A Scriptural Reflection on the Rosary
by: Maryann Marshall
The First Joyful Mystery The Annunciation
St. Luke the Evangelist relates, in the first chapter of his gospel, the
event in which Mary is told of her special mission:
In the 6th month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of
Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph of
the house of David, and the virgin's name was Mary (v. 26-27).
The Angel's Greeting
Coming to her he said, "Hail, favored one! Blessed are you among
women. The Lord is with you."
But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of
greeting this might be (v. 28-29).
The angel gives Mary a new name, as the Lord often does with those He
has called to a major task in His Plan (ex. Gen 17:5, 15; 32:29; Mt 16:18).
This name of hers is variously translated: 'full of grace,' 'gracious,' or
'highly favored one.' Each conveys the idea that Mary was especially
chosen by God for this purpose and given the grace and favor she needed
to carry it through.
"The Lord is with you," echoes the greeting of the angel to Gideon as he
is called to be the champion of the Lord to free the Israelites from the
oppression of Midian (Jdg 6:11-18).
This greeting also brings to the mind of those familiar with the Hebrew
scriptures, the story of Judith whom God sent into the enemy camp to
behead Holofernes without compromising her virtue (Jdt 13:20). Uzziah
commended her saying: "Blessed are you, daughter, by the Most High
God, the Creator of heaven and earth, who guided your blow at the head
of the chief of our enemies. Your deed of hope will never be forgotten by
those who tell of the might of God." (Jdt 13:18-19) This is a marvelous
story of God's might shown through a woman. We will examine the story
in a later issue.
The Good News
Then the angel said to Mary, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have
found favor with God. Behold, you shall conceive in your womb and bear
a son. You shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son
of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his
father. He will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom
where will be no end." (v. 30-33)
St. Thomas Aquinas comments: "It may perhaps in the first instant of
reflection appear shocking to our ideas, that God should dwell in a
human body; but does not the sun emit its rays into all kinds of places
without any detriment to its purity. How much more would the Sun of
justice, assuming a most pure body, formed of the purest blood of the
spotless Virgin not only remain free from even the least stain Himself, but
even impart additional sanctity to His virgin Mother."
This announcement carries the full weight of the scriptures on its back.
Here is the Messiah that has been promised throughout the ages! Nathan
declared the promise to David:
I will fix a place for My people Israel; I will plant them so that they may
dwell in their place without further disturbance...I will raise up an heir
after you sprung from your loins and I will make his kingdom firm...I will
be a Father to him and he shall be a son to Me...I will not withdraw My
favor from him...Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever
before Me: Your throne shall stand firm forever (2 Sm 7:10, 12, 14-17). This
promise echoes in Psalm 89.
Psalm 72 gives a description of the reign of the King of kings. Isaiah
expresses for us the fulfillment of the promise in one of the most beautiful
passages in the Bible which we hear at Christmas:
The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light: Upon those
who dwelt in the land of gloom, a light has shown. You have brought
them abundant joy and great rejoicing, As they rejoice before you as at the
harvest, as men make merry when dividing spoils. For the yoke that
burdened them, the pole on their shoulder, and the rod of their
taskmaster you have smashed as on the day of Midian. For every boot
that tramped in battle, every cloak rolled in blood will be burned as fuel
For a child is born to us, a son is given us; upon his shoulder, dominion
rests. They name him Wonder-Counselor, God Hero, Father Forever,
Prince of Peace. His dominion is vast and forever peaceful, from David's
throne and over his kingdom, which he confirms and sustains by
judgement and justice, both now and forever.
The zeal of the Lord of Hosts will do this (Is 9:1-6).
Jesus declared that He is the fulfillment of these promises as He gave
the disciples the great Commission: "All power in heaven and on earth
has been given to Me. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy
Spirit. Teaching them to observe all that I have command you...I am with
you always, until the end of the age."
The Power of God
Mary said to the angel, "How can this be since I have no relations with a
The angel said to her in reply, "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. And behold, Elizabeth, your
relative, has also conceived a son in her old age and this is the sixth
month for her who was called barren, for nothing will be impossible with
God." (v. 34-37)
Isaiah tells of the birth of the Messiah: "Therefore, the Lord Himself will
give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child and bear a son, and shall
name him Immanuel." (Is 7:14) He goes on to tell of the desolation which
results from the rejection of the word of God, but not without hope, as we
have seen above.
Mary's question of the angel holds a different tone than others, who
have doubted, but who received the same reassurance (Gen 18:12-14, Lk
1:18-19). Truly, nothing is impossible with the Lord!
He made heaven and earth and all their inhabitants (Gen 1). He has the
power to bring life into a womb which has passed its years of health, and
to one which is virginal. He can bring salvation to even those who are
most distracted by worldly things (Mt 19:16-26, Mk 10:17-27, Lk 18:18-27).
He can change water into wine (Jn 2:1-11) He can take a child's lunch and
feed a large crowd (Mt 14:15-21, 15:32-39, Mk 6:34-44, 8:1-10, Lk 9:10-17,
Jn 6:1-15). He can heal the sick and crippled.
He can forgive our sins. He can change bread and wine into His body and
blood (Mt 16:16-28, Mk 14: 22-23, Lk 22:17-20) in order to provide for us
food which brings us eternal life (Jn 6:35, 48-58).
Mary said, "Behold the handmaid of the Lord, may it be done unto me
according to your word."
