In many paintings of the Annunciation, our Blessed Mother is depicted reading or having an open book on her lap, as in Fra Angelico’s frescoes or Rogier van der Weyden’s paintings. What we see in the Blessed Mother is attentiveness to the word of God, which will become flesh in her womb: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14, RSV). On this feast of the Annunciation, we ought to take the time to consider our contemplative Blessed Mother, who was open to receiving the Word, and ask ourselves if we are open to receiving the Word in our hearts.
Aristotle tells us that the highest human action is contemplation, which is an act that leads man outside himself to contemplate the eternal and unchanging things. Contemplation is one of the ways that we are able to learn about God, but the Blessed Mother’s act of contemplation is much deeper, because she contemplated the word of God day and night (Psalm 1:2). It is said that Mary knew the Scriptures so well that they took flesh in her womb in Christ. She “is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither” (Psalm 1:3). From the Blessed Mother came forth the shoot of Jesse (Isaiah 11:1), Jesus Christ, who came to save all men from sin. Because of the Blessed Mother’s attentiveness to the Word, she conceived the Word so that He could bring salvation to all.
When the angel greets the Blessed Mother, “Hail, full of grace” (Luke 1:28), “she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be” (Luke 1:29). Why is Mary troubled by this saying? She knows that this has never been said in the Scriptures before, and so she is troubled that the angel would come to her with such a greeting. Even still, she considers within herself what sort of greeting this might be: as Pope Benedict XVI comments, this points to “her inner engagement with the word” (Infancy, p. 33). Mary is well aware of the prophecies concerning the Messiah, having contemplated the Scriptures so deeply. She is therefore ready, willing, and open to giving her response to the angel: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Mary accepts the word of the angel; she accepts the proclamation of God; she receives the Word of God into her heart, such that he becomes he incarnate within her womb. As Benedict XVI further comments, “It is the moment of free, humble yet magnanimous obedience in which the loftiest choice of human freedom is made” (p. 36). In contrast with the disobedience of Adam and Eve, who did not ponder the word of God in their hearts and chose to turn away from God, Mary’s act of contemplation leads her to obedience to the Word.
Each of us is called to contemplate the word of God and take delight in it, just like the man of Psalm 1. In the dictatorship of noise present in our culture, how often do we sit down to contemplate the word of God, so that we might take it wholly into our hearts and make our wills one with God’s will? On this feast of the Annunciation, we should pray to our Blessed Mother, so that we might have the grace to receive the Word as she did, whatever our state of life might be. We are all called to receive the Word of God and keep it—“My mother and my brethren are those who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21—and if we do, then we will be made sons and daughters of God (John 1:12-13). If we keep the word of God, we will be imitating our Blessed Mother, who carried the Word of God beneath her heart; let us learn to imitate her that we might carry the Word of God in our own hearts.