The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Luke 1:26-38

Posted by Dim Bulb on December 13, 2011

Luk 1:26  And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth,

The Evangelist minutely describes the circumstances of time, place, persons, & c., in order to gain greater credibility, and more clearly demonstrate the divine origin of the history he is about to give of the adorable mystery of the Incarnation, and of the reparation of the human race.

The sixth month, is generally computed by interpreters from the conception of Elizabeth. It was usual with the Hebrews, as well as with the Romans, to compute time from some very remarkable epoch or occurrence. The conception of the Baptist, which was the inception of a new order of things, the beginning of a second and more exalted creation, whereby God was to renew the face of the earth, was deservedly regarded as the most remarkable occurrence from which to date the conception of the Son of God. Moreover, God wished that the relations between John the Baptist and his Eternal Son should be so intimate that the years of the .latter should be counted in connexion with the former. This sixth month, is understood as completed, and the order of events so arranged, that John, who was to be our Lord’s Precursor, to bear testimony of Him in due time, could commence to do so even from his mother s womb (v. 41).

The Angel Gabriel. The same who had promised Zachary a son (v. 13). Although of the highest rank of Archangels, he is still called an Angel by St. Luke, as this latter term designates his office of messenger, which, in this instance, was tho highest privilege he could enjoy. Gabriel, the name signifies the strength of God, well befitting him who was to announce the coming of the Almighty. The same messenger who predicted to Daniel the coming of the Son of God at a distant futurity, is now employed to announce His immediate coming in the flesh. To an Angel was this exalted message to an immaculate Virgin appropriately intrusted.

Sent from God, immediately without the intervention of any higher angelic spirit, as when he was formerly sent to Daniel (8:16), to show the great importance of the mission confided to him. God, the Blessed Trinity, this mission being an actus ad extra, common to the three Persons of the adorable Trinity.

To a city of Galilee named Nazareth. It was situated in Lower Galilee, in the Tribe of Zabulon (see Matt 2:23).

Luk 1:27  To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David: and the virgin’s name was Mary.

To a virgin espoused to a man. The Greek word for espoused μεμνηστευμενην, also means, married, a signification the word bears (chap. 2:5), (see Matt 1:18). The word is meant to convey, that although married, she continued a virgin, free from all carnal intercourse or defilement.

Whose name was Joseph. The Holy Ghost designates him as a just man (Matthew 1:19). He was fitly typified by the great Patriarch Joseph, whose affecting history is recorded (Genesis 27:1) The life of the one may be regarded as the counterpart of the life of the other. Both were singular models of chastity, of patient endurance, and of all supernatural virtues. The Joseph of Egypt, preserving food for his people, plentifully supplied them with bread in the day of dire distress. Our Joseph guarded the Bread of Life, which he gave to a famishing world. The power which Pharaoh, bestowed on the Patriarch Joseph, though very great, was  but a feeble type of the great intercessory power of our Joseph, who, next to his Virgin Spouse, exalted to an inconceivable degree above all created beings, is our most powerful intercessor in the high court of heaven. As Pharaoh of old, when the famishing multitudes cried to him for bread, referred them to Joseph, Ite ad
Joseph (“go to Joseph” Genesis 41:55); so does the Almighty refer us in our spiritual necessities to His foster-father, the guardian and protector of His helpless infancy, when he was forced to fly from the wrath of a sanguinary tyrant. To us does he say, as Pharaoh said of old, Ite ad Joseph.

Of the house of David. A descendant of David, from whom the Messiah was to spring. Joseph and Mary were both of the family of David (see Matthew 1:16). What the Angel says (v. 32), The Lord God shall give him the throne of his Father David was said of our Lord in virtue of His maternal descent, for He had no father on earth. Mary, His mother, must therefore be of the same family of David with her husband Joseph, who is also called elsewhere, the Son of David " (Matthew 1:20), and said to be of the house and family of David (2:4).

