The Annunciation

We begin with the Annunciation.  Here we find the archangel Gabriel (hero of God, strength of God, strong man of God) greeting the Blessed Virgin Mary with the angelic salutation that becomes the corner stone of the Rosary "Hail full of grace!  The Lord is with thee!" (Luke 1:28).  Imagine what the presence of this most holy being commanded.  An archangel, and one of only two mentioned in canonical Scripture.  A representative of the strength of the Almighty appears before the young humble Virgin.  The radiance with which this being must have shone!  Here stands a most holy creature of God that dwells constantly in the presence of His Almighty glory, the source of all light.  Simply from this fact alone he must emanate a blinding glow.  He is a being God has bestowed such grace, holiness and strength.  The Lord deigned to send forth with such power, glory and majesty the message that God Himself would take on human poverty; lower Himself and limit Himself to that of the lowest of His creation made in His image out of His infinite Love and Mercy for His creatures.  The stark contrast of this duality is an awesome testament to this incomprehensible Love.

Let us then at this point, to the extent possible, stand with the Blessed Virgin before such an awesome sight.  Our hearts would would, in all likelihood, pound with such force that we would be astonished if they did not leap through our chests.  Our minds would be wrapped with confusion as to what this visit could possibly entail.  Rightly so, Scripture tells us "she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be" (Luke 1:29).  As only the Almighty can, through His holy angel He quelled the Blessed Virgin's fear and apprehension with a single sentence "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God" (Luke 1:30).  What soul would not be put at peace by such a statement?

The angel then proceeds to disclose the purpose of his visit:  this humble Virgin is to become the most Holy Mother of God Himself.  The first utterance on earth of the most Holy Name of JESUS is thus spoken by this angelic spirit.  Let us attempt to fathom for a moment, albeit futilely, the essence of this first Mystery.  The Almighty God, Creator and Father of all, has chosen His creature to be His mother.  Dwelling on this humanly incomprehensible fact becomes only an exercise in aligning our thoughts with the Blessed Virgin's at that moment as we acknowledge we cannot, in the present, grasp that which, by definition, is out of our grasp.

Contrast this situation with the announcement of the birth of John the Baptist, forerunner of the Lord.  Zechariah is met by an angel and told his wife Elizabeth, both advanced in years, would bear a son.  Zechariah responds with disbelief.  He cannot believe this to be true given the barren nature of his wife and their old age.  For this disbelief, the Lord takes away his speech.  The Blessed Virgin Mary's response, in words, is not that different.  Her reply is "how can this be, since I have no relations with a man?" (Luke 1:34).  How different though is the response of the angel.  Whereas Zechariah received a retort of scorn, the Blessed Virgin is informed that the Holy Spirit will come upon her and that the child will be called Son of the Most High.  Why then, the converse response?  To answer this, we must delve into the reasons for each response.

Zechariah's response, as mentioned, is at its root, disbelief.  The Blessed Virgin's response, however, has a much different basis.  This basis is the sacredness of her virginity.  It is the violation of this virtue, held sacred between the Lord and herself, that provokes her question.  Her reply then is not rooted in disbelief, but, an aversion to offending God.  Once this issue is resolved by the explanation of the angel, Our Lady, out of obedience, humility and by virtue of her purity submits, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.  May it be done to me according to your word." (Luke 1:38).  It is from thenceforth that the Lord is truly with her, dwelling in her womb.  By the Blessed Virgin's cooperation she becomes the Mother of God and tabernacle of the Incarnate Word.

It is also notable that as the Most Holy Name of JESUS is brought to earth by an angelic spirit, the Eternal Word made Flesh is brought to the immaculate tabernacle of the Virgin's womb by the Holy Spirit.

The angel departs Our Lady with the news that her cousin has conceived in her old age and will bear a son.