Then the angel departed from her. (v. 38) A handmaid is a female servant
or attendant. With all modesty and humility of heart and mind, Mary
consented to the divine will; in that moment the Redeemer and Savior of
the world was conceived.
Abigail presents herself as the handmaid of David as she intercedes for
Nabal (1 Sam 25:24-35).
David later makes her his queen (1 Sam 25:39-42). The term comes into
use again as Joab strives to reconcile David with his son Absalom (2 Sam
Another Side of the Story
We can also look at the event from Joseph's point of view:
Now, this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother
Mary was betrothed to Joseph, but before they lived together she was
found with child through the Holy Spirit. Joseph, her husband, since he
was a righteous man yet unwilling to expose her to shame decided to
divorce her quietly.
Such was his intention when behold, the angel of the Lord appeared to
him in a dream and said.
"Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your
home. For it is through the Holy Spirit that this child has been conceived
in her. She will bear a son and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save
his people from their sins." All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had
said through the prophet: "Behold the virgin shall be with child and shall
bear a son and they shall name him Emmanuel." which means "God is
When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of the Lord had commanded
him and took his wife into his home. He had no relations with her until
she bore a son and he named him Jesus. (Mt 1:18-25)
Joseph is presented as wholly obedient to the Word of God, as well. He
is twice more given instructions in a dream (Mt 2:13, 19). He was a
'righteous man' who was well versed in the scriptures. It is entirely
possible that Joseph was familiar with the prophesies which Matthew
quotes and grew in his understanding of them as Jesus grew "in wisdom
and age and grace with God and man." (Lk 2:40) One wonders what form
the scripture study of the Holy Family took. they obviously took much
time in this endeavor as Jesus displayed much knowledge in this area (Lk
2:46-50, 4:2-13) although His understanding is much deeper than that of
those of us who are only human (Lk 24:13-27). With the help of the Holy
Spirit and the Church, we too are called to an ever deepening
understanding of the Word of God.
A prayer from the Solemnity of the Annunciation
Almighty Father of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, You have revealed the
beauty of Your Power by exalting the lowly virgin of Nazareth and
making her the mother of our Savior. May the prayers of this woman
bring Jesus to the waiting world and fill the void of incompletion with the
presence of her Child Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.
The Second Joyful Mystery
St. Luke's Gospel tells of a meeting which confirms
the message of the angel to Mary:
"During those days, Mary set out and travelled to the hill country in
haste to a town of Judah, where she entered the house of Zechariah and
greeted Elizabeth." (Lk 1:39-40) The angel told Mary that Elizabeth,
although she was very old--probably past menopause--was pregnant. The
information was a statement of God's power and established a connection
between the two women and eventually between the two men.
By placing Mary into the context of John's story ["In the sixth month, the
angel came... she remained...three months, then returned to her home" (Lk
1:26 and 56)], Luke draws parallels between the two births--that of John
the Baptist and of Jesus: Both Zechariah and Mary were cheerfully going
about their duties when an unexpected visitor startled them. Births were
announced by an angel telling how the sons would fulfill many
prophesies. Neither Mary nor Elizabeth were considered 'able" to have a
child. The angel also gave the names of the children to be born.
On the other hand: Elizabeth and Mary were at opposite ends of their
childbearing years, pointing out, perhaps, that John heralded of the end of
an age while Jesus was the beginning of the next.
Gabriel spoke to the father of John the Baptist and the mother of Jesus.
While Mary accepted the angel's word readily adn is lauded for her faith
and obedience, Zechariah rebuffed it and was punished for his unbelief.
Re-read these scriptures (Lk 1:5-22; 26-38). Think about the ways the
two births can be compared.
Elizabeth also reminds us of Sarah and Rebekkah who were old before
God gave them children.
Sarah's situation foretold the long wait Israel would have for the
Rebekkah's twin sons foreshadowed the relationship between John the
Baptist and Jesus: "One will surpass the other; the older will serve the
younger." (Gn 25:22) Yet, instead of using treachery, as Jacob did, Jesus
awaited God's perfect timing. John, for his part, did not resist or resent
being superseded by Jesus, but clearly stated that "He must increase,
while I must decrease." (Jn 3:30)
A Leap for Joy
"When Elizabeth heard Mary's greeting, the infant leaped in her womb"
(Lk 1:41) Elizabeth tells us that her babe leaped for joy (vs. 44)!
Since Mary "went in haste," to Judea, the conception of Jesus may have
been less than a week earlier. At six months in utero, John recognised
Jesus through the promptings of the Holy Spirit, as he would at Jesus'
baptism (Mt 3:13-17; Mk 1:9-11; Lk 3:21; Jn 1:29-34). A wonderful, strong
state- ment about the beginning of human life!
"...Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out with a loud voice, and
said, 'Most blessed are you among women and blessed is the Fruit of your
womb.'" (Lk 1:41-42) Here, both Mary and 'the fruit of [her] womb' are
called 'blessed.' They are set apart as being holy.
Mary, for the sake of her Son, on account of her ready response to the task
presented to her by the Lord, is to be esteemed by both men and angels.
Elizabeth's greeting echoes the greeting of the angel to Mary. This in
turn, recalls Gideon and Judith, as we saw earlier. In addition, it alludes
to the canticle of Deborah praising Jael for destroying the chief of Israel's
enemies by a blow to his head (Jdgs. 5:24-31). The canticle ends with the
victorious statement: "May all Your enemies perish thus, O Lord! But
Your friends be as the sun rising in its might!" (Jdgs. 5;31) Asaph also
refers to the incident in Psalm 83.
