October 21, 2020

The First Joyful Mystery: The Annunciation

This is part three of Martha’s series on the mystery of the Rosary. Yes, we ran the Second Mystery before the First, partly due to when Martha’s emails arrived on this side of the pond, and partly due to user (i.e., yours truly) error.  You can read parts one and two if you haven’t read them yet before you embark on this segment. JD

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,  to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David.  And the virgin’s name was Mary.  And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!”  But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.  And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.  He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

And the angel answered her, “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.  And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren.  For nothing will be impossible with God.”  And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”  And the angel departed from her (Luke 1:26-38).

Here we have the root and basis of our faith as Christians: God became Man for our salvation.  From this account, we get part of the first half of the prayer which constitutes the Rosary, the “Hail, Mary” (from the Angelic Salutation): “Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.”

“Highly favored” or “full of grace”?  Which is a better translation?  I haven’t the Greek to argue it, but to be in the favor of God is to be graced, and given grace, and to be filled with grace.  Grace is a large subject on its own, all the varieties of grace and is it irresistible and how do we get it and what do we mean when we say “by grace alone” and all the rest of it.

So here is Mary, who has found favor with God.  How has she done this?  We’re not told outright.  Is it because of her merits, her works, her faith, her heritage?  We don’t know.  What do we know?  She’s a young woman (tradition and speculation has put her age anywhere from twelve to fifteen, based on ancient practices of betrothal, and she can’t be much above seventeen at the outermost), betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the line of David.  She is living in Nazareth and this is her first marriage (the text is specific that she’s a virgin, and this will be an important point).  So she’s not already pregnant by Joseph or anyone else, despite neat theories about Roman soldiers named Pantera.  The paternity of her child is not that neatly disposed of.

We get a very specific time and place: the sixth month, in the province of Galilee, in a small town named Nazareth.  (Yes, the text above says “city”, but we’re talking a province in a dusty Roman protectorate that nobody wants much to do with because it’s nothing but trouble and no rich pickings, a province that’s a byword for backwardness and yokeldom even amongst the inhabitants of the rest of the country; “city” here probably means “bigger than six houses and a pub, and the sheep get chased off the main street during trading hours”)  We get a young woman and her betrothed, her older married cousin, and an angel.  Remember all the talking we’ve already done about angels?  So this is not a run-of-the-mill, everyday occurrence happening here.  This is one of the great lords of the universe sent directly by the One God of Israel, He who is holy, mighty, and above all the earth, with a message of enormous importance.

It is not sent to a queen or the emperor or the rich, powerful and important in the world.  It is not even sent to the Temple or the learned or the scholarly who have been poring over the Scriptures and arguing the interpretations for generations.

It is a message delivered to a woman, a girl, a not-very-important person (though her family may be of some small account; after all, her cousin is married to a priest serving in the Temple, so they aren’t just nobodies) who is living in an out-of-the-way place noted mainly for being more trouble than it is worth.  And she is told that God is with her, she has found favor with Him, and she will be the mother of a special son, a son who will be called “the Son of the Most High” and who will regain the throne of David and rule an everlasting kingdom.

It sounds like the beginning of a hundred hackneyed multi-volume fantasy tales: the Chosen One with a Special Destiny who arises out of obscurity.  It sounds like wish–fulfillment or even more sinisterly, like mental illness.  Perhaps that is why it is grounded in such particular details: not “once upon a time” but “Here, on this date, in this place, to these people”.

And since we’ve been discussing faith and reason, see Mary’s reaction.  She doesn’t swoon away in a fit of hysterics (though she is, understandably, said to be “greatly troubled” and no wonder – blazing figures of awesome majesty popping up to say “Congratulations!  God has taken special notice of YOU!” are not very comfortable visitors, no matter what you might think) but she does ask “How can this come to pass?”  She doesn’t go “Oh yes, of course, whatever you say!” And here I sidestep to note that I cannot understand how anyone gets the “human incubator” notion of Mary’s role, that all she had to do was say “Yes” (and she hadn’t much choice in that, either, since the Irresistible Sovereign Dominion of God was at work) and so she was basically the container for nine months until the child was born and then her work was done – and I’ve seen that line in online arguments between Catholics and those of a more Reformed tendency about Mariolatry and how much honor is too much when it comes to Mary: once she had the child, that was it, her work was done, and she could settle down to having normal kids like a normal wife with Joseph.  Haven’t these people read this text at all????

So it is not doubt or defiance that makes her question.  She’s not stupid, she realizes that something strange and extraordinary is going on: she says “How can I have a child when I’m a virgin?” which indicates that (a) she knew about the birds and the bees (so it was not a case of ‘you mean having sex makes babies?’, another idiot ‘rationalization’ – if I can dignify it with that name – that I’ve seen when it comes to explaining away miracles) and (b) this was not the same as her cousin Elizabeth, who conceived naturally by her husband albeit through God’s power.

And the angel explains to her exactly how this can be, giving her proof of his extraordinary claim by saying “Check it out with Elizabeth!”  Then Mary says, “Be it done unto me according to thy word”.  Then she gives her “Yes”, the counterpart of Eve’s “No” when our foremother used her will in contradiction to the request of God.   Mary exhibits here what Pope Pius was getting at in his formulation: “(F)aith is a genuine assent of the intellect to truth received by hearing from an external source.”  She has heard, she has believed, and she has assented.

“And the angel departed from her.”



