Mary’s words at the Annunciation “I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38), indicate an attitude characteristic of Jewish piety. At the beginning of the Old Covenant, Moses, in response to the Lord’s call, proclaims himself his servant (cf. Ex 4:10; 14:31). With the coming of the New Covenant, Mary also responds to God with an act of free submission and conscious abandonment to his will, showing her complete availability to be the “handmaid of the Lord”.

In the Old Testament, the qualification “servant” of God links all those who are called to exercise a mission for the sake of the Chosen People: Abraham (Gn 26:24), Isaac (Gn 24:14) Jacob (Ex 32:13; Ez 37:25), Joshua (Jos 24:29), David (2 Sam 7, 8, etc.). Prophets and priests, who have been entrusted with the task of forming the people in the faithful service of the Lord, are also servants. The Book of the Prophet Isaiah exalts, in the docility of the “suffering Servant”, a model of fidelity to God in the hope of redemption for the sins of the many (cf. Is 42:53). Some women also offer examples of fidelity, such as Queen Esther who, before interceding for the salvation of the Jews, addresses a prayer to God, calling herself many times “your servant” (Est 4:17).

Mary’s ‘fiat’ expresses total obedience

Mary, “full of grace”, by proclaiming herself “handmaid of the Lord” intends to commit herself to fulfil personally and in a perfect manner the service God expects of all his people. The words: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord”, foretel1 the One who will say of himself: “The Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45: cf. Mt 20:28). Thus the Holy Spirit brings about a harmony of intimate dispositions between the Mother and the Son which will allow Mary to assume fully her maternal role to Jesus, as she accompanies him in his mission as Servant. In Jesus’ life the will to serve is constant and surprising: as Son of God, he could rightly have demanded to be served. Attributing to himself the title “Son of Man”, whom, according to the Book of Daniel, “all peoples, nations, and languages should serve” (Dn 7:14), he could have claimed mastery over others. Instead, combating the mentality of the time which was expressed in the disciples’ ambition for the first places (cf. Mk 9:34) and in Peter’s protest during the washing of the feet (cf. Jn 13:6), Jesus does not want to be served, but desires to serve to the point of totally giving his life in the work of redemption.

Furthermore, Mary, although aware of the lofty dignity conferred upon her at the angel’s announcement spontaneously declares herself “the handmaid of the Lord”. In this commitment of service she also includes the intention to serve her neighbour, as the link between the episodes of the Annunciation and the Visitation show: informed by the angel of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, Mary sets out “with haste” (Lk 1:39) for Judah, with total availability to help her relative prepare for the birth. She thus offers Christians of all times a sublime model of service.

The words: “Let it be to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38), show in her who declared herself handmaid of the Lord, a total obedience to God’s will. The optative genoito, “let it be done”, used by Luke, expresses not only acceptance but staunch assumption of the divine plan, making it her own with the involvement of all her personal resources.

By conforming to God’s will, Mary anticipates attitude of Christ

By conforming to the divine will, Mary anticipates and makes her own the attitude of Christ who, according to the Letter to the Hebrews, coming into the world, says: “Sacrifice and offerings you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me … Then I said … ‘Behold I come to do your will, O God’” (Heb 10:5-7; Ps 40 [39]: 7-9).

Mary’s docility likewise announces and prefigures that expressed by Jesus in the course of his public life until Calvary. Christ would say: “My food is to do the will of him who sent me, and to accomplish his work” (Jn 4:34). On these same lines, Mary makes the Father’s will the inspiring principle of her whole life, seeking in it the necessary strength to fulfil the mission entrusted to her.

If at the moment of the Annunciation, Mary does not yet know of the sacrifice which will mark Christ’s mission, Simeon’s prophecy will enable her to glimpse her Son’s tragic destiny (cf. Lk 3:34-35). The Virgin will be associated with him in intimate sharing. With her total obedience to God’s will, Mary is ready to live all that divine love may plan for her life, even to the “sword” that will pierce her soul.

Pope John Paul II
General Audience, 4 September 1996

Posted on Legacy of Pope John Paul II

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Ave Maria Online Magazine
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