And the virgin’s name was Mary. t. Jerome (de nom. Heb.), tells us, that Mary, in the Greek, μαριαμ, an indeclinable noun, derived from the Hebrew Miriam, signifies, in Hebrew, Star of the Sea, also, bitter sea; and in Chaldaic, Lady. Both meanings admirably befitting her who is the glorious Queen of Heaven and Earth, and our Star to guide us amidst the storms and darkness of this world to the haven of eternal security and rest. At all times, Christians address the Blessed Virgin with the peculiar title of Our Lady. St. Bernard tells us, that of such virtue and excellence is this name, “that the heavens exult, the earth rejoices, and the angels send up hymns of praise when the name of Mary is mentioned”(Hom, super missa est]; and in the same place this seraphic advocate of Mary calls on those who are in tribulation of mind or body, “to look up to this Star, to call on Mary,” &c. There is no other name, after the adorable name of Jesus, so venerable, so calculated to inspire all saints and sinners with such hope, such unbounded confidence during life, and especially at the decisive moment of death, when the devil, knowing he has but a short time, puts forth all his strength to compass our ruin. Then it is, that she who is powerful (ipsa enim potens est), shall shield her devout children under the protecting shadow of her wing, and put to flight our infernal adversary.

Luk 1:28  And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.

And the angel being come in. From this it is commonly inferred, and indeed, it is asserted by the Holy Fathers, that the Angel found the Blessed Virgin alone in her private closet. Although there is nothing said here of how she was occupied, it is regarded as certain that she was not idle, but rather occupied with some employment becoming a pure virgin. Not unlikely, she was engaged in prayer, as she is usually represented in all pictures of the Annunciation, and in devotional exercises having reference to the long-expected Messiah, the future deliverer of her people. St. Ambrose (L. 2 in Lucam) remarks, “She was alone in her private closet, where no man could see her, but only an Angel could find her.” It is generally supposed that, owing to the angelio gift of subtilty, the Angel having invisibly penetrated the walls of her dwelling, and appearing in a visible form, reverently and on bended knees, saluted as his Queen, Her who was shortly to be constituted Queen of men and angels. Some hold that this occurred in the silence of night, while she was engaged in prayer, before retiring to rest. It was at this hour also Christ was born. It was “while all things were in great silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, thy omnipotent ivord leapt down from heaven from thy royal throne” (Wisdom 18:14-15). Likely, he filled the chamber with heavenly effulgence, as happened when the Angels announced the birth of the Son of God to the shepherds (2:9).

Said to her, the words to her,should likely be connected not with said, but with being come in, to her, or where she was alone in secret (as it is in the Syriac, and found in Holy Fathers, Ambrose, hie, and St. Bernard, on the words, missus est. Said, Hail, full ofgrace, &c., ingressusAngelus adeam,dixit; ave gratia plena, &c., employing the very words communicated by God, when sending him on this most solemn and important message.

Hail. The corresponding Hebrew form, shalom lach, which latter form very likely was used by the Angel, ειρηνη σοι, pax tibi, signifies peace to thee; or, joy to thee, and may be either precatory of good, “may joy or peace be to thee,” pax vel gaudium sit tibi, wishing her the abundance of all blessings, spiritual and temporal, or congratulatory, on account of the abundant blessings of peace and joy she already possesses, pax vel gaudium est tibi. In this form, which was usual with the Hebrews at the meeting of friends, the Angel conveys to the Virgin, that his entrance was of a pacific character; that he was a good and not a bad Angel; the bearer of joyous and not of evil tidings, such as the Angels afterwards came to announce, at the birth of the Son of God, Peace and tidings of great joy to all the people. St. Luke instead of ειρηνη σοι, employs  χαιρε, which latter form was more conformable to the idiom of the language then in use. The same is used by our Lord, or rather, His words are so rendered (Matthew 28:9). In this salutation, the Angel accomplished four things: 1. He reverently salutes the Virgin; 2. He propounds the subject of his message (v. 31); 3. He points out the mode of its accomplishment (v. 35); and thus, 4. He replies to the difficulty (v. 34) which presented itself to the mind of the Virgin. Some of the Holy Fathers (Origen, Hom. 6 in Lucam; Bede and Ambrose, hic) observe, that the whole message was singular and extraordinary, such as was never before addressed to any human being.

