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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.

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  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 !

  3. “It was certainly possible for him to have been born of a normal marriage.”

    I disagree – he was the son of GOD – How else could He have been born? The creed tells us that “He was conceived by the Holy Spirit.”

    • You are absolutely correct on what seems only a nuance. St. Augustine and St. John Henry Cardinal Newman would seem to concur when they stress that we worship a Trinity, not a “quaternary.” This, too:

      “The union between the two natures in Christ is a personal union [!]. It takes place in the Person of the Son of God….They [the two natures] are not mixed or fused with one another to form a third thing distinct from both [a quaternary, no longer a Trinity]. Rather they are united to one another indirectly in the Second Person of the Trinity…But in the Incarnation, the person pre-exists the union of the two natures [not like a person from body and soul], because it is the Person of the Eternal Son of God.

      In the Incarnation the Son of God, Who is eternal, assumes to Himself a complete human nature, a body and soul. By this union the human nature becomes the human nature of the Son of God. He is the Person existing in this human nature, the Person responsible for all its actions, the responsible Agent acting in and through the human nature in the world of men. It should be clear at once that the human nature of Christ has no personality. If we were to look at the human nature of Christ and ask, ‘What is it?’ the answer would have to be, ‘It is a human nature’. But if we were to inquire, ‘Who is he?’ then we could not give in reply the name of any human or created person, because there is no created personality present in Christ. We should have to say, ‘He is Christ, the Son of God.’”

      (Walter Farrell OP,STM and Martin Healy, STD, in My Way of Life, Confraternity of the Precious Blood, 1952, pp. 450-451)

  4. “The Annunciation”
    by Elizabeth Jennings of England (b. 18 July 1926 – d. 26 October 2001)

    Nothing will ease the pain to come
    Though now she sits in ecstasy
    And lets it have its way with her.
    The angel’s shadow in the room
    Is lightly lifted as if he
    Had never terrified her there.

    The furniture again returns
    To its old simple state. She can
    Take comfort from the things she knows
    Though in her heart new loving burns
    Something she never gave to man
    Or god before, and this god grows

    Most like a man. She wonders how
    To pray at all, what thanks to give
    And whom to give them to. “Alone
    To all men’s eyes I now must go”
    She thinks, “And by myself must live
    With a strange child that is my own.”

    So from her ecstasy she moves
    And turns to human things at last
    (Announcing angels set aside).
    It is a human child she loves
    Though a god stirs beneath her breast
    And great salvations grip her side.

  5. The Solemnity of the Annunciation should be a mandatory feast day; to some people it is not clear that the Annunciation and the Incarnation of God into humanity is the same and should be celebrated as humankind’s salvation. When I was young I only understood that the Angel Gabriel told Mary she will become pregnant with Jesus. In fact, when the Prophet Samuel anointed David, the scripture tells us “the Holy Spirit rushed onto David.” We can rejoice that the Holy Spirit rushed onto the Immaculate Virgin as soon as she gave her Fiat; the Deity of the Prince of God conceived by the Holy Spirit immediately in the holy womb of the Blessed Virgin to bring into existence the Divinity in man, who is now man in God seated at the right of the Holy Power on His divine Throne. Praise be to Jesus Christ our Redeemer King.

  6. We read from Ratzinger citing Laurentin: “…the word of God proves to be a mustard seed….”

    In his last book, published posthumously, Benedict contemplates a rose, as presented in “one of the best known and beautiful German Christmas carols, [where] we see Jesus as a little rose given to us by the Virgin Mary in that Holy Night”:

    “In the text currently in use, it speaks at first about a ‘rose’ (Ros), then, in the second stanza, Mary is called the ‘little rose’ (Roslein) about which Isaiah spoke and is pointed out as the Virgin and Mother who bore the little flower for us. The text, therefore, presents several shifts that need some explanation. My personal hypothesis is that originally the word was not Ros but Reis, that is, shoot or sprout; and so this brings us straight to the words of the prophet, which read: ‘There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse (Is 11:1),”

    Benedict goes on to ponder the Davidic dynasty as a dead stump, from which a shoot sprouts through Joseph as not the biological father of Jesus, but “legally, by the law that is constitutive for Israel.” Even the term Nazareth “seems to contain within it the term nezer, naser (shoot, or ‘village of the shoot’)” (Benedict XVI, “What is Christianity: Last Writings,” Ignatius, 2023, pp. 220-221).

6 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Joseph Ratzinger: The Mystery of the Annunciation is the Mystery of Grace – Via Nova Media
  2. Joseph Ratzinger: The Mystery of the Annunciation is the Mystery of Grace | Franciscan Sisters of St Joseph (FSJ) , Asumbi Sisters Kenya
  3. Joseph Ratzinger: The Mystery of the Annunciation is the Mystery of Grace – Catholic World Report – The Old Roman
  4. The Mystery of the Annunciation is the Mystery of Grace – Catholic World Report - FREDDYtheFOX
  5. Ратцінґер: таємниця Благовіщення — це таємниця благодаті | CREDO
  6. God’s Rottweiler of Blessed Memory on Today’s Solemnity – The American Perennialist

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