The Mother of God
"How does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come
to me?" (Lk 1:43) Elizabeth is the first human to declare the divine title
given to the risen Jesus (Jn 20:28; Acts 2:36; Phil 2:11) which is the essence
of the Christian creed (Rm 10:9; 1 Cor 12:3; Col 2:6). This confirms His
Lordship as foretold in Psalm 110 and Isaiah 45:24. Luke uses this title to
emphasize Jesus' authority and power throughout his gospel (Lk 7:13;
10:1, 39, 41; 11:39).
Through this expression, Elizabeth asserts that Mary is the mother of
God. St. Jerome observes "Elizabeth was a just and blessed woman; yet
the excellency of the mother of God does so far surpass that of Elizabeth,
and that of every other woman, as the great luminary outshines the
smaller stars." In this way, we see that the Bible encourages us to honor
Mary, for her faith and obedience, as the mother of God. A woman in
the crowd extolled Mary's physical motherhood (Lk 11:27-28). Jesus
corrected her saying it is not simply because Mary cared for His needs
when He was a helpless infant, but rather because she heard the word of
God and acted upon it.
"Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord
would be fulfilled." (Lk 1:45)
Jesus revealed that those who believe and act on the Word of God are
His mother, brothers and sisters (Mt 12:46-49; Mk 3:31-35; Lk 8:19-21).
Since Mary had already given her assent to doing God's will, this places
her right at the heart of His family.
From the cross, He looked upon 'the disciple that Jesus loved' as His
brother. John had indeed heard the Word of God and followed it, even to
the cross. It was fitting that Jesus give His mother to us, His brothers and
sisters with John as our representative, to be honored in accord with the
command- ments (Ex 20:12).
God has promised much to those who obey Him:
"...if you continue to heed the voice of the Lord, your God, and are
careful to observe all His commandments...the Lord, your God, will raise
you high above all the nations on earth. When you hearken to the voice of
the Lord, your God, all these blessings will come upon you and
May you be blessed in the city and blessed in the country! Blessed be
the fruit of your womb, the produce of your soil and the offspring of your
livestock, the issue of your herds, and the young of your flocks! Blessed
be your grain bin and your kneading bowl! May you be blessed in your
coming in and blessed in your going out!
The Lord will beat down before you the enemies that rise up against
you; though they come out against you from but one direction, they will
flee before you in seven. The Lord will affirm His blessing upon you, on
your barns and on all your undertakings, blessing you in the land which
the Lord, your God, gives you. Provided that you keep the
commandments that the Lord, your God, and walk in His ways, He will
establish you as a people sacred to Himself, as He swore to you; so that,
when all the nations of the world see you bearing the Name of the Lord,
they will stand in awe of you." (Deuteronomy 28:1-10)
A Prayer from the Feast of the Visitation:
Eternal Father, You inspired the Virgin Mary, mother of Your Son, to
visit Elizabeth and assist her in her need. Keep us open to the working of
Your Spirit, and with Mary may we praise You forever. We ask this
through our Lord, Jesus Christ, Your Son, Who lives and reigns with You
forever and ever. Amen.
The Third Joyful Mystery
"In those days, a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that the whole
world should be enrolled.
This was the first enrollment when Quirinius was governor of Syria" (Lk
'Whole world,' here, refers to the Roman Empire ruled by Caesar
Augustus during a long period of peace. As he was revered as savior by
his subjects, Luke parallels Caesar with the real Savior and Peace Bearer
(Lk 2:11, 14; 19:38).
This census, the first of 3, lasted from 8 B.C. to 6 A.D. Luke's details
show that in spite of Caesar's power, he was used by God: as an agent to
assure the public record of the ancestry of His Son; and to provide the
pre-ordained birthplace for the Savior. Surely, God is in control of all
things! St. Bede noted: Augustus meant to enumerate his subjects, but
among them was numbered his God.
The City of David
"All went to be enrolled . . . to his own town. Joseph too went up from
Galilee from the town of Nazareth to Judea, to the city of
David...Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David . . .
with Mary his betrothed, who was with child" (Lk 2:3-5).
Moses prophesied the Messiah to come from Israel, with a warning of
the fate of those who reject Him (Dt 18:15-19). It was commonly known
that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem (Mt 2:4-6; Jn 7:42):
"But you, Bethlehem-Ephrathah too small to be among the clans of
Judah, from you shall come forth for Me One Who is to be ruler in Israel;
Whose origin is ...from ancient times. Therefore the Lord will give them
up, until the time when she who is to give birth has borne (Is 7:14)...the
rest of His brethren shall return to the children of Israel. He shall stand
firm and shepherd His flock by the strength of the Lord, in the majestic
name of the Lord, His God...they shall remain, for now His greatness
shall reach to the ends of the earth" (Mi 5:1-3) The Birth in Bethlehem,
fulfills the promise God made to David that the everlasting King would
be born from his family (2 Sm 7:19-29; 1 Chr 17:16-27). The family is
associated with Bethlehem from 'ancient times' (Ru 1:2).