The Visitation

Learning that her aged cousin, Elizabeth, had conceived a son and was in the sixth month of the pregnancy, Our Blessed Mother set out in haste to Judah.  God be praised for so great an example of true charity.  Knowing that she herself now carries another life inside her, Our Lady races to the aid of her relative, risking hardship during travel and displacing herself from the comfort of her own home.  When the Virgin Mother entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth the Holy Spirit overcame the mother of the forerunner of the Lord.  St. John the Baptist leaped in his mother's womb and she exclaimed "Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb." (Luke 1:42)We now have the second portion of the Hail Mary, proclaimed under the influence of the Holy Spirit by the mother of the one who would go before the Lord.  Elizabeth goes on, "And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?  For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.  Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled." (Luke 1:43-44).  Only in this state, enveloped with sanctity by the One Who is Sanctity itself, could St. Elizabeth come to such knowledge without it having been made known to her.  The Most Holy Virgin responds with the great canticle of humility, love and reverence; the Magnificat. 

"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.  For He has looked upon his handmaid's lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.  The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His name.  His mercy is from age to age to those who fear Him.  He has shown might with His arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.  He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly.  The hungry He has filled with good things; the rich He has sent away empty.  He has helped Israel his servant, remembering His mercy, according to His promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever." (Luke 1:46-55).  With what great humility Our Lady speaks.  Notice that not one sentence she utters is without mention of the Lord and His greatness.  She announces, with complete self abasement, her function according to the Lord's will.  Her soul exists to proclaim the greatness of the Lord and to rejoice in Him. 

Mary remains with Elizabeth for three months caring for her needs before returning home to cultivate the Divinity growing within her.

The Nativity of JESUS

We now reflect on the birth of the King of kings.  He does not enter this world in the manner of a king, not even that of a servant.  With no room in the inn, the Savior of the world emerges from the womb in a manger, surrounded by animals, filth and stench.  A manger is not a bassinet or cradle meant to nestle a fragile newborn, but a feeding trough for animals.  Imagine the condition of this first habitation of Our Blessed Savior.  A box filled with feed soaked in the saliva of the animals who eat from it.  There is no doubt of the great angel chorus and songs of jubilation that must have rang out from the heavens, but this fallen sinful world receives Him with utter repugnance.  The Lord would have it this way so that He might be the Light and salvation of even the lowest and maltreated.

Let us continue the Nativity according to St. Luke as it is likely to be the chronological progression.  It pleased the Lord to announce to shepherds nearby, who were keeping the night watch over their flock, the birth of the Son of God.  The angel of the Lord appeared to them and said, "today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord." (Luke 2:11).  What a site to behold, and a message to receive.  Fathom, for a moment, the strain on the human senses,designed to observe worldly things, of these humble shepherds.  Their human eye sight, adjusted to the darkness of the night, attempting to take in the heavenly glory reflected off of this creature who, by his very presence, has illuminated the night.  Their ears hearing the proclamation that a savior has been born Who is God's Anointed and Lord Himself and where to find Him.  Before the angel departs the heavens ring out "Glory to God in the highest, and peace to His people on earth!" (Luke 2:14).  These shepherds must have been overcome with the Holy Spirit to have their whits about them to go to Bethlehem and to see what had been proclaimed to them.

Upon finding the Holy Family just as the angel had described, the shepherds told all who were present of the message they had been given and all were amazed.  The child before them born in abject poverty was their Savior and Lord.  It is written that Mary kept all these things and reflected on them in her heart and rightly so.  It is her Immaculate Heart that is so united to the Sacred Heart of Our Blessed Savior that it would be rent with the sorrow of His Passion.  All the events of the Lord's life on earth would be collected in the treasury of her heart and no one would know the Lord's suffering like she.

The Presentation in the Temple

This Mystery must be viewed in the context of the Mosaic law.  Under the law as specified in Leviticus, contact with blood was a condition for becoming unclean, hence, a woman would be considered unclean during her menstrual period or after giving birth.  The law prescribed the offering of a lamb or, for those who could not afford a lamb, two turtle doves or to pigeons to the temple priest after a set time.  One was to be offered as a holocaust and one as a sin offering and, through the priest, the atonement would be made for her sins.

 Those considered unclean were restricted from touching anything sacred or entering any holy place.  Anything and anyone they touched would be considered to have contracted the uncleanness simply by virtue of contact. 

