29) by it. It is important to notice that the verb tense used shows that she is currently full of grace and it “is not something that is about to happen to her as a result of the angel’s message, but is rather an action completed in the past with effect that continue in the present” (Pablo Gadenz). God has prepared Mary by filling her with grace for this specific mission. But what is the mission? “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus” (Luke 1:31). Seems simple enough, however, the name “Jesus” reveals more about this future son of Mary. The name Jesus means “Yahweh saves” (CCC 430). Jesus will be that savior and Israel’s long-awaited messiah: Son of the Most high who will reign as king from the throne of David forever (Luke 1:32-33). Gabriel shows us that Jesus, Son of the Most High, will be a great king who saves, bore by a woman mysteriously prepared for her role. Great men are born in every generation so what makes this man so special? Mary digs deeper into the mystery when she begins to ask questions.
Gabriel’s answer to Mary asking “How will this be” (Luke 1:34) reveals the heart of the mystery of the Annunciation. Mary is seeking understanding because she trusts God, but is confused due to her virginity. Gabriel tells here that she will conceive by the Holy Spirit and that Jesus will be called the “Son of God” (Luke 1:35). This is the great mystery, that Mary shall virginally conceive of the Son of God by the Holy Spirit. This is a regularly impossible thing, yet becomes possible “for with God nothing will be impossible” (Luke 1:37). God has come to dwell with his creation by directly interacting with a person in time and allows this person, Mary, to consent or not. Mary is confronted with a mystery which she cannot come to understand, yet responds with full faith and rejoicing, “let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
Mary’s “yes” marks the beginning of Jesus’ time of fulfillment among creation which can be seen almost immediately in the Annunciation. Our main verse of focus comes from the book of Isaiah, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Imman′u-el” (Isaiah 7:14). Jesus fulfills this Old Testament passage through Mary who was prepared for this mission from her birth, as stated above. Gabriel tells Mary that Jesus is Imman′u-el, God with us, who becomes the ultimate sign of the mystery of God’s love in the divine trinity. Gabriel’s language reveals Jesus as this sign of mystery when he tells Mary that the “power of the Most high will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35). Pope Benedict tells us that this is Temple language that recalls the sacred cloud as the visible sign of God’s presence (Jesus of Nazareth). We can also see this cloud representing God’s presence in the book of Exodus on Mt Sinai and in chapter 40 when the cloud of God’s presence covers the tent of meeting and dwells in the tabernacle. Gabriel uses this same language to show that God’s presence is coming to dwell within Mary through the Son of God, Jesus. Jesus is truly Imman′u-el as prophesied by Isaiah.
The Annunciation reveals that Jesus has come as God to save us, however, the way that God chooses act has a profound effect on our spiritual lives. God chose to act through Mary, through his creation, in order to save his creation. In this mystery we are told that God saves, but we are shown that Mary has an essential role to play in this salvation as well. Jesus saves us through his Incarnation and Passion and God uses his creation to facilitate this. This continues into our own lives. We all have a role to play in God’s great plan of salvation: for ourselves and others. When we choose to follow Christ we are choosing to participate in His salvific act. We must be like and Mary and participate in this plan by seeking understanding and listening to Him.