Luke (1:27, 34-35) and Matthew (1:18, 20, 25) both emphasize Joseph
was not responsible for Jesus' conception. Since he is not Jesus' natural
father the line of ancestry (Gn 5; 1 Chr 1-5; Mt 1:1-17; Lk 3:23-28) seems
severed. As the law commands that people from the same clan marry to
preserve their inheritance (Nm 36;6-9), Joseph and Mary are both from the
family of David. They were obliged to go to Bethlehem (1 Sm 16:1-13) for
Abram adopted Lot, taking him into his family and eventually saving
him from death (Gn 12:4; 14:11-16; 19:29). Joseph adopted Mary's Son, by
taking her and the Child into his home, re-establish- ing the line of
ancestry and renewing the covenant made with Abraham (Gn 13:15; 17:7;
22:16-17; Lk 1:55; 72-73). This foreshadowed our adoption as God's
children (Jn 1:12-13; Gal 3:14-4:7; Eph 1:4-14) through Baptism and the gift
of the Spirit--faith. We are brought into Mary's home, too: she becomes
our mother as the spouse of the Holy Spirit (Lk 1:35).
Already the Sign of Contradiction
"While they were there, the time came for her to have her Child, and she
gave birth to her firstborn Son. She wrapped Him in swaddling clothes
and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn"
The description of Jesus as firstborn is a legal description indicating
certain dignity, rights, and privileges (Gn 27; Ex 13:2; Nm 3:12-13; 18:15-
16; Dt 21:15-17). It does not necessarily mean that Mary had other
At Jesus' birth, the paradox of the Incarnation is already evident.
Allusion is made to David's son, Solomon. A great king who was born
and wrapped in swaddling clothes like any infant (Wis 7:4-6).
The manger recalls prophecy of Israel's rejection of the Messiah:
"...Sons have I raised and reared, but they have disowned me! An ox
knows its owner, and an ass, its master's manger; But Israel does not
know, my people has not understood. Ah! sinful nation, people laden
with wickedness, evil race, corrupt children! They have forsaken the
Lord, spurned the Holy One of Israel, apostatized" (Is 1:2-4).
How often do we reject the poor and helpless because they do not come
as we expect? Is there space in our lives for the tiny Babe Who will teach
the world the greatest Lesson of Love?
"There were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping
night watch over their flock" (Lk 2:8).
The announcement to shepherds keeps Luke's theme that the lowly are
singled out to receive God's favors and blessings (Lk 1:48, 52).
"The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord
shone around them, and they were struck with great fear" (Lk 2:9).
Throughout Scripture, the angel of the Lord bears the Lord's messages.
In early writings, it is a visi- ble manifestation of God Himself (Gn 16:7;
Ac 7:38). Later, angels are shown as created beings dis- tinct from God,
members of the heavenly court (Jb 1:6), sent to bring messages (Mt 1:20;
Lk 1:11, 26), to execute judgement (Ex 12:23; 2 Kg 19:35), or as guardians
of nations or individuals (Dn 10:13; Tb 3:17; Ac 5:19).
This appearance echoes the presence of the Lord on Mt. Sinai (Ex 24:16-
18). Here is the brilliant light, the unapproachable majesty of God. It
shone from the mountain, from the face of Moses (Ex 34:29) and
Solomon's Temple (1 Kg 8:10-11).
What Are You Looking For?
"The angel said...'Do not be afraid...I proclaim good news of great
joy...for all people. For today in the city of David, a Savior has been born
for you Who is Messiah and Lord. This will be a sign for you; you will
find an Infant, wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger'" (Lk
The angel brings the basic message of the infancy narrative: this Child is
Savior, Messiah, and Lord.
(Mt 1:21; 16:16; Jn 4:42; Acts 2:36; 5:31; Phil 2:11).
'Christos' is Greek, equivalent to the Hebrew 'Mesiach'--anointed one.
Certain groups in first-century Judaism expected a royal leader, an heir of
David, to restore the kingdom of Israel (Ac 1:6).
Luke is the only synoptic gospel writer to use the title Savior (Lk 1:69;
2:11; 19:9; Ac 4:12; 5:31; 13:23). He plays down the political overtones of
the title. Instead the Messiah is One who brings salvation to all humanity,
Jew and Gentile (Lk 2:29-32). He rescues humanity from sin and delivers
us from our alienation from God.
Lord, the most frequently used title for Jesus in Luke and Acts, is
reserved for Yahweh in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, a new
era, it is used for the Father and the Son. When used of Jesus it points to
his transcendence and dominion over humanity.
Peace on Earth
"Suddenly, there was a multitude of the Heavenly Host with the angel,
praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace
to those on whom His favor rests!'" (Lk 2:13-14)
The peace of which Luke's gospel speaks (Lk 2:14; 7:50; 8:48; 10:5-6;
19:38, 42; 24:36) is more than external--the absence of war as in the pax
Augusta; it includes security and well-being, charac- teristic of peace as
frequently described in the Old Testament. It is clearly a major attribute of
God's Kingdom. Peace and reconciliation is offered to men through the
mercy and good will of God. It is available on earth, since human nature,
before an enemy to God, is now reconciled and united to Him by His
Incarnation. It results from encountering Christ, as God favors us with
His grace--a gift of faith. It is up to each to exercise 'good will' in
accepting this gift.
"When the angels went away from them to Heaven, the shepherds said
to one another, "Let us go then to Bethlehem to see this thing which has
taken place, which the Lord has made known to us."
So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Infant, lying in
the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had
been told them about this Child. All who heard it were amazed by what
had been told them by the shepherds.
