The next virtue which is displayed by our Lady on this occasion is her exquisite prudence, which made her keep silence and refrain awhile, thinking within herself, as the Gospel says, what kind of salutation this might be. Instead of leaping forward to grasp the great honour which was implied in such a salutation from a messenger of God, she measured it by her humility, and perhaps also by her love of chastity, which she may have thought would be assailed in the event of her Maternity, and proceeded calmly and deliberately to weigh the whole matter in her mind. Nor could the blessed Angel be indignant or be inclined to rebuke her, as he had had to rebuke St.Zachary, because it must have filled him with admiration and thankfulness to see God honoured by so much prudence and consideration, with which those helps and provisions for perfection in His service which are given to us in this valley of misery were so devoutly and faithfully used.
Thus the silence of our Blessed Lady was an invitation to the Angel to speak again. He began by bidding her have no fear. Fear is a natural feeling in any human being at the presence of a visitant from the other world. But besides this, there might have been other causes for fear in the case before us. Mary might fear delusion, and she might be frightened in various ways at the contents of the message. But she was not to fear, because she had found grace with God. A visit from God unaccompanied by grace would be a cause for in tense fear. But when He visits in love and favour, grace accompanies the visit as well as precedes it. The grace which Mary had found was twofold. She had been chosen by the free decree of God to be His Mother, and with the choice and the decree had come to her, or would come, the grace and strength and light and courage to accomplish, faith fully, perfectly, and successfully, the great task laid upon her. She need not fear, therefore, at the thought of so great a dignity, since the strength and grace which it required were ready. It was the will of God, and the will of God is enough.
The first speech of the Angel had not gone beyond the declaration that Mary was blessed among women. To one so perfectly conversant with the Scriptural prophecies, these words of them selves would seem to contain the proposal of the Incarnation in her womb, or by means of her. For it was to the Mother of God that the title blessed among women naturally belonged, in a manner in which it could apply to no one else. St. Gabriel had said no more, just enough to convey to her what was meant. We may certainly suppose that our Lady understood his meaning, and that her intelligence of it was an element among others in the necessity that she had felt for deep pondering and examination. But in his next words the Angel builds up, as it were, on the foundation he has laid. He carries the revelation of the purpose of God very far indeed beyond the first lines, " Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bear a Son, and shalt call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His Father David, and He shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever, and of His Kingdom there shall be no end."
It is now then distinctly said that Mary is to become the Mother of a Son. She is to conceive in her womb, and to call His name Jesus. But the virginal character of the Conception is distinctly guarded, first, in the omission of all reference to her husband, as it was usually said in such announcements that the mothers should bear issue to their husbands, and again in the declaration that she is to call her Child by this name, whereas the giving of the name would belong naturally to the father. In this case the language is so arranged that the father's part is, thus far, excluded in the last sentence as it is omitted in the first. For our Lord was certainly to have no earthly father in the ordinary sense, and He was to be so entirely and exclusively the Child of His Mother, that in her was vested the whole parental authority by virtue of which the name was to be given. Up to this, the revelation as to this point is negative, as if the Angel had been instructed by no word of his to wound the virginal intentions and rights of the Blessed Mother.
What is most remarkable about the arrangement of the remainder of the sentence, is the completely Scriptural and prophetic character of the language. It has been said that our Blessed Lady must be supposed to have been most deeply versed in the knowledge of the Scriptures, which, together with the sacrificial and liturgical system which was in full working in the Temple, must have been the great subject of her study while she was living in that holy retreat. The words of the Angel here would show how perfect was her knowledge. For as, if an Angel were to address a saint in English or French or Italian, it would be a sign that that was the language native and familiar to the person so addressed, so when a messenger from Heaven ad dresses any one throughout in the words of Scripture, it is a sign that these words, and the whole region of thought to which they belonged, were most familiar to that person. Our Lord is here spoken of, first as the Redeemer of the world, for that is conveyed in the name Jesus, as when the same name is afterwards revealed to St. Joseph it is said, " Thou shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins." In the next place, our Lord is spoken of as great, and as the Son of God, and as to be known and honoured as such. For when it is said He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High, the second verb is not simply a variation of the former, but it implies that He shall be called by men, and therefore be known to be the Son of the Most High. It may perhaps be thought that the name " Son of the Most High " does not in itself convey the idea of the Incarnate Son of God, because it is said of the saints, in the Psalms, " I have said ye are gods, and are all of you the sons of the Most High." 2 But the whole context shows that the Angel is using words which are to be understood in the highest and fullest sense of which they are capable, and that it would be falling beneath that sense to consider that he speaks only of one of the adopted sons of God. Our Lord is to be great, in the true sense, in which God alone is great, and in which in His Human Nature our Lord partakes of the greatness which belongs to Him in His Divine Nature.
