Mary: Indispensable to the Gospel

Without Mary, we would not have the Gospel as we know it.

‘Gospel’ in the singular is the good news about the coming of Jesus—as opposed to the individual gospels which reflect the light of that good news each in its own brightness and brilliant color, as so many rays of light that stream forth when one beam strikes a diamond.

The light of this new dawn of history first fell on Mary, as recounted in Luke. True, in Luke we first meet the old priest Zechariah, not Mary, but this is a recapitulation of the Old Testament. In John, we are told the cosmic story of the pre-existent Word through which all creation came into being. Matthew takes as his narrative starting point the discovery that Mary is pregnant (see Matthew 1:18). Mark, of course, skips over the infancy narratives and goes straight to Jesus’ ministry.

So it was Mary who first received the gospel.

Think about that for a moment: the gospel—the good news about God becoming Incarnate, to redeem all humanity and lead those who respond to their eternal destiny—was shared, in its most primordial moment, with a single person. The way the gospel was first announced—through a personal encounter—fittingly reflects what the gospel itself is: the good news about God entering into history that we might know and love Him through a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.

It was in the Annunciation to Mary that the name ‘Jesus’—as the name of God Incarnate—was first spoken aloud. Mary is thus also the first to whom God as a triune being is fully revealed. (Yes Zechariah was told that John would be filled with the Spirit, but he as yet did not know about Jesus, as far as the gospel account is concerned.)

Incidentally, Mary is also likely the first person—other than his parents—to learn about the conception of John the Baptist. Recall that Zechariah had been struck mute after doubting the angel and that once she conceived Elizabeth went into seclusion (see Luke 1:24).

The annunciation account is also the first time in the New Testament the word grace—that all-important new order of being through which the whole world of nature was to be transformed into a reflection of future glory—is used.

That’s right: grace, which in the Greek is charis, first appears in Luke 1:30 where Mary is told that she has found ‘grace’ with God.

In fact, this is also the only place in the gospels that ‘grace’ in its verb form, charitoō, appears. That would be in Luke 1:28, where Mary is told that she has been ‘filled with grace.’ Grace thus first appears as a dynamic force, something active and totally transformative of the person who receives it. It bursts forth onto the scene so to speak.

It’s worth noting that the only other place in the entire New Testament where grace operates as a verb is in Ephesians 1:6, where God’s entire plan of salvation, from before the foundation of the world to its future consummation in glory is described.

That activity—looking strictly at it in terms of the biblical text, I should note—began on this earth with Mary. Grace, so to speak, germinated in Mary.

We could also say that the gospel was born with Mary. In fact, she was the very first evangelist. That is, after all, what fundamentally she does during the Visitation: share the joyful presence of Christ with others—in that case Elizabeth and the unborn John the Baptist.

And we can say all this before we even get to that tremendous truth that Mary, in being the mother of Jesus was the Mother of God—and all the titanic implications that follow from it.

And some people wonder why Catholics venerate Mary as we do?

Simply reading the gospel account faithfully, as a whole, reveals that Mary was present at the beginning in a most profound way. The entire gospel story begins with her. To think otherwise is, by definition, contrary to the gospel.

Indeed, when we pray the Hail Mary, we are celebrating the new reality of redemption that dawned on the world two thousand years ago. When we recite the words “full of grace” we are recalling a core truth about how the gospel transforms all of us. When we declare “blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus,” we are welcoming this gospel message as Elizabeth did so many centuries ago.

Marian devotion, at its heart, is all about the gospel.

image: Zvonimir Atletic / Shutterstock.com

Stephen Beale

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Stephen Beale is a freelance writer based in Providence, Rhode Island. Raised as an evangelical Protestant, he is a convert to Catholicism. He is a former news editor at GoLocalProv.com and was a correspondent for the New Hampshire Union Leader, where he covered the 2008 presidential primary. He has appeared on Fox News, C-SPAN and the Today Show and his writing has been published in the Washington Times, Providence Journal, the National Catholic Register and on MSNBC.com and ABCNews.com. A native of Topsfield, Massachusetts, he graduated from Brown University in 2004 with a degree in classics and history. His areas of interest include Eastern Christianity, Marian and Eucharistic theology, medieval history, and the saints. He welcomes tips, suggestions, and any other feedback at bealenews at gmail dot com. Follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/StephenBeale1

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  • noelfitz

    Thanks for this article. As I have written so many times before I find articles by Stephen Beale excellent, being solidly Catholic and stimulating.

    Very often I find that articles about Mary seem to exaggerate, but here the claims made are solidly backed up with Scripture analysis.

    Once again thanks.

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