And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Then
the shepherds returned glorifying and praising God for all they had
heard and seen, just as it had been told to them." (Lk 2:15-20).
Visitors from Afar
Matthew, like Luke, places Jesus' birth in the context of history. Herod
was king of Judea, Id- umaea, and Samaria from 37 to 4 B.C.
"When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, in the days of King
Herod, behold magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, 'Where is
the newborn King of the Jews? We saw His star at its rising and have
come to do Him homage.'" (Mt 2:1-2)
The reference to 'wise men from the east' seems deliberately vague to
forecast Christ's mission: He is rejected by the Jews while the wise men of
the Gentiles are attracted by His light.
Magi were originally of the Persian priestly caste. The same Greek word
was used to denote magicians such as Simon (Ac 8:9) and Elymas (Ac
13:8). Later, the word came to be used for those who seemed to have more
than human knowledge. Some translations speak of them as if they were
kings, princes, or lords of some small territories.
Matthew's magi are astrologers. They calculated the location to which
the star pointed. He indicates that the magi observed a miraculously
bright star rather than some natural phenomenon. It appears to them 'at
its rising,' (v. 2). Then it appears again 'over the place where the Child lay'
(v. 10) This star is assumed to have appeared around the time of Christ's
birth. But it is not clear whether it continued to guide them along their
journey to Jerusalem or just shone long enough for them to make their
calculations and plan their trip.
In the ancient Middle East, a star signified a god--the birth of a divine
king. The wise men may have had access to the prophetic works of Israel
or they may have preserved their own prophecies. Certain Arabic tribes
may have had in their history Balaam's prophesy when Balak ordered
him to curse Isra- el: "I see him, though not now; I behold him though not
near: a star shall advance from Jacob, and a staff shall rise from Israel..."
(Nm 24:17) This passage points to the dynasty of David from which the
Messiah was to come.
"When King Herod heard this, he was greatly troubled and all
Jerusalem with him." (Mt 2:3)
The number of these wise men is uncertain: we usually consider that
they were 3 because they bore 3 the gifts that are named. However, they
may have been a large number of travellers--enough to cause a stir in
Jerusalem when they entered. In addition, Herod's anxiety filtered to the
people. Herod gained his power through violence. So when these
strangers entered the city inquiring after a new king, the people feared
Herod's reaction. They knew of his jealous nature. He could enforce on
them a much more gruelling slavery. They had been so worn down by
wars that a peace, even at the cost of Roman bondage was at least some
peace to be preserved, almost at all costs. It seems from the subsequent
events that their fears were somewhat justified.
A Question for the Experts'
"Assembling all the chief priests and the scribes of the people, he
inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They said to him, "in
Bethlehem of Judea, for thus it has been written through the prophet:
'And you Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the
rulers of Judah; since from you is to come a ruler who will shepherd my
people Israel.'" (Mt 2:4-6)
Again we see that it was well known that the Messiah would come
The chief priests and scribes were known as 'doctors of the Law' (Lk
5:17; Ac 5:34) or 'lawyers' (ex. Lk 7:30). Their occupation was to interpret
the scriptures, especially the Law of Moses, in order to put forth
guidelines for conduct for the Jewish people. Most were Pharisees. These
lawyers were held in high esteem among the people. Along with the high
priests and the elders they constituted the Sanhedrin.
Herod's consultation with the chief priests and scribes has some
similarity to a Jewish legend about the child Moses: Sacred scribes
warned Pharaoh about the imminent birth of one who would deliver
Israel from Egypt. Consequently, the king made plans to destroy him.
"Then Herod called the magi secretly and ascertained the time of the
star's appearance, He sent them to Bethlehem and said, 'Go, and search
diligently for the Child. When you have found Him, bring me word that
I, too, may go and do Him homage.'
After their audience with the king, they set out. "And behold the star
that they had seen at its rising preceded them until it came and stopped
over the place where the Child was. They were overjoyed at seeing the
star, and on entering the house, they saw the Child with Mary His
mother. They pros- trated themselves and did Him homage. Then they
opened their treasures and offered Him gifts of gold, frankincense, and
myrrh." (Mt 2:7-11)
Reference to the time elapsed between Jesus' birth and the visit by the
magi is absent here. Speculation gives it a range from 13 days to the two
years Herod determined as the range of age for the boys to be killed (v.
16). In his irrational rage, Herod may well have extended beyond the time
the magi had indicated for the star's appearance to be assured no chance
of missing his 'mark.' It is possible that, after the magi's visit, the
disturbance in the Temple at the time of the purification ceremony may
have re-kindled Herod's fury.
However long it may have been, it is unlikely that Mary and her Child
would remain in an open, drafty stable for any length of time. She was
constrained to stay at Bethlehem for 40 days until the sacrifice was offered
for her purification after the birth (Lv 12; Lk 2:22-24). She could have
moved into a house with the diminishing of the census crowd.
The magi offered much more than the cursory salutation to the Child. In
this way, they gave an example for us. When they prostrated themselves,
they acknowledged His divinity. Their gifts indicate recognition of His
royalty (gold), divinity (incense), and His mortality--looking ahead to His
Passion (myrrh). The gifts also recall Isaiah's description of the glory of
the New Zion (Is 60:4-6). Isaiah and David give us an indication that these
visitors may have been royal:
"May the kings of Tarshish and the islands bring tribute, the kings of
Arabia and Seba offer gifts.
