When Mary says “Let it be done to me according to thy word”, was she only talking about how she would conceive and give birth to Jesus, or might she have been saying much more?
This is a rare post, though posts like this were the whole reason I started this blog. In this post I want to share an experience with you that might help to guide, inform or inspire you. In this case, it’s regarding my fifteen-minute meditation on the first Saturday of February, 2021.
[For information about the First Saturday Devotion, what it is, how to do it, click here]
Keeping Our Lady company for 15 minutes, meditating on one of the mysteries of the Rosary, is one of the requirements of the First Saturday devotion. I try to focus on a Marian meditation during that 15 minutes. Today I meditated on the first Joyful Mystery, the Annunciation. I like that mystery. There’s something very personable and connectable about it. I start out imagining Mary in her home, doing whatever she might be doing in the moment when the angel Gabriel appears to her and says “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you!”, and from there I play out, and reflect upon the whole episode as it’s presented to us in the Gospels
Today’s meditation took place on a sunny day at Mary’s home. It was breezy, there was a large oak tree outside, casting a pleasing shadow that gave some shelter from the sun. Then the angel appeared and knelt in the presence of Our Lady. “Hail” he said “full of grace. The Lord is with you”.
I never like the “Hail, highly favored one” variation of this event, though those words are found in at least one of the gospels. I feel being “highly favored” is an honor that can be bestowed on any ordinary-extraordinarily-holy person. King David could have been considered “Highly Favored”. But “full of grace” is more exclusive. Not everybody can be “full of grace”. Only Mary can be called “Full of Grace” because of the preeminence of her holiness.
Anyway, moving forward to the point, I imagined the scene playing out according to how it’s presented in scripture, with as much of the original conversation as I can recall from memory in the Gospels. I then got to the point where, after being told that she will “conceive and bear a son” Mary says, “How will this be (how will she give birth to Jesus), since I do not know man (because she is a consecrated virgin)”. The angel tells her that the Holy Spirit will come upon her, and that the power of God will overshadow her, thus the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” (Luke 1:26-38) Her response says more than meets the eye, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to thy word“
To be clear I do believe Mary is mostly saying what she appears to be saying. The angel is asking if she will consent to God’s plan, to allow God to take on human form and human nature through her (Jesus only has his human nature because he came into the world through the human womb of Mary!). She is saying “Let it be, as you’ve said”. And yet she isn’t saying “I hereby give my consent”. She’s not simply saying “Okay!” or even “Sure, whatever God wants!”. She says much more than all of that by saying “May it be done to me according to thy word.”
Two things stand out for me there. “May it…” and “Be done to me”.
What is that “it”? Is it merely the incarnation of God in her womb? Is it more than that? I think the part where she says “Done to me”, suggests that she’s saying more than that. Pregnancy isn’t done to somebody, it happens within somebody.
Much more is “done to” Mary—or to her life—than becoming pregnant and giving birth to Our Lord. She becomes the mother of God. That role and responsibility are done to her. That experience is inaugurated in that moment that she conceives the son of God. It doesn’t begin with conception and end at birth. It will involve her entire life and existence, starting from that moment. All of the joy and the suffering, the trials and difficulties involved with that role happen to Mary, starting from day-1 of her pregnancy.
Very much is “done unto” Mary than meets the eye. The flight to Egypt in order to escape a massacre perpetrated by Herod, the events of the presentation of Our Lord in the temple, losing Our Lord for three days and then finding him again in the temple (There are parallels to how we lose Jesus through sin, and find him again in confession). She was also present at the wedding feast at Canna, when Jesus performed his first miracle—an act influenced by Our Lady, that inaugurated his public ministry and set in motion the chain of events that lead to his crucifixion. She wasn’t a bystander there, she was an important component to the events there. Further on, she followed him on the path to the cross, and was with him at the foot of his cross, witnessing his execution. She was in the upper room with the Apostles on the day of Pentecost, and her prayers on that day can’t reasonably be discounted or considered inconsequential to the eventual descent of the Holy Spirit. Because if God made a point to reveal in the scripture that Mary was there, then her presence must mean something.
All of these things are done unto Mary. But all of these events weren’t a “they”, really. They were a collective “It”. “They” were not done unto her, “It”—all of it—was done unto Mary, according to the word of the angel. The weight of motherhood to the Messiah was the “it”. It began at Our Lord’s conception in her womb, and actually continues even to today.
But wait, when she said “Be it done to me…according to thy word”, that was in response to the angel that she was to conceive and bear the Son of God. Doesn’t that suggest that she was simply talking about becoming pregnant with Jesus?
Well that wasn’t all that the angel told her. The angel told her a few things, and there are layers beneath the surface that are worthy of consideration
1. She was to conceive and bear a son
This almost speaks for itself except we have to remember that the Messiah, foretold by the prophets, was to be born of a virgin, as per the prophet Issaiah (Isaiah 7:14). Therefor this is not just an ordinary baby we’re talking about, and Mary, who would have been very knowledgable of the scriptures, especially of the prophet Isaiah, would have known that.
2. That he will save his people from their sins
Mary, being a consecrated virgin, was going to have a baby. How would that look to Joseph, her new husband? How would it look to others, who probably knew her to be a consecrated virgin? Joseph might think she had been unfaithful to him, and her neighbors might think she was unfaithful to God. This would have tarnished her honor and reputation, which was social suicide in ancient Israel. Only she would know that she was faithful to both Joseph and God, because only she would know that the child was conceived by the Holy Spirit. That truth would later be revealed to Joseph in a vision, but Mary was not told that by the angel. She was consenting to likely social-suicide and all of the scandal and hardship that involves when she consented to God’s will in this moment. It would have been done to her.
4. That he would be called the holy one of God—the Messiah foretold by the prophets.
Again, the knowledge that this child was the Messiah would have been heavy. It’s the billowing smoke that tells the story of the size and ferocity of the fire it comes from. Mary knew that her role in the salvation of the human race would not start with the conception and end with the birth of the Messiah. He’s no ordinary child. He’s no ordinary person. He has no ordinary role and will live no ordinary life, and Mary’s life will be extraordinarily joyous, and extraordinarily difficult, as a result of saying ‘Let it be done’
By saying “Yes!” to God, Our Lady is not simply agreeing to conceive and bear a child. She is agreeing a much bigger picture. She is consenting to play a direct and personal role in God’s plan to save the human race from sin and death, through the ministry, life, and sacrificial death on the cross of His son. Imagine someone so small as this simple, humble young girl, consenting to something to enormous!
“Be it done to me according to thy word” takes on a whole new meaning when we consider all that she might have been saying in that moment. As Mary is the perfect disciple and the model for trust and faith in God, there is a lot we can learn from her example here. May God grant us the abundant grace we need to be so humble, so trusting, so faithful as to say “Let it be done to me”, when he calls us to follow his will. Knowing that God’s call to the small things is a call to greater things, let us accept the “it”, whatever that may be for each of us individually. The small things lead us to the greatest thing possible—Heaven.