Full of gracegratia plena. This is the rendering given by all Catholics of the Greek, κεχαριτωμενη, which is the Perfect Passive participle of χαριτόω. This translation is confirmed by the authority of the Fathers, and by the most ancient copies of the Bible. It is the same in the Syriac and Arabic versions. Protestants, while rejecting the Vulgate rendering, differ nearly as widely among themselves on this point as they do from Catholics. Hardly any two of them agree on the precise translation of the word, which is found only in another passage of the New Testament (Eph 1:6) εχαριτωσεν ημας, and rendered gratificavit nos, “made us acceptable.” Besides the unanimous consent of the Fathers, the Catholic or Vulgate rendering, gratia plena, can be established on intrinsic grounds as well. The word κεχαριτωμενη, literally rendered, would signify, one made pleasing (gratificata), which involves (a) the state or condition of being thus rendered pleasing; and (b) the quality or thing that renders us pleasing. Now, that which makes us pleasing to God, is sanctifying grace; hence sanctifying grace is involved in the word κεχαριτωμενη. Secondly, the fulness of grace is conveyed in the very form of the verb; for, as is known to all Greek scholars, verbs terminating in όω, always denote plenitude, abundance either communicated or received or possessed, according as the verb may be used in the Active or Passive voice, as might be illustrated, if necessary, by numerous examples. Hence, on this principle, κεχαριτωμενη denotes abundance, fulness of grace. Again, from the Angel’s omitting to address the Virgin by the ordinary name of Mary, it is clear he applies κεχαριτωμενη to her as her peculiar title, her distinguishing characteristic epithet, applicable to her alone, and to no one else, as our Lord is called, the Just One; Solomon, the Wise One, because possessing these qualities in a degree not reached by any other human being. So here the application of Ke^aptrw/xev^ to the Blessed Virgin, never before applied to any one else, shows she possesses the quality or plenitude of grace conveyed in the word, peculiar to herself alone, and distinguishing her from the rest of mankind.

Although full of grace is applied to our Lord (John 1:17), and to St. Stephen (Acts 6:8 both using the words πληρης χαριτος, different from that used by Luke), still we must bear in mind, so far as our Lord is concerned, there can be no parallelism, since the plenitude must be interpreted, having due regard to persons; and hence, in our Lord, the plenitude of grace was, as St. Bonaventure observes, the fulness of the great, inexhaustible fountain, plenitudo superabundantiæ, while in the Blessed Virgin was the fulness of the great river next the source or inexhaustible fountain, plenitudo prerogativæ, and in all the rest of men, a plenitudo sufficientiæ, the rivulets sharing it in a limited degree, sufficient to procure the salvation of them all. As regards St. Stephen, besides that the fulness of grace predicated of him only denotes the grace required for him as minister and witness of God, and in regard to her it denotes the abundance of grace required for her dignity of Mother of God, πληρης χαριτος is not applied to him as his peculiar designation, as κεχαριτωμενη, is to the Blessed Virgin. That the term, κεχαριτωμενη, is assertive of her present state of acceptableness, owing to the fulness of grace she possesses, and not precatory of good in regard to future favours, is clear from the Greek which is in the passive past tense, and refers to past occurrences, the effect of which remains to the present. In the present instance, there is no limit to the period past; and hence, it implies, that the Virgin was full of grace from the very first moment of her conception or existence. The words, full of grace then imply 1st, perfect exemption from all sin, original or actual, even the slightest, and all inclinations to sin, from all passions whatsoever leading to sin; 2ndly, the possession of all virtues, of all graces, in a degree so supereminent, that no virtue, no grace, no gift of the Holy Ghost was ever granted to any human being that she did not possess in an eminent degree, although the exercise of them might not always take place. So that every action of her life was virtuous, praiseworthy, and she attained eminence in grace and sanctity to such a degree as rendered her worthy to conceive in her sacred womb and receive within her, the source and fountain of all grace and sanctity, the eternal Son of God Himself (Lucas Brugensis, and Menochius). Suarez, quoted on this passage by Lapide, asserts, that at the first instant of her conception, the Blessed Virgin received a greater grace than was ever conferred on the highest angel, and owing to her perfect correspondence and faithful co-operation from her conception till the hour of her death, she acquired such degrees of grace and merit as exceeded that of all angels and men together, and God, therefore, loved the Blessed Virgin more than the entire Church, militant and triumphant, including men and angels.

