Continuing with the theme of the Annunciation for the month of March, which is one week from tomorrow, I want to focus today’s “Mondays with Mary” on two Early Church Fathers and their thoughts on Mary’s faith at the Annunciation. The Patristics play an integral role in the life of the Catholic Church since it was their theology and writings that really set the foundation for the years of organic development within Catholic theology. I can’t emphasize enough the importance the Early Church Fathers play in the life of the universal Church.
St. Ambrose, the Bishop of Milan, says that the visit of the Angel Gabriel to Mary at the Annunciation is the fundamental mystery of Mary’s life and mission. It is at the Annunciation that God not only tells her that she will conceive and bear a son, but he gives her a mission of salvation as well. From this moment on, Mary’s life is defined by her complete faith and total obedience to the will of God.
Mary is the first of God’s creatures to receive salvation since she willingly cooperated with human salvation in a unique way. Mary’s personal salvation is complete in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. As it is with all men, Mary’s salvation was Christological. Jesus Christ began the redemption of humanity with his own Mother.
St. Ambrose believes that Mary’s great faith from the moment of the angel’s words gave her the means to carry out her mission effectively and with the Holy Spirit, her divine spouse, beside her. Unlike Zechariah, who doubted the angel, Mary whole-heartedly and with complete faith trusts in God even though she says, “How will this happen, since I do not know man?”
In his Exposition of the Gospel of Luke, St. Ambrose says,
“She does appear to have doubted the event but asked how it would take place. Clearly, if she asked how it would happen, she must have believed its fulfillment. Thus she merited to hear the words, ‘Blessed are you, because you have believed’ (Lk 1:45).
Yes, truly blessed for having surpassed the priest [Zechariah]. While the priest denied, the Virgin rectified the error. No wonder that the Lord, wishing to rescue the world, began his work with Mary. Thus she, through whom salvation was being prepared for all people, would be the first to receive the promised fruit of salvation.”
Many of the Early Church Fathers focus heavily on the virginity of Mary, which was declared dogmatic in the year 649 A.D. This is an important element of the Annunciation, and one that I will focus on two weeks from today to conclude our catechesis on the subject.
Building on the words from St. Ambrose, let us briefly examine the faith of Mary as contemplated by an early Pope, Saint Leo the Great. Leo the Great has a real passion and love for the faith that the Blessed Virgin Mary displays when the Angel Gabriel visits her. Drawing from St. Augustine of Hippo, Leo the Great writes that Mary conceived the divine and human offspring in her mind first and then she conceived him in her body. According to Leo, Mary’s faith was also affirmed when the Angel tells her that her kinswoman, Elizabeth, was also with child.
Focusing on the faith of Mary, Leo the Great wants us to understand the importance of it and says,
“Not only our memory but somehow our eyes as well contemplate the conversation between the angel Gabriel and the wondering Mary; likewise the conception by the Holy Spirit is wonderful both in its promise and in the faith that received it.”
On this day in Lent 2014, as we look towards the great Solemnity of the Annunciation, let us ask Jesus Christ for the faith that his Virgin Mother had not only at the moment of the angel’s words, but throughout her entire earthly life. Help us Lord through your Mother’s mediating intercession to teach us to be completely faithful to you, the Catholic Church, and to remain strong and obedient to the divine economy.
Gambero, Luigi. Mary and the Fathers of the Church. Ignatius Press, 1999.