May all kings bow before him, all nations serve him...Long may he live,
receiving gold from Arabia, prayed for without cease, blessed day by
day...May his name be blessed forever; as long as the sun, may his name
endure. May the tribes of the earth give blessings with his name; may all
the nations re- gard him as favored." (Ps 72:10, 11, 15, 17)
We adore Christ in the Eucharist. He chooses to give Himself to us
under the appearance of a per- fect man, a speechless child as here, or
under the appearance of bread and wine. It is evident that he is there; in
whatever manner or place he appears, He is true God. For that alone he is
to be adored.
Christ was not in Bethlehem, nor did he descend from heaven to be
adored: He tells us in Matthew 20, verse 28, that the Son of Man came not
to be ministered unto, but to minister. Yet he was adored on earth, even
while he was in his mortal state, by the magi, by his disciples, by the
blind man that was cured of his blindness, etc.
St. Chryostom urges us to imitate the magi. We see him not in the crib,
but on the altar. It is not a woman holding him, but the priest who is
present. At the same tim, the Holy Spirit pours out abundantly upon the
A prayer from Christmas Mass at Midnight:
Lord our God, with the birth of Your Son, Your glory breaks on the
world. Through the night hours of the darkened earth, we Your people
watch for the coming of Your promised Son. As we wait, grant us a
foretaste of the joy that You will grant us when the fullness of His glory
has filled the earth, who lives and reigns with You, forever and ever.
The Fourth Joyful Mystery
The Presentation of the Child Jesus in the Temple
"When 8 days were completed for His circumcision He was named
Jesus, the name given Him by the angel before He was conceived in the
When the days were completed for their purification according to the
law of Moses, they took Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord,"
Mary was raised above the law by grace (Mt 1:18-25), but humility
subjected her to it (Lk 1:38).
Her humility was confirmed as she presented the offering prescribed for
Discharges of bodily fluids, especially blood (Lv 15:19-27), were unclean
according to the Law (Lv 15:2-18; Ez 4:12-15). Since uncleanness was more
contagious than sacredness (Hg 2:11-13), anyone who came into contact
with one who was unclean was also considered unclean (Lv 5:2-3).
Although Tradition tells of a miraculous Birth so that Mary was not
exposed to the blood which would make her unclean, they were obliged
to observe this Purification Law--she by the fact of giving birth, and the
Child since He was considered 'unclean' through close contact with His
"...When a woman has conceived and gives birth to a boy, she shall be
unclean for 7 days, with the same uncleanness as at her menstrual period.
On the eighth day, the flesh of the boy's foreskin shall be circumcised, and
then she shall spend 33 days more in becoming purified of her blood; she
shall not touch anything sacred nor enter the sanctuary till the days of her
purification are fulfilled...When the days of her purification ...are fulfilled,
she shall bring to the priest...a yearling lamb for a holocaust and a pigeon
or a turtledove for a sin offering...If, however, she cannot afford a lamb,
she may take two turtledoves... the one for a holocaust and the other for a
sin offering. The priest shall make atonement for her, and thus she will
again be clean." (Lv 12)
The Importance of the Law
We see Jesus' parents as devout Jews who were careful to observe the
commands of the Law given by God through Moses. Luke described them
in a similar way as he did John's parents (Lk 1:6), Simeon (Lk 2:25), and
Anna (Lk 2:36-37).
"just as it is written in the law of the Lord, 'Every male that opens the
womb shall be consecrated to the Lord,' and to offer the sacrifice of a pair
of turtledoves or two young pigeons, in accordance with the dictate in the
law of the Lord." (Lk 2:23-24)
Jesus was consecrated to the Lord as the law required (Ex 13:2; 12-15).
The consecration of the first-born commemorated the final plague in
Egypt: the first-born of the Egyptians were slain while those of the
Israelites were spared due to their observance of the decree to sprinkle the
blood of a lamb on their doorposts (Ex 11-12). Luke emphasized this
ceremony as a direct statement of the future of the Child.
The Church fathers suggest several reasons for our Lord to choose to
submit to these Laws:
It made clear to the world the reality of His human nature (1 Tm 2:5-6),
and the difference between His divinity and humanity (Phil 2:6-11).
Circumcision demonstrated He was the seed of Abraham (Gn 17:11-13).
The purification identified Him as one of God's chosen people (Ex 19:5).
By submitting to to these mandates, our Lord showed His approval of the
laws which He had instituted (Mt 5:18). He taught humility and
obedience by His obedience to laws to which He was not bound (Jn 1:17).
We see His approval and obedience modelled explicitly at His baptism by
John (Mt 3:13-17). Thus, Christ left an example for rulers to obey their
own laws. Leaders can expect laws to be observed by others only when
they themselves show respect for laws.
By receiving the burden of the law, Christ freed those that were under
the law (Gal 3). Finally, the Jews could have no excuse for rejecting
Christ on account that He had not followed these laws.
Those Who Were Waiting
"There was a man in Jerusalem . . . Simeon . . . righteous and devout,
awaiting the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It
had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death
before he had seen the Messiah of the Lord." (Lk 2:25-26).
Simeon and Anna represented the hopes and expectations of faithful,
devout Jews. Many at the time were looking for the restoration of God's
rule in Israel (Is 40:1; 42:1) and redemption of mankind from sin and the
devil. The birth of Jesus brought these hopes to fulfillment. He is the
Christ (One anointed or set aside) for a saving mission as the King of
Israel (I Sm 15:17-18; 23:1-7). God's chosen Prince was consecrated
through the law and the witness of these 2 holy people as the Messiah
Who would establish the Kingdom of God.
