Saint Joseph; The Virgin Marriage (About The Year 7 B.C.)—The Annunciation (25 MARCH, 6 (?) B.C.) part 2.

Then came the day of the betrothal ceremonies. Perhaps those of Mary were celebrated in the place where she had lived up till then, in some room of the buildings attached to the Temple. The families and some witnesses generally assisted at this ceremony. The promised husband gave to the young girl's father, or to some near relative who stood in place of him, a ring or some other precious gift intended for his promised bride; this sign, and the words which accompanied it, constituted a definite engagement. From that moment, in fact, the betrothed belonged to each other, and had almost all the rights and duties of married people. 1 However, before accomplishing the third act, that is to say, of entering into their common habitation, they had still to wait a whole year, each living in the house of their relatives, and only communicating with each other through an intermediary, called " the friend of the betrothed." Mary was probably an orphan, and we have not been able to discover whether, during that year of waiting, the Temple could be considered as her paternal home, or whether she was confided to the care of some near relatives.

The twelve months passed by, and at Nazareth, since that was where they were to live, the marriage proper was celebrated. Towards the evening the bridegroom, attended by ten companions, went to seek his promised wife, who awaited him in the midst of ten young girls. When he appeared, these lighted their lamps, and a procession was formed; and in the glow of this illumination, and to the sound of flutes and tambours, the bride was conducted to the house of her husband, where the marriage feast was held. This solemn introduction into the dwelling of the bridegroom was, according to Jewish custom, the act by which the marriage was completed.

In that humble family in a little town of Galilee, the traditional ceremonies were probably celebrated in perfect simplicity. Joseph and Mary, following the order of the divine will, each pledged to the other their affection, and, in the midst of the earthly festivities, they raised their hearts towards Him, who, alone, should entirely possess them.

When the period of the modest family rejoicings was over, they settled down in the house which they were to inhabit. Those who place her cradle in Nazareth, say that it was Mary's house, and actually the same in which she was born.

However, since it appears rather more probable that her birth-place was Jerusalem, perhaps it is also more likely that the house at Nazareth belonged to Joseph. He would thus have not only received Mary in his home for the ceremony of the marriage, but he would there have protected and made a home for her.

Sheltered towards the north by the hill upon which the town is built, and facing south, the humble dwelling had one chief apartment—the Santa Casa, as it is rightly named—no doubt the room which in the houses of people in humble circumstances, served for meals and the daily life in common. This room opened on to one or several other smaller rooms, built, partly at least, into the rock. One of these apartments, the large, or more likely one of the smaller, served as Mary's chamber. Joseph, and later, Jesus, also took their rest in that holy dwelling; but following the custom of the country, the workshop was separate from the house, and situated at some little distance.

In the midst of the wide-spread corruption, that humble roof attracted the attention and the grace of heaven. Mary pleased God by her merits, and favourably disposed Him towards the world by her prayers. We cannot doubt that the divine motherhood must, in the fitness of things, have been accompanied by the highest virtues, the most perfect spiritual deeds, and the best preparation possible for a human being. Mary had at least done all that a mere creature could do to render herself less unworthy. Possessed, from the beginning, of wondrous graces, she had been marvellously faithful. At that stage to which she had attained, she deserved, not in strict justice, but so far as was possible and fitting, the divine motherhood. 2 In other terms, supposing that God desired to have a mother, Mary was, as much as any woman perhaps, worthy of being that mother, and her saintliness invited that honour. At the same time, her humble petitions for the salvation of the world, perfect, and more pleasing to heaven than those of all the righteous men of old, had sufficient power to hasten the fulfilment of the promise. God intended to give the Messiah to the world at the time determined by His wisdom; but that eternal wisdom, whose decrees take our requests so largely into account, had ordained that time in the foreknowledge of Mary's prayers; and the time thus fixed was sooner, and was chosen with a more perfect fitness, than if Mary had not prayed.

All was prepared for the great event. Zacharias and Elisabeth had already by a miracle been given a child in whom the spirit of Elijah lived again, that he might prepare for the Lord a reawakened people. And his birth had been announced by Gabriel, one of the angels who stand before the face of God.

There was the strongest reason why the Incarnation of the Word should be announced to Mary. It was necessary on account of the greatness of the work, and the dignity of the Son, and also because of the part the mother must take in the divine scheme.

The Father, in uniting His Word to a human being, " celebrated the nuptials of His Son." At that hour of betrothal, Mary had to answer in the name of mankind and of all creation, that she accepted the honour of the divine union. It was to obtain this acquiescence that an ambassador was sent to her from heaven.

At an earlier period, believing in the words of a fallen angel, the first woman broke the relations between God and the earth, and presented to man the fruit by means of which he and all his race found death. Receiving with all her faith and love the words of an angel of light, the new Eve re-established the alliance, and by her fruit gave life to the world.

