God, who had predestined the holy Virgin Mary to be associated with the most pure work of our regeneration, inspired in her so great a love of virginity that she not only vowed it, but, even after the angel had declared to her what son she was to conceive, stood ready to refuse the honor of being his mother at the price of her virginity. She thus responded to the angel, “How can this be, because I know not man?” (cf. Luke 1:34) — that is to say, I have resolved for all time not to know one. This resolution is a mark of Mary’s exquisite taste for chastity, which made her proof against not only all the promises of man, but also those of God.
What could he promise greater than his Son? Yet she is ready to refuse him if it will be necessary to lose her virginity in order to receive him. But God, whose heart is won by this love, has the angel say to her: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35). God himself will take the place of a spouse; he will unite himself to your body. For this you must be purer than the rays of the sun. The most pure can be united only to purity. He conceives his Son alone in his paternal bosom, not sharing his conception with another, and he does not desire, when the Son is to be born in time, to share it except with a virgin, nor to suffer that he should have two fathers.
Virginity: what is your price! You alone can make a mother of God.
“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” (Luke 1:35-56). “Who shall declare his generation?” (cf. Isa. 53:8) It is inexplicable and defies telling.
Let us listen nevertheless to what the angel says by the order of God: “The power of the Most High shall overshadow you.” The Most High, the heavenly Father, will extend to you his eternal generation. He will produce his Son in your womb and there will make of your blood a body as pure as the Holy Spirit alone can do. At the same time, this divine Spirit will breathe into it a soul, which, having only himself for author, without the cooperation of any other cause, can be nothing other than holy. This soul and this body, by the extension of the generative power of
God, will be united to the person of the Son of God, and henceforth what will be called the Son of God will be this whole composed of the Son of God and man. Therefore “the child to be born will be” properly and truly “called the Son of God.” It will also be a holy thing by its nature. Holy, not with a derived and accidental holiness, but substantively — the Holy — something fitting only to God, who is holy according to his nature. The Word and the Son of God will be personally united to the body formed of your blood, and to its soul, according to the eternal laws imposed upon all of nature by its Creator. This being, this divine composite, will be altogether the Son of God and your own.
Here then is a new created dignity upon the earth, the dignity of the Mother of God, which includes graces so great that thought must not attempt or even hope to understand them. The perfect virginity of body and soul is a part of this high dignity. For if concupiscence, which since the Fall ordinarily attaches to the conception of men, had been found in this one, then Jesus Christ would have contracted the primitive stain, he, the one who came to efface it. It was, therefore, necessary that Jesus Christ be the son of a virgin, and that he be conceived by the Holy Spirit. Thus also Mary remained a virgin and became a mother.
Chaste mysteries of Christianity, how pure must we be to understand them! Yet how much more pure must we be to express them in our lives by the sincere practice of Christian truth! We no longer belong to the earth, we whose faith is so exalted; “our commonwealth is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20).
The Handmaiden of the Lord
The angel continued: “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” (Luke 1:3637). Mary did not need to be presented with examples of divine omnipotence. It was for us, to whom the mystery of her Annunciation would be revealed, that the angel spoke these words.
Mary was transported in her admiration of the divine power in all its degrees. She saw that, in the frequently repeated miracle of making the barren to be fruitful, God had desired to prepare the world for the unique and new miracle of a child born of a virgin, and transported in spirit with a holy joy by the miracle that God wished to work in her, she said with a submissive voice, “Behold, I am the handmaiden of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).
God did not need the consent and the obedience of the holy Virgin to do with her what he willed or even to have Jesus Christ be born of her, and to form in her womb the body that he wished to unite with the person of his Son, but he wanted to give great examples to the world and the great mystery of the Incarnation to be accompanied by every sort of virtue in all those who had any part in it. This is the reason the virtues that the Gospel invites us to admire were placed in the holy Virgin and in her chaste spouse, Saint Joseph.
Here is an even loftier mystery. The disobedience of our mother Eve, her incredulity toward God, and her miserable credulity toward the deceitful angel had entered into the work of our loss, and God desired also that the obedience of Mary and her humble faith would enter into the work of our redemption. In this way our nature was repaired in everything that had entered into its loss, and so that we would have a new Eve in Mary, just as we have a new Adam in Jesus Christ, so that we might be able to say to this virgin, with holy sighs: We cry out to you, poor, banished children of Eve, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears: offer them to your dear Son, and show us at our end the blessed fruit of your womb that you have received in this way.
This is the solid foundation for the great devotion that the Church has always had for the Blessed Virgin. She has the same part in our salvation that Eve had in our loss. It is a doctrine that has been received throughout the entire Catholic Church in a tradition that stretches back to the very origin of Christianity. It will unfold in all of the mysteries of the Gospel. Let us enter into the profundity of this plan; let us imitate the obedience of Mary, for it is by her that the human race has been saved and, according to the ancient promise, that the head of the serpent has been crushed.
Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a meditation found in Bishop Bossuet’s Meditations for Advent. It is available from your favorite bookseller or online thorough Sophia Institute Press.