The Dispatch: More from CWR...

Joseph Ratzinger: The Mystery of the Annunciation is the Mystery of Grace

Selections from two works by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.

Detail from "Virgin Mary Annunciate" (1431-33) by Fra Angelico []

From Dogma und Verkundigung, quoted in Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year (Ignatius Press, 1992):

The mystery of the annunciation to Mary is not just a mystery of silence. It is above and beyond all that a mystery of grace.

We feel compelled to ask ourselves: Why did Christ really want to be born of a virgin? It was certainly possible for him to have been born of a normal marriage. That would not have affected his divine Sonship, which was not dependent on his virgin birth and could equally well have been combined with another kind of birth. There is no question here of a downgrading of marriage or of the marriage relationship; nor is it a question of better safeguarding the divine Sonship. Why then?

We find the answer when we open the Old Testament and see that the mystery of Mary is prepared for at every important stage in salvation history. It begins with Sarah, the mother of Isaac, who had been barren, but when she was well on in years and had lost the power of giving life, became, by the power of God, the mother of Isaac and so of the chosen people.

The process continues with Anna, the mother of Samuel, who was likewise barren, but eventually gave birth; with the mother of Samson, or again with Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptizer. The meaning of all these events is the same: that salvation comes, not from human beings and their powers, but solely from God—from an act of his grace.

From Daughter Zion: Meditations on the Church’s Marian Belief (Ignatius Press, 1983):

The annunciation to Mary happens to a woman, in an insignificant town in half-pagan Galilee, known neither to Josephus nor the Talmud. The entire scene was “unusual for Jewish sensibilities. God reveals himself, where and to whom he wishes.” Thus begins a new way, at whose center stands no longer the temple, but the simplicity of Jesus Christ. He is now the true temple, the tent of meeting.

The salutation to Mary (Lk 1:28-32) is modeled closely on Zephaniah 3: 14-17: Mary is the daughter Zion addressed there, summoned to ” rejoice”, in formed that the Lord is coming to her. Her fear is removed, since the Lord is in her midst to save her. Laurentin makes the very beautiful remark on this text: “… As so often, the word of God proves to be a mustard seed…. One understands why Mary was so frightened by this message (Lk 1:29). Her fear comes not from lack of understanding nor from that small-hearted anxiety to which some would like to reduce it. It comes from the trepidation of that encounter with God, that immeasurable joy which can make the most hardened natures quake.”

In the address of the angel, the underlying motif the Lucan portrait of Mary surfaces: she is in person the true Zion, toward whom hopes have yearned throughout all the devastations of history. She is the true Israel in whom Old and New Covenant, Israel and Church, are indivisibly one. She is the “people of God” bearing fruit through God’s gracious power. …

Transcending all problems, Marian devotion is the rapture of joy over the true, indestructible Israel; it is a blissful entering into the joy of the Magnificat and thereby it is the praise of him to whom the daughter Zion owes her whole self and whom she bears, the true, incorruptible, indestructible Ark of the Covenant.

If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!

Click here for more information on donating to CWR. Click here to sign up for our newsletter.


  1. Mary, The true, incorruptible, indestructible Ark of the Covenant is Josef Ratzinger’s magnificent realization of the Virgin birth. Christ’s birth is God’s work. “She is the people of God bearing fruit through God’s gracious power” affirming Paul VI, acknowledging in her the title Mother of the Church bringing to existential comprehension Mother of the Church. God in Christ the Mystical Body, she the bearer of the infant Jesus. Paul VI, I remember well the seminary professors downplaying Mary’s place in our salvation suddenly out of the blue declared her Mother of the Church. She “in her prefigured existence the True, incorruptible, indestructible Ark”. No creature may share this exaltation, a Son’s love for his mother recognized by her in the most pure humility. My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.

  2. Another good meditation , from S.G.Luisa , related to this Feast –

    May the prayers of the Holy Family help us that we too desire for our self will to be the Handmaid that wants to serve the Lord and His Divine Will , invoking same on behalf of others too as an act of true love esp. when faced with any rebellion and its effects .

    The Church blessed in this Feast being close to The Passion Week and its focus on the magnifying role of The Mother as The Handmaid of The Divine Will – to help us all too to receive the strength and the love in The Spirit .

    Blessings !

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

All comments posted at Catholic World Report are moderated. While vigorous debate is welcome and encouraged, please note that in the interest of maintaining a civilized and helpful level of discussion, comments containing obscene language or personal attacks—or those that are deemed by the editors to be needlessly combative or inflammatory—will not be published. Thank you.