In this article I hope to help you develop a fuller understanding of the First Joyful Mystery of the Holy Rosary, the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary by the angel, St. Gabriel. According to the Gospel of St. Luke, St. Gabriel appeared to a young virgin daughter of Israel, about 13 years old, named Mary, who was already betrothed in marriage to her husband, St. Joseph. This tradition of the marriage betrothal in Judaism from the first century required that the husband and wife, already fully married, live apart from each other, for a time, as they prepared for the second and final stage of marriage. As such, at the time of St. Gabriel’s Annunciation, the Virgin Mary was in the first stage of her marriage to St. Joseph, the betrothal stage. For this reason, she was living at her family home in Nazareth of Galilee apart from him. In fact, according to Tradition, the Virgin Mary’s parents, Sts. Joachim and Anne, had a home there, but they may already been deceased at the time, considering that they had received her from God in their old age. True, St. Luke does not say that the Virgin Mary was living at her family home in Nazareth, but this was the traditional practice for a young virgin betrothed to her husband in marriage. She would live at home during this first stage of marriage. In this sense, only after completing this first stage would she move to her husband’s home for the second and final stage of marriage.
According to the Church’s Tradition, at the time of St. Gabriel’s Annunciation to the Virgin Mary, Mary had just moved home to Nazareth, after having completed her service to the Lord as a consecrated virgin at the Temple in Jerusalem. Years earlier, Mary’s childless and elderly parents, Sts. Joachim and Anne, who had suffered from sterility throughout their marriage, promised the Lord in prayer that if He made them fruitful in their marital act by helping them to conceive and bear a child, they would consecrate this child to the Lord at the Temple in Jerusalem. After hearing their prayer, the Lord revealed to them, through His angel, that He would bless them. Indeed, He promised them that, through His grace, they would bear fruit by conceiving and bearing a daughter in their old age. As such, after they had their daughter, Mary, about a year later, they eventually consecrated her to the Lord as a virgin by presenting her to the priests at the Temple in Jerusalem when she was only 3 years old, just as they had promised the Lord. Every year the Church celebrates this Feast of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary at the Temple.
In this practice, a daughter of Israel, such as Mary, who was consecrated to the Lord as a Temple virgin would remain there for about 10 years serving the Lord by fulfilling certain responsibilities related to Temple liturgy under the guardianship and formation of mature consecrated women at the Temple. These responsibilities included creating, repairing and washing liturgical vestments and linens; cleaning; and participating in liturgical prayer. After completing this Temple service, the Israelite girl would be ready for marriage at about the age of 13. This marriage would normally be arranged for her by her parents, but the priests at the Temple could also help in this arrangement, as in the Virgin Mary’s arranged marriage to St. Joseph. In this sense, a virgin daughter of Israel would eventually leave the Temple in Jerusalem to be betrothed to her husband in an arranged marriage. This was certainly true of the Virgin Mary, for she, herself, was betrothed in an arranged marriage to her husband, St. Joseph, after completing her service at the Temple, but her marriage to him would be a singular marriage. After all, in her case, her virginity would be perpetual throughout her marriage to St. Joseph, not merely for 10 years at the Temple. For this reason, on the day her parents consecrated her to the Lord at the Temple at the age of 3, the Church’s Tradition professes that the Virgin Mary, by a singular grace from God, in her first rational, free act as a human being, vowed herself to perpetual virginity for the rest of her life. This means that she certainly intended her marriage to St. Joseph to be virginal, perpetually.
According to the story, as the Virgin Mary neared the end of her term at the Temple, the priests there, inspired by the Holy Spirit, prepared her to live her virginal life perpetually after her Temple service. Indeed, they made preparations for her to fulfill her vow of perpetual virginity by arranging for her to marry St. Joseph, a son of David, in a virginal marriage for life. This story from tradition does not say that the Virgin Mary’s parents, Sts. Joachim and Anne, helped arrange her marriage, perhaps because they had already died, but parents, in general, certainly would have been involved in this arrangement, according to Israelite practice. This practice by Israelite parents for their children, including their sons and daughters, is recounted many times in Israel by the inspired authors of Sacred Scripture. As such, after the Virgin Mary, herself, was betrothed in an arranged marriage to St. Joseph in Jerusalem, she moved to her family home in Nazareth, the home of her parents, for the betrothal stage of her marriage in preparation for the second and final stage.