Other mothers bring into the world a son of whose destiny they are ignorant, and if later, by acts of his own independent will, that son accomplishes great things, his mother is said to have given to her country a leader or a benefactor. Jesus was to be Mary's gift in a different way. Enlightened as to His Person and the object of His advent, she had to declare of her free will whether she was willing to become His mother; and her consent, given willingly and in full knowledge, not only assured her physical co-operation in the Incarnation, but also rendered her gloriously responsible for the consequences of that mystery, and united her will to all the work of redemption by her Son. Thus the discourse she held with the angel, so simple in its grandeur, so brief in its supreme importance, made her for ever, in the love and gratitude of mankind, associated with their Saviour.

" In the sixth month," after the conception of John the Baptist, writes St Luke, 3 " the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, to a virgin espoused 4 to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David ; and the virgin's name was Mary." The angel appearing in human form, " came in unto her," doubtless inside her dwelling " where, the door being shut, she prayed to the Father in secret " ; 5 and, bending with profound respect before his queen, he addressed to her this salutation from God : " Hail," or rather, according to the Oriental formula, Peace be unto thee, " thou that art highly favoured." Gabriel gave no other name to Mary than " thou that art highly favoured," and is it not her own and incommunicable name ? " The Lord is with thee," by His love poured into thy heart, by His Spirit who directs thee, by His power which is about to overshadow thee, by His wisdom, and by His Word which thou hast conceived in thy soul before conceiving Him in thy womb. " Blessed art thou among women."

And when she heard such praises as these addressed to her, a humble virgin, she instinctively and with more than natural prudence " was troubled at his saying." God had never before said so great a thing to any human being, 6 and she " cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be."

" And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God," and not as in the case of other righteous people, merely for thyself alone, but thou hast found grace which will be the beginning of the salvation of the world. " Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a Son, and shalt call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David: and He shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever ; 7 and of His kingdom there shall be no end."

Divine revelations are rarely expressed in a methodical and didactic form like that of a treatise. They are usually profound and luminous affirmations in which faith at once seizes the whole truth, which it develops and manifests by meditation. Thus, Gabriel did not explain to Mary the complete theology of the Incarnation ; but in a few words he delivered to her the whole substance of it; and by allusion to the promises made to David, to the prophecies of Isaiah, of Daniel, and of the Psalms, 8 he disclosed to her the whole import of it. He who should be born of her would be God: His name of " Son of the Highest" would indicate this, as would also the perpetuity of His reign, which could not apply to mere human nature; that kingdom through all ages without end, promised to David through a long succession of descendants, is here assured in the person of Jesus. He would be man nevertheless, for David is called His father. And therefore He is a man, the Son, whom Mary shall conceive and bring forth. His work is stamped by his terrestrial name: Yahveh, Jesus 9 ; and it is expressed in the prophecies from which the angel borrowed the terms: the long expected Son, the King to whom belongs the throne of David, the Ruler of the eternal kingdom. He is the Messiah who should save Israel, uniting it under His sceptre with the regenerated nations of the earth, and putting His people in possession of all the blessings of the " kingdom of God."

Mary had been instructed beforehand upon the mysteries of the Word incarnate, and upon the meanings of the prophecies; and at that moment, illumined by the divine light, she was enabled to penetrate into the very depths and to the farthest bounds of the import of the angelic message. She saw herself then, without the least doubt, chosen to be the mother of the God-Messiah, and she believed without any hesitation in the fulfilment of all that which the Lord had commanded him to say. One single point required an explanation, and her mind seized on it at once, for it concerned her dearest treasure. The virginity which she had promised to God would not be imperilled by the motherhood of the Word; an explicit prophecy, which she knew well, guaranteed to her its marvellous preservation. But what must she do in order that the miracle might be accomplished ? 10 Wisely and discreetly Mary said to the angel: " How shall this be, seeing I know not a man ? And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren. For with God nothing shall be impossible."

In apprising Mary that her relative was also to become a mother, 11 God was preparing for the mysteries of the visitation. Thus, the miracle accomplished in Elisabeth was a confirmation and a sign leading up to the greater miracle, announced long before, and now upon the point of fulfilment; the one was as easy as the other to the Omnipotent. And the Virgin could make no other choice than to deliver herself up to the power of the Lord.

Though Gabriel had given his message yet he did not depart. He waited to hear the consent of her to whom he had just announced the Divine intention. We have neither the power nor the insight to form any idea of what passed at that moment through the mind of Mary. In the crowd of her thoughts there was the clear prevision of ineffable honour and inexpressible suffering. And she, so accustomed to forget herself, had no thought for the one or for the other; beyond all those rapturous or terrible visions, she gazed in spirit on God alone; she loved Him, and through Him she loved the salvation of the world. Collecting her thoughts Mary said, with a gesture of modesty and love, " Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word."

