Fr. Emanuel Herkel gives us a brief commentary on the First Mystery of the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary. This was first published in the April-June 2004 issue of Communicantes, the SSPX's Canadian District's newsletter.
The first joyful mystery of the Rosary is easy to picture. Artists have frequently represented this sacred meeting of the Immaculate Virgin Mary and the pure Archangel Gabriel. We would do well to form a lively picture of the Annunciation in our own minds. Visualize our Lady, kneeling in prayer, alone in her room (for the angel came in, St. Luke tells us). In an instant she was not alone; she looked up and beheld an angel in visible form before her. St. Gabriel addressed her with the words we use so often: "Hail, thou who art full of grace; the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women." Mary's reaction was a certain confusion—"She was much perplexed at hearing him speak so, and cast about in her mind, what to make of such a greeting."
The grace we commonly ask for at this decade is humility. Mary is the most humble of women. She who is blessed above all other women in the orders of nature and grace (due to her Immaculate Conception) did not wish to appear as one greater than others. She who is filled with God's grace and spiritual presence did not want this invisible miracle to be rumored aloud. All that the Angel Gabriel said was true; it was a message from God. Yet our Lady was very conscious that one who has been raised to a great height by the assistance of another, cannot possibly climb or even stand alone without that other one's help. Mary had only cooperated with divine grace (co-operated perfectly from the first moment of her existence). To God alone she wished to refer all glory. Thus she was perplexed as to how she might accept this silver-tongued angel and maintain her humility.
St. Gabriel's message was clear:
thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call him Jesus. He shall be great, and men will know him for the Son of the most High; the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he shall reign over the house of Jacob eternally; his kingdom shall never have an end."
Mary knew from this moment that her vocation was to be the mother of One who was great beyond all comparison. The quality first enunciated by the Angel Gabriel was the essential feature of her Son, though this greatness was only later revealed. At the moment Mary accepted—"Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done unto me according to thy word "—the Son of God assumed a human nature within her. He took His flesh from the flesh of His mother, that He might truly be her Son. The great Lord of all Creation took the form of a human baby in the first stage of development within His mother's womb. The Divinity of Christ is not something, which developed; it has ever existed and is forever perfect. The Humanity of Christ did develop; there is a moment of time at which His soul was created, and His body slowly grew in age and strength under Mary's tender care. Thus even at this first stage of human life, He was already great to the point of infinite perfection, and the womb of Mary contained Him whom the whole universe cannot contain.
One question was asked by the humble Virgin: "How can that be, since I have no knowledge of man? " The profound answer, which the Angel gave indicates that Mary's query was not in any way a refusal. She was a virgin, and her virginity must have been vowed to heaven, considering that she seeks guidance in this matter from her heavenly visitor. Her personal virginity was a most noble form of spiritual life, but others have lived lives of consecrated virginity; it is a popular Catholic idea, due largely to imitation of our Lady. But St. Gabriel spoke of motherhood, and Mary's virginity as a Mother is a miraculous grace, not found elsewhere in the whole of God's creation. Mary is called the "Virgin of virgins" because among virgins she is unique; she is the only one whose virginity is miraculous. The maternal virginity is more than the preservation of our Lady's personal virginity. It is a virginity of a higher kind, a truly divine mystery, a supernatural gift abiding in Mary's bodily frame, of such a kind as is not found in the purest maiden here on earth.
The Archangel's answer reveals the mystery of divine paternity: "The Holy Spirit will come upon thee, and the power of the most High will overshadow thee." In that act of God's paternity there is contained for Mary not only motherhood such as there never was before, but also a virginity absolutely incomprehensible to human understanding. The Archangel assured Mary that she would enjoy both, motherhood and virginity, a virginity far superior to the one she already possessed. The supernatural virginity of Jesus' mother is a mystery we can always reflect upon more deeply each time we pray the rosary.