MARY RESPONDS TO GOD WITH SPOUSAL LOVE
Pope John Paul II
General Audience 1 May 1996
1. At the time of the Annunciation, Mary, the "exalted daughter of Zion" (Lumen gentium, n. 55), is greeted by the angel as the representative of humanity, called to give her own consent to the Incarnation of the Son of God.
The first word the angel addresses to her is an invitation to joy: chaire, that is, "rejoice". The Greek term has been translated in Latin with "Ave", a simple expression of greeting which does not seem to correspond fully to the divine messenger's intentions and the context in which the meeting takes place.
Of course, chaire was also a form of greeting frequently used by the Greeks, but the extraordinary circumstances in which it is uttered have nothing to do with the atmosphere of an habitual meeting. In fact, we must not forget that the angel is aware of bringing an announcement that is unique in human history: thus a simple, normal greeting would be out of place. Instead, the reference to the original meaning of the expression chaire, which is "rejoice", seems more suitable for this exceptional occasion.
As the Greek Fathers in particular constantly pointed out, citing various prophetic oracles, the invitation to joy is especially appropriate for the announcement of the Messiah's coming.
Rejoice, for the Lord has done great things
2. Our thoughts turn first of all to the Prophet Zephaniah. The text of the Annunciation shows a significant parallelism with his oracle: "Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion, shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem!" (Zep 3:14). There is the invitation to joy: "Rejoice and exult with all your heart" (v. 14). Mention is made of the Lord's presence: "The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst" (v. 15). There is the exhortation not to be afraid: "Do not fear, O Zion let not your hands grow weak" (v. 16). Finally, there is the promise of God's saving intervention: "The Lord your God is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory" (v. 17). The comparisons are so numerous and regular that they lead one to recognize Mary as the new "daughter of Zion", who has full reason to rejoice because God has decided to fulfil his plan of salvation.
A similar invitation to joy, even if it is in a different context, comes from Joel's prophecy: "Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things!... You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel" (J1 2:21-27).
3. Also significant is the oracle of Zechariah, cited in connection with Jesus' entry into Jerusalem (Mt 21:5, Jn 12:15). In it the reason for joy is seen in the coming of the Messianic king: "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble ... and he shall command peace to the nations" (Zec 9:9-10).
Finally, the announcement of joy to the new Zion springs, in the Book of Isaiah, from its numerous posterity, a sign of divine blessing: "Sing O barren one, who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who have not been in travail! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of her that is married, says the Lord" (Is 54:1).
The three reasons for the invitation to joy: God's saving presence among his people, the coming of the messianic king and gratuitous and superabundant fruitfulness, find their fulfillment in Mary. They justify the pregnant meaning attributed by Tradition to the angel's greeting. By inviting her to give her assent to the fulfilment of the messianic promise and announcing to her the most high dignity of being Mother of the Lord, the angel could not but invite her to rejoice. Indeed, as the Council reminds us: "After a long period of waiting the times are fulfilled in her, the exalted daughter of Zion and the new plan of salvation is established, when the Son of God has taken human nature from her, that he might in the mysteries of his flesh free man from sin" (Lumen gentium, n. 55).
4. The account of the Annunciation allows us to recognize in Mary the new "daughter of Zion", invited by God to deep joy. It expresses her extraordinary role as mother of the Messiah, indeed as mother of the Son of God. The Virgin accepts the message on behalf of the people of David, but we can say that she accepts it on behalf of all humanity, because the Old Testament extended the role of the Davidic Messiah to all nations (cf. Ps 2:8; 71 :8). In the divine intention, the announcement addressed to her looks to universal salvation.
Mary welcomes joy foretold by prophets
To confirm this universal perspective of God's plan, we can recall several Old and New Testament texts which compare salvation to a great feast for all peoples on Mount Zion (cf. Is 25:6f.) and which announce the final banquet of God's kingdom (cf. Mt 22:1-10).
As "daughter of Zion", Mary is the Virgin of the Covenant which God establishes with all humanity. Mary's representational role in this event is clear. And it is significant that it is a woman who carries out this function.
5. As the new "daughter of Zion" Mary in fact is particularly suited to entering into the spousal Covenant with God. More and better than any member of the Chosen People, she can offer the Lord the true heart of a Bride.
With Mary, "daughter of Zion" is not merely a collective subject, but a person who represents humanity and, at the moment of the Annunciation, she responds to the proposal of divine love with her own spousal love. Thus she welcomes in a quite special way the joy foretold by the prophecies, a joy which reaches its peak here in the fulfilment of God's plan.
To the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims the Holy Father said:
I am pleased to greet the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors, in particular the group of Catholic lawyers from Duquesne University, and the pilgrimage of Sri Lankan migrant workers now living in Naples. Upon all the visitors, especially those from England, Sweden, Kuwait, Indonesia, Australia, Canada and the United States, I invoke the grace and peace of our Saviour Jesus Christ.
Weekly Edition in English
8 May 1996.
L'Osservatore Romano is the newspaper of the Holy See.
The Weekly Edition in English is published for the US by:
The Cathedral Foundation
L'Osservatore Romano English Edition
320 Cathedral St.
Baltimore, MD 21201
Subscriptions: (410) 547-5315
Fax: (410) 332-1069