To Give Consent, Mary had to Know

Tomorrow is the Feast of the Annunciation. I thought I would republish this post, first published on December 8th, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, because it discusses the Annunciation, and most importantly, the validity of Mary’s consent.

When my kids were little, I would often pick up second-hand children’s books for them.  I suppose when you’re paying 25 cents for a book it may not get the scrutiny that it might receive at full price, but in any case, I bought a pretty picture book about the Nativity that I ended up throwing out without sharing it with the children.

I don’t recall the title, but the book’s perspective was memorably shocking to my Catholic sensibilities. In short, Mary was a dunce. Throughout the story, she was wondering what was going on, perpetually perplexed. As in the worst Christmas song ever, “Mary Did You Know?”, the poor girl in the Nativity narrative was merely a tool in God’s plan for salvation. Sweet kid. Thanks a lot.

When we read the account of the Annunciation, we may find it confusing:

…the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.

Mary may have been surprised by her encounter with the angel but she would have well understood what he was saying. She had been raised in the Temple and was versed in the prophets and the promise of a messiah. She also led a very prayer-filled life and enjoyed a deep closeness with God. How could it be otherwise? What kind of consent could she give if she did not understand what was being asked of her? No, the clueless version of Mary presented in some literature is inconsistent with our Catholic faith and offends not only our Mother, but God Himself.

Today is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. In most of the world, it is a Holy Day of Obligation, that is, Catholics must attend Mass on this day. This dogmatic teaching explains that Mary was chosen as the Mother of Christ from the moment of her conception. The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, Who is not bound by time, redeemed His mother with the rest of humanity, through His suffering and death on the cross. However, Mary experienced the effects of that redemption from the moment of conception and was therefore conceived without Original Sin. Having no attachment to sin, she lived an unblemished, sinless life.

The angel’s words may not have been expected, but there is no reason to believe that Mary was confused. Her whole life was attuned to the will of God and there was no hesitation in her willingness to cooperate. She understood what was being asked of her and recognized that she was greatly blessed. She was gutsy; she knew this would not be easy. But she trusted in God completely, leaving the details for Him to work out.

Mary is, of course, the ultimate model for our lives. We turn to her, our Blessed Mother, to pray for us, that we may readily accept God’s will for us.

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