And at the same instant, whilst she became wrapped in a contemplation which illuminated the mystery, 12 the three divine Persons wrought in her the Incarnation. Of the most pure substance of the mother, the Holy Ghost formed the immaculate body of the Son. As God, shadowing with a cloud the ark and the Tabernacle, descended there aforetime in an especial presence, so the Word, Power of God,' 13 takes possession of His new Tabernacle; and the cloud in which He now envelops Himself is that body fashioned by the Holy Ghost, that soul created at the same time, that humanity, in short, which He took upon Himself by uniting it in intimate dependence with His divine being. The Father is with Him, eternally engendering Him, and through all generations sending Him into the world; the human nature, which exists in the Divine Person, partakes of the same Sonship; and that Holy Thing which Mary now conceives, and which shall soon be born of her, will be called throughout time and eternity, the Son of God.

The Son of God made man is the price of our redemption, and of all the mercies bestowed upon the world; and the Father, before sharing this treasure among His creatures, confided it entirely to Mary. A stream of mercies descends upon the threshing - floor of the Father of mankind; and Mary, like the mysterious fleece, is the first to be impregnated with it, and contains in herself the source of it. Christ is the Head whose influence animates all the members incorporated in His unity; and Mary, who conceived the Head, with the object of giving Him to the members, conceived with Him all that the mystical body contained in its vital energy. Christ, Son of her virgin flesh, lies in her womb, and already the brothers of Christ, of whom in spirit she becomes the mother, repose also in her love.

Before the mother of God and the mother of grace, Gabriel bowed with more respect than when he entered. And " he departed from her," leaving her prostrated in ecstasy, giving thanks to God, and humiliating herself profoundly before Him.


1 Many modern authorities say, all the rights. They consider the Hebrew betrothal as equivalent to marriage, and recognise only a simple formality in the introduction of the wife into her husband's house. We are so imperfectly informed as to the Jewish customs that it would be hazardous to absolutely reject this opinion ; it is possible that it may have been the custom, at least at this particular epoch, and in Galilee. However, I know of no solid proof that such was the case ; and since it is wise to accept, in default of better, the teachings drawn a little later from the Talmud, I must say that the opinion of these numerous interpreters appears to me difficult to reconcile with the prohibition of free intercourse to the betrothed, and with Jewish law as expounded by Buxtorf (de span salibus et divortio n. 64, 66, 68, in Ugolino's Thesaurus, t. xxx. p. Ixxv.), and with the formula of the benediction of the betrothed (Ugolino's Thesaurus, t. xxx. p. ccclxx). This is why I place before the Annunciation, Mary's introduction into the house which she was to occupy with Joseph. Modern authorities, from whom I believe it is my duty to differ, place this latter ceremony after the Annunciation, and interpret in this sense St Matthew's use of the word, which I shall explain in another way in the following chapter.

2 It is commonly said by theologians that she merited the divine motherhood not de condigno, but de congruo.

3 St Luke i. 26-38; the passage commented upon in the following pages.

3 St Luke here uses the word, which signifies " espoused," and he uses it again (ii. 5) in connection with a time when, according to general belief, the last ceremony of marriage had certainly been celebrated. It would seem then that he desired to express by this word the special conditions of this virgin union.

4 St Bernard : super missus est homilia Hi (PL. clxxxiii. 71)-

6 See Origen upon this passage (PG. xiii. 1815-16).

7 The Greek is equally well rendered in the Vulgate by in ӕternum, its equivalent in biblical language.

8 See 2 Samuel vii. 8-17 ; Psalms Ixxxix. and cxxxii. ; Isaiah vii. and ix. ; Daniel vii. (especially 13, 44, 27).

 , or in an abridged form, formed by apocope from the divine name and the verb, ,which in the hiphil form signifies saviour.

10 Many suppose that Mary was surprised to hear the angel speak of maternity, and that she asked how that which he had announced to her could be reconciled with her vow. The explanation that I give seems to be truer and to accord better with what is known of the Virgin Mary. It is besides, that of the best interpreters, for instance, Saint Ambrose among the ancient, and P. Knabenbauer (in Lucam, p. 67-68) among modern authorities.

11 Mary had probably not been informed of it by her relative, who had retired into silence and retreat (St Luke i. 24, 25).

12 Mary had at that moment, a vision of the divine essence itself, if that vision can be accorded in this life to a mere human creature—a much-discussed question in theology ; at least she had a vision of God as grand as may be seen by mortal eyes. See Suarez: Mysteres du Christ, t. II., disp. ix., sect. 2, to end.

13 Most commentators and theologians understand by the " Power of the Highest," the Holy Ghost, and interpret the second part of the angel's phrase in the same sense as the first. Others, less numerous, but I believe, more exact, think that here, as in other passages of Scripture, the " Power of the Highest" is the Son. St Thomas accepts the second explanation (Part 3, question xxxii., art. I, ad i um ). In his commentary on this article, Suarez quotes other authors who have held the same opinion.