"He came in the Spirit into the temple; and when the parents brought in
the child Jesus...he took him into his arms and blessed God, saying:
'Now, Master, You may let Your servant go in peace, according to Your
word, for my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You prepared in sight
of all the peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and glory for Your
people Israel. (Lk 2:27-32)
A spirit of grace and prophecy led Simeon to the temple at the very time
Jesus was brought to observe the law for newborns. He had been
promised that he would see the Messiah. It was with great joy, then, that
Simeon greeted the Holy Family. Simeon's words would be echoed by
John the Bapist as he preached to the crowds (Lk 3:6). He quotes Isaiah's
prophecies that Salvation is for gen- tiles as well as Jews, but that the Jews
will get the glory (Is 40:5; 42:6; 49:6; 52:10)
"The child's father and mother were amazed at what was said about
him;" (Lk 2:33)
Imagine the surprise of the Holy Family as a man hailed them, cradled
the Precious One in his arms and spoke of them in this manner!
A Mixed Blessing
"and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, 'Behold, this
child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign
that will be con- tradicted and you yourself a sword will pierce so that the
thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.'" (Lk 2:34-35)
Christ came for the redemption and salvation of all, God did not send
His Son for the fall of anyone.
Simeon tells of what happens to those who, in their willful blindness and
obstinacy, refuse to receive and obey Him. They choose their own falling.
This passage points, especially to the Jews who would discharge the
arrows and darts of their malice at Jesus on account of His doctrine.
Mary suffered anguish as she witnessed the Passion of her Son. In part,
this pain would come from her knowlege of His true innocence and
Nature. Additionally, as the true Daughter of Zion, Mary would also bear
the sorrowful destiny of her race.
"There was also a prophetess, Anna . . . advanced in years, having lived
7 years with her husband after her marriage, and then as a widow until
she was 84. She never left the temple, but worshiped night and day with
fasting and prayer . . . coming forward at that very time, she gave thanks
to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting the
redemption of Jerusalem." (Lk 2:36-38)
Anna has credentials as a woman dedicated to God and an interpreter
of His intentions (1 Tm 5:4-5). She reminds us of holy women: Miriam (Ex
15:20), Deborah, (Jg 4:4-5), Huldah, (2 Kg 22:15), and Judith (Jd 8:4-6) who
were entrusted with expressing God's word to the people.
On Jesus' Growth
"When they had fulfilled all the prescriptions of the law of the Lord,
they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew
and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon
him." (Lk 2:39-40)
This statement about growth of a child is echoed 3 times in the infancy
narrative: first for John the Baptist (Lk 1:80) and finally after the Holy
Family returns from Jerusalem (Lk 2:52). It seems to be a summation of
the hidden years of childhood as it is for John and for Samuel (1 Sm 2:26).
While Jesus is God thus cannot truly grow in wisdom, as He advanced in
age as a man, He gave increasing evidence of His divine widsom and
A Prayer from the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord
All powerful Father, Christ Your Son became Man for us and was
presented in the temple. May He free our hearts from sin and bring us
into Your presence. We ask this through Jesus Christ Your Son, Who lives
and reigns with You and the Holty Spirit, one e God, forever and ever.
The Fifth Joyful Mystery
Finding Jesus in the Temple
The infancy narrative--a unique section in the Gospels--ends as it began,
in the Jerusalem Temple.
The Holy Family, faithful Jews, teach their Son the traditions and laws (Ex
12:26-27; Dt 4:9-10; 6:7, 20-25; 11:19; Ps 78:5-7; Pr 1:8; 6:20) and observe the
holy days of Israel (Ex 2:2-28; Dt 16:1-7). We have also a first indication of
Jesus' awareness of His identity as the Son of God.
Another Trip to Jerusalem
"Each year His parents went to Jerusalem for the feast of Passover, and
when He was 12 years old, they went up according to festival custom" (Lk
Although Joseph and Mary were reluctant to live in Jerusalem for the
Child's safety (Mt 2:22-23), these trips to the Temple provided them a
measure of anonymity due to the crowds.
This was not Jesus' first visit to Jerusalem since His presentation in the
Temple. It was taken for granted that children and their parents firmly
bonded (I Kg 3:16-28; Pr 4:3; I Th 2:7-8). Sheltered and protected by the
family (Ps 131:2; Is 66:12-14), it was unthinkable for a mother to leave a
child (Ps 27:10; Is 49:15) especially for the 3-week trip required here.
Three Days Lost
"After they completed its days, as they were returning, the boy Jesus
remained behind in Jerusalem, but His parents did not know it. Thinking
that He was in the caravan, they journeyed for a day and looked for Him
among their relatives and acquaintances," (Lk 2:43-44).
Entire towns made the pilgrimage to Jerusalem 3 times each year, as
commanded (Ex 12:25; Dt 16:5-6, 16). Even today, Jews long to celebrate
Passover in Jerusalem: they proclaim to each other at the end of the seder:
"Next year in Jerusalem!" As they travelled they sang the pilgrim psalms
(42-72) which express a desire for the Holy City. Men gathered at one part
of the caravan, women at another. Among family and friends, youngsters
wandered within the crowd, free to be with whichever group they
wished. It is easy to understand how each parent might think that their
Son was some- where among the relatives the first day of the journey. As
they prepared for the night, however, it became obvious that no one had
seen Him. Imagine the panic which seized Mary and Joseph as they re-
traced their footsteps.