St. Luke begins telling his story of the Annunciation here. As he recalls, sometime after the Virgin Mary moved to Nazareth, St. Gabriel appeared to her at the Annunciation. In doing so, he says that St. Gabriel was sent from the Lord to a virgin in Nazareth, the Virgin Mary, who was betrothed to a man from the House of David named Joseph (Luke 1:26-27). After St. Gabriel greeted her by saying, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28), he announced to her that she would become a mother by conceiving and bearing the Son of God, Jesus, as the Messiah (Luke 1:31), who would rule over God’s people, the people of Israel, forever (Luke 1:33). According to St. Luke, Mary was “troubled” by what was said to her by St. Gabriel, suggesting that she was also afraid of the idea of conceiving and bearing a child in her marriage to St. Joseph, for in her mind this would mean that she would lose her virginity. As a virgin who had already vowed herself to perpetual virginity years earlier at the Temple in Jerusalem, Mary naturally did not readily understand St. Gabriel’s announcement to her that she would become a mother. After all, how could she become a mother as a perpetual virgin in her marriage to St. Joseph? For this reason, after St. Gabriel’s Annunciation to Mary, St. Luke recounts that Mary understandably asked Gabriel the question (Lk 1:34), “How can this be, since I know not man?” The Gospel of St. Luke, of course, was in Greek, but Mary would have originally asked this question in Hebrew or Aramaic. In fact, the second clause in Mary’s question, “I know not man”, is a Hebrew and Aramaic idiom. This idiom means that Mary, herself, is a virgin who does not know man sexually. On the one hand, as a faithful daughter of Israel, she would have used Hebrew daily in praying to God and in proclaiming the Torah. On the other hand, she would have also used Aramaic regularly, considering it was the primary language in Galilee at the time. As such, in recalling the second clause in Mary’s question, “I know not man”, using the continuous present tense in Greek, St. Luke is basing his recollection on an oral tradition from Hebrew or Aramaic, in the active participle, that refers to the permanency of Mary’s continuous virginal state or disposition of not knowing man. In this sense, Mary’s question, “How can this be, since I know not man?”, really means, “How can this be, since I am not to know man, ever?” This would suggest Mary’s permanent vow of perpetual virginity. In fact, she would have had no reason to ask St. Gabriel this question if she had not already vowed herself to perpetual virginity. As such, her question here suggests her vow to live as a perpetual virgin for life in her marriage to St. Joseph. As a result, according to St. Augustine, the Virgin Mary had to ask St. Gabriel, “How can this be?” Indeed, how can this be, if she had already vowed herself to perpetual virginity, including a virginal marriage to St. Joseph for life?
For his part, St. Gabriel responded to the Virgin Mary’s question at the Annunciation by revealing to her that she would, in fact, preserve her vow of perpetual virginity, for she would virginally conceive and bear Jesus, the Son of God as a Son of David, the Messiah, in her virginal marriage to St. Joseph by a singular grace of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, he tells her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the child to be [conceived and] born [of you] will be called holy, the Son of God” (Luke 1:3). In this sense, according to St. Gabriel, neither St. Joseph nor any other man would be involved in the Virgin Mary conceiving and bearing the Son of God. On the contrary, by the Holy Spirit alone, by the power of the Most High, would she conceive and bear the God-Man, Jesus Christ. In doing so, she would become His Virgin Mother. Accordingly, the Virgin Mary would preserve her vow of perpetual virginity in becoming the Mother of Jesus because she would virginally conceive and bear Him through the Holy Spirit, the power of the Most High, in her virginal marriage to St. Joseph.
After hearing St. Gabriel’s Annunciation, as recounted in the Gospel of St. Luke, the Virgin Mary faithfully responded to his message that she would become the Virgin Mother of God’s Son. At the same time, as a young girl who had already vowed herself to perpetual virginity years earlier, the Virgin Mary was initially not fully prepared mentally or emotionally for this message. As a perpetual virgin, as the Ever-Virgin of the Lord, she certainly did not anticipate that the Lord’s angel would announce to her that she would conceive and bear a Son, especially after He had already accepted her vow of perpetual virginity years earlier at the Temple. Consequently, according to St. Luke, the Virgin Mary did not readily understand St. Gabriel’s message. He also suggests that she was afraid. Still, after she heard the message from St. Gabriel that she would receive from the Lord the grace to conceive and bear a Son virginally by the Holy Spirit, she developed a true understanding and the fortitude to faithfully say yes to this vocation, as difficult as this may have been for her. In doing so, she proclaimed, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). As such, here St. Luke recounts the Virgin Mary’s faithful yes to the calling she received from Lord to become the Virgin Mother of the Messiah, the Son of God (Lk 1:38). Indeed, she believed that God would do for her what was impossible for her to do for herself, for nothing was impossible for God (Luke 1:37, 45). In this sense, St. Gabriel helped the Virgin Mary accept her vocation in God’s plan to become the Virgin Mother of His Son (Lk 1:30-35). As a result, she virginally conceived and bore Him as Man by the Holy Spirit, the power of the Most High. On this basis, in this First Joyful Mystery of the Holy Rosary from the Gospel of St. Luke, the Virgin Mary faithfully said yes to her Virginal Divine Maternity at her Annunciation.
As you contemplate this First Joyful Mystery of the Rosary, God is calling you to open your heart to true joy by imitating Mary’s faithful yes in your particular circumstances. True, your circumstances may be difficult. In fact, they may even seem impossible, just as Mary’s initially did. All the same, she still opened her heart to fully believe in the Word of God, in God’s plan for her, as difficult as that may have been for her. The question is this: Are you saying no to God because of the difficulty of your circumstances? If so, pray to God for understanding and fortitude that you may say yes to Him, joyfully, as Mary did.
In Christ with Blessed Mary,
Friar Mariano D. Veliz, O.P.