While in popular piety this feast is often confused with the Virgin Birth of Jesus, which the Gospel announces, the feast does not suggest that Mary was herself conceived in any miraculous manner. The greeting of Gabriel that Mary is a recipient of God’s favor and gracious love, full of grace, captures the meaning of the feast. Mary is one who does not turn away from God (Thomas Aquinas’s definition of sin) but is totally open to God’s love, captured in her final words: I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.
While celebrating the unique sinlessness of Mary, the feast should not detract from Mary’s humanity. All the Gospels picture Mary as somewhat puzzled by her son’s mission; her son will be a sign of contradiction, and a sword will pierce her heart; she will suffer the horrible pain of a mother watching a brutal execution. The reading from Ephesians reminds us that a graced and blessed life is also God’s plan for every Christian. God chose us to be blessed in Christ before the foundation of the world, and destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ. The fullness of God’s grace and love that embraces Mary from the first moment of her existence is to touch every Christian. We celebrate this feast with Mary as model and companion along our pilgrim journey toward the total embrace of God’s love and grace.
• Express in prayer your deepest hopes about the ways in which Christ may come into your life.
• Look at the stars and think of the magnitude and mystery of God’s creative love.
• Pray quietly the “Hail Mary,” pausing over those words that bring Mary into your life.