The Lord is with thee. This was an ancient form of salutation in use among the Jews (Judges 6:13; Ruth 2:4). The words are understood by some commentators of the future abode of our Lord, in her chaste womb, in the mystery of the Incarnation, which it is clear from v. 31, did not yet take place. But taken in connexion with the context, and the words, full of grace, blessed art thou amongst women, which are in the present, the phrase must be understood of her present condition. They express the cause of her being full of grace. She was so, because the Lord was with her. These words imply a singular and special assistance on the part of God, which preserved her from all sin, filled her with all grace, and fitted her for the great end for which she was destined. The words, the Lord is with thee, and the like, both in the Old Testament and in the New, when uttered by God, or by one commissioned by Him, always denote a special assistance on the part of God, and His presence with, the person addressed, for the purpose of effectually accomplishing the end for which such assistance is given (see Murray, de Eccles. vol. i., 200-214).
Hence, as the end, for which, these graces were conferred on the Blessed Virgin, was the most exalted, that God ever accomplished, viz., the Incarnation of His Son, these graces, which thus fitted her and rendered her worthy, were the greatest ever conferred on any mere creature. The words, however, although denoting the present abundance of grace arising from God’s special favour and assistance, very likely, imply also God’s special future dwelling in her in His Incarnation, in view of which the present graces were so abundantly given, just as the following words, Blessed art thou amongst &c., although referring to the present, clearly have reference to the future Incarnation: for, it is with reference to it, St. Elizabeth addresses the Virgin in these identical words, after she had received the Son of God within her sacred womb (v. 42).

Blessed art thou among women. These words are omitted in some few MSS., the Vatican among the rest. But they are found in most MSS., and generally quoted by the early Fathers. Blessed by the Lord, who is with thee. This benediction is subjoined, as the effect of the Divine favour, and implies the amplest gifts and benefits bestowed on her by God at the present moment. It does not refer to the great respect and reverence which the Blessed Virgin was to receive from men in after ages. The form, benedicta tu, is, by a Hebrew usage, equivalent to, benedicta es. For, the Hebrews employed the demonstrative pronoun in place of the verb substantive of the present tense; and she was thus blessed at that moment in the singular graces she then possessed, that rendered her worthy to be the dwelling-place of the Son of God, and of the destination in store for her, to be immediately accomplished.

Among women. Above all other women. The comparison is not between her and the rest of mankind, but only between her and all other women. Hence our Lord is not included in the comparison. This benediction contains a tacit opposition to the curse pronounced against women in general (Genesis 3:16); and the special benediction, which distinguishes the Blessed Virgin from all other women, consists in her being a mother and a virgin at the same time; a virgin, whose great purity and humility attracted from heaven into her sacred womb, the God of all sanctity; the mother, of the Eternal Son of God. She has all the blessings, and none of the losses. She was blessed beyond virgins, widows, mothers; beyond virgins, who have the curse of sterility ; beyond widows, who while gaining the blessing of freedom of mind, suffer the loss of society, while she with the greatest freedom, enjoyed the society of her holy and chaste spouse Joseph; beyond mothers, who with the blessing of fecundity, suffer the loss of virginity. Mary had the one without losing the other. From v. 31, it is clear, the Incarnation had not yet taken place. Hence, the special blessedness here predicated of Mary, had reference to her future destination to become Mother of God, and to her having been so prepared by God with such an abundance of grace and the gifts of sanctity, as rendered her fit to become His dwelling-place, an incomparable blessing which was immediately to be conferred on her.