  1. I love the story of the Annunciation because it gives us a chance to reflect on how we too are called to birth God in the world. How are we called to be love, compassion, peace, joy in the world and help others to discover and cultivate these things in their lives.

    Also, another perspective on Eve: What if the story of Adam and Eve is merely a culture’s reflection on the state of human suffering? What if it is really a metaphor for the choice we made (as a collective we) to experience the perceived separation from God as a way to grow and mature spiritually? What if the Adam and Eve story is more like the story of the Prodigal Son? The son chose separation from his Father, then learned the pain of that separation, then chose to return….the father all the while loving, allowing, and then welcoming him home in celebration when he decided to return. What if Eve’s choice (metaphorically of course) was not a bad choice but a good choice because then we have the opportunity to choose God freely and in entering the search for God, we have a chance to grow and evolve? Just wondering.

    • Love the Eve/Mary correlation, as well.

      You know, Pantera was a nice example of a late eighties heavy metal band, but I don’t believe any of those boys was Jesus’ daddy. .

    • This is where I come from on reading the Creation story. Since it is really a parable with a theological angle (to my way of thinking) it makes sense when tacked onto the rest of the stories in Genesis.

  2. Excellent, Martha, I could spend the rest of my life meditating only on the Annunciation and still not delve the depths. Mary’s Yes to God is the most powerful word spoken up to that time.
    That’s why she is such a powerful example for us.

  3. SODOMMIE AND WO!!!!!!!!

    • Women’s ordination? No, Mary is not a priest.

      Sodomy? If you refer to the Catholic Church’s view on homosexuality, let me remind you that we are always blamed for the spread of AIDS in Africa, which either means we enthusiastically support sodomy or enthusiastically do not support the use of condoms, one or the other, I forget which.

      If you’re combining both, Vern, let me remind you that that was exactly the kind of thing that got Lord Byron in trouble with his marriage breakdown when his wife was suing for divorce. Be warned!

      • Sodomme can be eather phisical or spitual.

        Hears the antydote:



        Say one 100 times everyday and if it brings you good luck put an add in the paper saying “Thank you Martan Luther King.”

        • And I thought only Catholics did those kind of “prayers guaranteed never to fail; say for nine days and promise publication when favour is attained”.

          Though I like the touch about the holly; “O the holly and the ivy, when they are both full-grown/Of all the trees that are in the wood, the holly bears the crown”.


    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Six comments in and we already have Vern doing his thing!

      Is that some kind of record or what?

      • My frend you should ask youself what kind of spirit makes a man watch them girly shows and fantise about unnaturle acts playing horsey.


      • Unfortunately, modern medicine hasn’t discovered an antydote for the inability to spell.

        Some of the things Vern writes are just unnaturle. I am glad that he’s a fan of Martan Luther King, though, and refrains from fantising about acts playing horsey.

        Lord, have mercy on us…

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          I’m not sure if Vern’s inability to spell is deliberate.

          My father was a California Public School Casualty; for all his life, he was a very poor speller. (The CA school bureaucracy has apparently been allergic to phonics for a LONG time.) When I was a teen, he’d often run major business correspondence past me for a spell-check. I don’t get the same vibe from Vern’s misspellings as I did from my father’s; instead, I get almost a “Little Rascals” bad-spelling vibe.

          • I’ve been hoping that the “Vernisms” were tongue-in-cheek…I still hope so…but the more you pee your pants as a joke, the more people are going to perceive that you can’t control your bladder.

          • Just got to handle the person behind Vern with a light touch – I find it comical and absolutely don’t take him seriously.

            On another subject – Little rascals – liked the old ones before the Froggy days with weezer and Stimey especially the one when they build the firetruck go-cart…..

      • God love him, Vern is the second example of this kind of trolling I’ve seen, and neither of these two are the worst. I reserve that accolade for fandom flamewars and some of P.Z. Myers’ fanboys.

        Besides, I’ve always said I couldn’t believe in a rational religion, so Vern is keeping me on my toes 😀

      • You notice he can spell “diversity” correctly 🙂

        So, Headless, come clean: are you watching the new “My Little Pony” so you can “fantise about unnaturle acts playing horsey”, or is there something wrong with me because I never could stand the Care Bears, Ponies, or even the Gummi Bears which means I am insufficiently girly since I never wanted an original pony to brush and braid its mane and tail?

        (The correct answer is Option B) 😉

  4. No, Jeff, you’re not to blame. This is the kind of thing that happens when you combine Catholicism and being Irish 🙂

    True story: there is a signpost at a crossroads in my own county, where the post pointing to the right says “(Name of town) x miles” and the post pointing to the left says “(Name of same town) y miles” and yes, both directions are accurate and will get you there (these being country roads, they all loop around and into each other) 😉

    • It must be the Emerald City. Is there a talking scarecrow at the fork in the road?

      • Ted, nobody can follow the road signs in Ireland, particularly the new ones. This spoof for “Irish Sat Nav” is for Northern Ireland, but it’s a fairly accurate description of how Irish people really do give and follow directions.

        • Here in Maine, the “Bert and I” recordings by Marshall Dodge and Robert Bryan (1960s vintage) did a spoof on directions around here, ending with the rather dry punch line, “Come to think of it, you can’t get they-ah from he-ah.”

          Maine humor is a bit understated, like British humor, and as our own Tim Sample says, “It’s not that it ain’t fun-nay. You just don’t GET it.”