 The Blessed Mother of God would certainly have made the holocaust offering to the Lord in thanksgiving for such a great blessing.  She was not, however, required to make the sin offering since the Lord’s birth was miraculous in that it left the Blessed Virgin intact and Ever Virgin.  Mary remained immaculate, never stained by sin.  Why then, would she submit to a law that she was not subject to?  It is out of perfect obedience and absolute cooperation with the will and law of the Lord.  Let us pray for the grace and strive to imitate this obedience in our own lives.

 The second part of the Law at play in this Mystery comes from Exodus where the Lord commands that “every firstborn that opens the womb among the Israelites” (Exodus 13:2) should be consecrated to God.  It is fitting that the only Son of God, given to the human race to free us from our sins, be consecrated to the Father from whence He came in preparation for His most holy mission.  Let us pray that we may be consecrated to the Lord and fulfill the role he has ordained for us.

 Consider also, the words spoken by Simeon and Anna, both of whom were in the temple for the events.  Simeon is described as being “righteous and devout” and “the holy Spirit was upon him.” (Luke 2:25).  Anna is depicted in a similar manner as a prophetess and that she “never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with fasting and prayer” (Luke 2:37).  Simeon calls JESUS the Lord’s salvation, light for revelation and glory for the people Israel.  Anna spoke also of the Child to those “awaiting the redemption of Jerusalem”.  (Luke 2:32-38). 

 What joy must have overwhelmed the hearts of Mary and Joseph to hear such proclamations from God’s holy servants.  We too should derive unspeakable joy in the knowledge of the salvation that awaits those who heed the voice of the Divine Shepherd.  Those of His flock know His voice and heed it, He calls them each by name.

 The Finding in the Temple

In keeping with obedience to Jewish law, let us turn to the annual feast of Passover.  When the Divine Child had reached His twelfth year the Holy Family made the trek to the temple in Jerusalem to celebrate the holy festival. 

 After the days of the feast had passed Mary, Joseph and the caravan of their family and friends set out to return home.  Assuming JESUS was amongst them, they traveled for a day from the holy city.  After scouring the group making the journey with them, they realized their Son was no longer included in their number.

 To understand the joy of this Mystery, we must first delve into the anxiety, fear and heart-rending sorrow experienced just prior to that joy.  It is only in contrast to such a great anguish that such a great joy can be realized.  Parents or those in guardianship roles can well imagine the emotions and thoughts charging through the hearts and minds of Mary and Joseph.  These are not feelings that waltz in quietly and settle down in one’s being but explode through with such force and intensity as to make one think that, all at the same time, one’s heart would break through the chest and the pressure of the blood in one’s body would burst the skin wide open.  The increase of blood in the brain and rush of adrenaline would make it near impossible to entertain one thought for more than a split second in fear that the next thought might bring the solution to the calamity at hand.  Let any parent or guardian then multiply this infinitely to try to contemplate losing, not only one’s child, but the Son of God, the Divine Redeemer and Savior of the human race! 

 Mary and Joseph returned to Jerusalem and, after searching for three days, discovered their Divine Son in the temple with the learned men of Israel.  He was not cowering or upset at His state, but rather, hearing the wisdom they spoke, asking questions and discoursing with such understanding as to leave those present in awe.  Imagine the tone and emotion that must have erupted from the Blessed Virgin upon finding her Son and crying out “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been looking for you with great anxiety." (Luke 2:48).  How understated the situation is by the application of words.  All at once, immense joy must have flooded the hearts of Mary and Joseph.  Moments before, they were in the midst of the worst situation that could befall them and then, in an instant, all is right.  Their one most important charge from God, that of securing His only Son in safety and love until His time came, that was hanging in the balance was restored.  Let us strive to find JESUS in all those we encounter so that we may be engulfed with this same joy.

 It is also important to meditate on our Lord’s response, "Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" (Luke 2:49).  His response is one of true piety and obedience.  There must have been disbelief in His tone “How could you not know where I must be?”  It should have been obvious that He would be doing nothing other than His Father’s work in His Father’s house by His Father’s will.  We should imitate this perfect example of resolving ourselves to the will of God; to be all for God without reserve.  

The Joyful Mysteries
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