In declaring herself ‘the handmaid of the Lord’, the Blessed Virgin
shows total obedience to God’s will and makes it her own with all her
"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", the Holy Father said at the General Audience of
Wednesday, 4 September, as he reflected on Mary's response to the angel
at the Annunciation, an act of free submission to God. Here is a
translation of his catechesis, which was the 32nd in the series on the
Blessed Mother and was given in Italian.
1. 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
2. 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",
foretell 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.
3. 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
By conforming to God's will, Mary anticipates attitude of Christ
4. 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 : 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