We are introduced to Mary in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke. An angel is sent by God to announce to her that she is going to be the mother of the Messiah, the eternal King of Israel.
Luke 1, 26-29 — 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, “Hail, full of grace, the LORD is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be.
From the account of Luke we know that Mary was promised in marriage to a man named Joseph. Mary is troubled by the angel’s strange way of greeting her. She is greeted as someone of great importance, yet she knows she is only a young maid living in a small town of Galilee. She is called “full of grace,” indicating that she has no need, or room for additional divine favors such as forgiveness or glory. This is a very important point. By the words of the angel, indeed by the inspired Holy Scriptures, we learn that Mary was placed by the grace of God at the pinnacle of creation and perfection. That was done in preparation for her role in the history of salvation. Notice also that Mary is unaware of her destiny until that moment. The angel informed her of God’s plans for her, and she was free to accept or reject her mission.
Luke 1, 30-33 — 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 for ever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Often, angelical messengers and also Jesus, used the phrase “do not be afraid” during supernatural apparitions (Matthew 28, 10; John 14, 27). The angel tells Mary that she has been favored by God with the extraordinary grace of being the Queen of Israel, the gebirah or “Great Lady”. In ancient Israel it was the mother of the King who sat in the Queen’s throne (1 Kings 2, 19). The angel describes all the attributes of the long awaited Messiah, especially mentioning that he will “reign over the house of Jacob”, that is over all the tribes of Israel and not only the tribe of Judah. Hearing that, Mary knew that her son was going to be the Messiah. Thus she was destined to be the eternal Queen of Israel.
Luke 1, 34 — And Mary said to the angel, “How shall this be, since I know no man?”
Mary’s inquiry is very revealing. Luke has told us that she was promised in matrimony to a man named Joseph. If Mary had expected to have normal conjugal relations with her future husband, she would have never asked such question. Instead she would have assumed that she and Joseph were going to be the parents of the Messiah once they were married. Yet she respectfully asks from the angel an explanation. How is her son going to be conceived? There is only one reasonable way to explain that question: Mary had consecrated her virginity to God and she did not expect to have marital relations with her future husband. The practice of consecrating one’s virginity or marital relations to God, is well attested in the Jewish culture of the time. There are some biblical precedents, such as the daughter of Jephthah, the Judge of Israel (Judges 11, 34-40) and the prophetess Anna who consecrated herself to God after becoming a widow at a young age (Luke 2, 36-37; 1 Corinthians 7, 23-40). To be a perfect and eternal witness of the power of God, the virginity of Mary must be eternal. Her vow to remain a virgin as long as she lived can be clearly deduced from her question to the angelical messenger.
Luke 1, 36-37 — And the angel said to 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 kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible.”
The angel then explains to Mary how Jesus is going to be conceived. He also informs her that Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist has also conceived a son miraculously in her old age. In these two women we see the types of the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. Mary is having a son while very young and not yet formally married, while Elizabeth is having a son very late in life.
Luke 1, 38-37 — And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the LORD; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
This passage points at Mary’s humble acceptance of her God-given mission. She is going to be pregnant out of wedlock, facing shame and danger. Yet she does not worry about herself but trustingly leaves the details to God. The angel does not depart until having heard her acceptance. In this we see Mary’s model of obedience and God’s respect of human free will. Mary was free to decline God’s offer, yet she accepted it in spite of all the troubles and dangers involved.
Luke 1, 39-45 — In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a city of Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted me, that the mother of my LORD should come to me? For behold, when the voice of your greeting came to my ears, the babe in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the LORD.”
Elizabeth is the type of the Old Covenant. Her son, John the Baptist, is going to be the last prophet of Israel and Jesus is going to be the first prophet of the New Covenant and the greatest of them all. Therefore, from this passage onwards we understand that Mary is a type of the Church whose mission is to deliver Jesus for the salvation of the world. In Elizabeth we see a model of the Old Covenant of God with Israel that points at the Messiah just like Elizabeth and her son John the Baptist do. In Galatians 3, 24-26 the apostle Paul teaches that the Mosaic Law (the Old Covenant,) is a custodian that leads us to Christ. Elizabeth calls Mary “the mother of my LORD”, pointing to Jesus in the same way as her Son John the Baptist will do later on. Even as a baby in Elizabeth’s womb, John the Baptist was allowed by the Holy Spirit to recognize the voice of Mary. This fact has been preserved in Scripture to show us that those moved by the Holy Spirit recognize in Mary the very nearness of Jesus. Elizabeth’s blessing “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” has been forever incorporated by the Church’s ancient prayer, the Hail Mary.
Luke 1, 46-48 — And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the LORD, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed;
Here Mary begins her Magnificat, a beautiful prayer of praise modeled after Hannah’s Song (1 Samuel 1, 2-10). Hannah was also a barren woman, like Elizabeth. She was granted by God to have a son, the great prophet Samuel, who later anointed David as a king of Israel (1 Samuel 16, 11-13). In the same manner, John the Baptist was designated by God to baptize Jesus in the Jordan river (Mark 1, 9). After his anointment, David goes to establish the kingdom of Israel. After his baptism, Jesus begins his earthly ministry and establishes the Church. These passages highlight the central importance of Mary in bringing about the fulfillment of the promises of the Old Testament in Christ.