In the same, that is, in the highest sense, the name of the Son of the Most High is to be understood. It is true that in this part of his message the blessed Angel does not speak of the Conception by the Holy Ghost in the womb of our Blessed Lady, for this is reserved for the next speech, which he is to make in answer to her own question, that the great revelation may be elicited by her rather than forced upon her, and that the beautiful order of the gradual manifestation may prevail throughout. Moreover, in this speech the Angel uses the language of the prophets, and the mystery of the Conception by means of the Holy Ghost was, as it has been said, to be first made manifest to the Blessed Mother herself. Thus there can be no doubt that the third speech of St. Gabriel puts forward the doctrine of the Divine operations in the Incarnation with a fullness and clearness of its own. The references in this second speech, as has been said, are all to the prophets, and the promises made by them. " He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of David His Father, and He shall reign over the House of Jacob for ever, and of His Kingdom there shall be no end." Thus this announcement gathers up the promises made at various times to David and his seed. For in them were contained all the former prophecies, as those which promised that the line of the Messias should be in Juda, and Jacob, and Isaac, and Abraham, and as these again were but the echo and unfolding of the still earlier predictions made to Noe or Seth, and Adam and Eve.
But although the language of the Angel in this his second speech to our Blessed Lady, must be considered as being chosen on account of the prophecies which it repeated and summed up, it is still worthy of notice that the words should be so chosen as to put before her mind the kingly office of our Lord in particular. We can thus arrive at the truth, that it is especially as the King of men, the Heir of the throne of David, Who is to rule in the House of Jacob, that is, in the chosen people of God, the true Israel, that our Lord is presented to us at this stage of the Annunciation. For as Man He is the King of the whole creation, and especially of the human world. He is a King by inherent and personal right, with a dominion and ownership as tangible and immediate as was the dominion of David, or of any other king of the land by which He was connected with David, and it is this feature in the Incarnation which is pressed upon His Blessed Mother at this time. The difference between the royalty of our Lord and that of any other king which is drawn out by the Angel, consists in the point of its duration. He is to reign in the house of Jacob for ever, and of His Kingdom there shall be no end. His Kingship therefore is the final accomplishment of the promise, and He can have no successor, as those who had gone before Him on the throne had their successors, because His throne is for ever and ever. Earth will pass away, and the generations of men in His Kingdom will succeed each, in its turn, until the end of the world, but His Kingdom will not pass away, because after the restitution and renovation of all things, it will still abide in its perfection of all power and glory. This, then, distinguishes our Lord from all successors of David, and distinguishes His Kingdom from all the transitory empires of the world, that of His Kingdom there shall be no end.
No one so well versed as our Blessed Lady in the prophecies and anticipations of Scripture could doubt for a moment as to the import of this great announcement. It implied that she was to become the Mother of the Messias, the Incarnate God. There had been no mention made of the manner in which this mystery was to be brought about. Nothing had been said, and the silence had covered some points which might otherwise have been mentioned, if it had been determined that the Conception of the Child was to take place in the ordinary way. But this was not enough for the instruction of Mary. As long as there was no positive intimation of some new and extraordinary manner, there might still be a fear that something might possibly be meant which might interfere with the perfect preservation of the chastity which she had promised to God. Here there was occasion for her to speak, and this, in her exquisite prudence and equally great love for her vow, she did in the simplest words, saying nothing at all either about the greatness of the elevation which was offered to her, or about the great strain upon any faith not so mighty as her awn implied in the marvellous character of that elevation. She simply asks the manner of the proposed Conception in her womb, for it cannot be, she humbly says, in the ordinary way. " How shall this be done, seeing I know not man?" She could not be ignorant that the first parents of the human race had come into the world in a manner different from all their children, nor could she set any limits to the power of God in carrying out His own designs. But by man it could not come about, since that was precluded by her vow.
2 Psalm Ixxxi. 6.