"not finding Him, they returned to Jerusalem to look for Him. After 3
days they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers,
listening to them and asking questions. All who heard Him were
astounded at His understanding and His answers" (Lk 2:45-48).
The 3 days Jesus spent in the tomb as He 'went about His Father's
business' to redeem mankind are foreshadowed here. The joy of His
spiritual family, at the latter time, can be compared with that of these
worried parents as they found their lost Son.
In My Father's House
At the age of 12, a boy is considered a man in Jewish custom. He gains
the privilege to speak in the temple. Jesus apparently seized this
opportunity to begin to let the elders know that the Messiah had come. In
youthful innocence, the Boy desired to share with the teachers and
religious rulers a perspective to free the people from the extra trappings
heaped on them by generations of priests and lawyers in order to
safeguard the people of God. He asked child-like questions which
probably made them re-think some of their assumptions. He interpreted
scriptures as a young man might view them, in a way which was fresh
and new. Yet His statements made perfect sense. It was clear to the
teachers that this Boy had reflected deeply on the Scriptures, even though
He was not educated at Jerusalem (Mt 13:54-56; Jn 7:15). Some years later,
as He began His ministry, the people grew to admire Him (Mt 7:28; Mk
1:22; Lk 4:15; 22). The apostles experienced a similar reaction as they
began to preach (Ac 2:6-11; 4:13). As years went by, however, among
Jewish leaders fear took precedence over awe.
We see a parallel to another Passover, 21 years later, when the elders
(perhaps some of these same elders) were somewhat differently
impressed with Jesus' understanding and knowledge (Mt 12:14; Jn 5:18;
What Kind of Answer is This?
"When His parents saw Him, they were astonished, and His mother
said to Him, 'Son, why have You done this to us? Your father and I have
been looking for You with great anxiety.'
"He said to them, 'Why were you looking for me? Did you not know
that I must be in My Father's house?' But they did not understand what
He said to them" (Lk 2:49-50).
At first glance, Jesus' answer may look like a teenager's defiant
declaration of independence. Upon reflection, something else entirely
appears to be stated. Jesus says that we do not have to wander far and
wide, as some of us have done, to find Him. He is present in the temple--
in our present day, in the Catholic church. We find Jesus' heart for the
place of assembly for His people. He is found frequently in the synagogue
and becomes angry as He observes the misuse of temple grounds (Mt
21:12-13; Mk 11:15-17; Lk 19:45:46; Jn 2:14-18).
At this point, Jesus also declares that He is not the son of Joseph, but
that His Father is divine. The confusion on this point is emphasized
throughout the Gospels (Mt 12:46-50; 13:54-57; Mk 3:31-35;6:2-6; Lk 3:23;
4:23; 8:19-21; Jn 6:42). Would He be required to condemn even His
relatives, be- cause of their lack of faith, on Judgement day, as the Levites
were required to do to those who had worshipped the golden calf (Ex
32:25-29; Dt 33:9; Mt 10:37; Lk 14:26)?
His parents misunderstood His words. Many people throughout His
ministry, even the apostles, had a similar obstacle (Mt 15:16; 16:9, 23;
20:22; Mk 4:13; 6:52; 7:18; 8:17-18, 21, 33; 9:10, 32; 10:38; Lk 9:45). Do we
miss the straightforward message of scripture? Do we make Christianity
more complicated than it needs to be? Jesus teaches that the mysteries of
the faith are within the grasp of a child (Mt 18:1-6; 19:13-15 Mk 10:13-16;
"He went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to
them. And His mother kept all these things in her heart" (Lk 2:51).
The Son of God teaches humility by His example in obedience to His
parents! The evangelist relates nothing of our Savior from the ages of 12
till 30, except that He was subject to St. Joseph and the blessed Virgin. He
shows by this, that nothing is so appropriate for Christians, as ready
obedience to the directions of their superiors. In fact, obedience is more
important than sacrifice (I Sm 15:22; Ps 40:7; Ec 4:17). Children of all ages
are taught what subjection and obedience is required from them toward
We Share Mary's Reflections
Mary surely thought quite often about these events in Her Son's life,
puzzled about how they all fit together. Possibly, she and Joseph searched
the Torah for the prophecies about the Messiah. It is ob- vious at this point
that they still didn't fully understand their meaning for the Son of God.
Time and again, the angel's and Elizabeth's words must have rung in
Mary's ears: "Hail, Full of Grace . . . you have found favor with the Lord .
. . you will . . . bear a Son . . . called the Son of the Most High." "Most
blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb . . .
how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to
me?" As we say the Rosary, the words of the angel and Elizabeth are as
background music. We ask, as Mary undoubtedly did, for a deeper
understanding of the mysteries in her Son's life.
"Jesus advanced in wisdom and age and favor before God and man" (Lk
While we would very much like to know more about Jesus' early life, it
is significant that we are given little information about the childhood of
other Biblical characters aside from Moses and Samuel.
Prayer from the Feast of the Holy Family
Father, help us to live as the Holy Family, united in respect and love.
Bring us to they joy and peace of Your eternal home. Grant this through
Jesus Christ our Lord, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God forever and ever. Amen.
Copyright (c) 1996 EWTN