Luk 1:29  Who having heard, was troubled at his saying and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be.

Who having heard. The ordinary Greek has ιδουσα, having seen him. This reading is preferred by St. Ambrose, as if it meant to convey, that the sight of the Angel, his brilliant appearance in the form of a young man a form to which she was unaccustomed, although, doubtless, often before favoured with visions and conversations of angels caused this pure virgin uneasiness. “But mark the Virgin by her bashfulness; it is the habit of virgins to tremble and to be ever afraid at the presence of man, and to be shy when he addresses her. Mary feared even the salutation of an angel” (St. Ambrose). The Greek reading may be easily united with the Vulgate, having heard, and both together will convey the full sense of the passage. The Blessed Virgin was troubled at seeing the brilliant form of the young man, but she was still more so, when she heard the eulogistic language he addressed to her, which jarred on her humility and modesty. From the text it is clear, that it was the words of the Angel that chiefly caused her uneasiness. She was troubled at his saying. This humblest of virgins was troubled at the praises bestowed on her, while she regarded herself as undeserving of any praise whatsoever. It may be, too, that she had some fears regarding the design and tendency of such language. For she could not have failed to remember how another Angel, putting on the appearance of light, seduced another virgin, Eve, and entailed on mankind all the ills to which flesh is heir; and very likely this was the train of thought referred to in the words, and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be. The Greek for thought means, reasoned with herself, with calm deliberation, implying that she retained the full use of her faculties, the disturbance notwithstanding. Unlike Eve (Genesis 3:2), she prudently refrained from speaking or making any reply until she could more clearly see what was meant, before rejecting or accepting this salutation.  What manner of salutation this should be, of which she deemed herself unworthy. She seriously meditated whether it was sincere or deceitful, illusory or divine.

Luk 1:30  And the angel said to her: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God.

And, means, “then,” the Angel said to her: Fear not, Mary &c. The Angel enlightened by God, saw the thoughts that passed through her mind. He might have divined the same from her countenance, hesitation, &c. Her virginal modesty was disturbed at the sight of a young man suddenly appearing in her presence; her profound humility, at the language of praise addressed to her. Seeing this, the Angel tells her to fear neither his appearance, nor his words. Having addressed her, at the commencement of the salutation, with the high and exalted epithet, of, full of grace, he now addresses her familiarly by her well-known name of Mary, conveying, that she was well known to him, and that she, and she alone, was the person, to whom he was sent on a message from God.

For thou has found favor with God, and therefore, sure of His Divine protection. In these words is assigned the reason of the high eulogium passed on her, while they would, at the same time, calm her uneasiness. As full of grace &c., she was acceptable to God, beloved by God how unworthy soever, she might seem in her own eyes to whose gratuitous favour, enriching her with all grace and merit, all this was due. In these words, the Angel expresses what was omitted in the words, full of grace, viz., that it was in the eyes of God, she was so.

Luk 1:31  Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb and shalt bring forth a son: and thou shalt call his name Jesus.

The Angel now shows the effect of her being thus singularly pleasing to God, and also furnishes a proof demonstrating how she was blessed beyond all other women. Behold thou shall conceiveBehold, points to something new and unexpected, which was to occur at once. It also points to the fulfilment of the Prophecy of Isaias, and conveys that she was the virgin referred to by Isaias seven hundred years before. Behold a virgin shall conceive &c. (Isaias 7:14.) Thou shalt conceive, Thou shall bring forth, Thou shalt call &c., are the identical words employed in the Prophecy of Isaias, with a change of person.

In thy womb, to show there was question of real, physical conception of Him as a child, whom she had long borne in her heart. It shows, our Lord took real flesh in the chaste womb of the Virgin, as happens in all other conceptions in the womb of a woman.

And bring forth a son, who, in virtue of His conception and birth, shall be really your son, and you really His mother. And thou shalt call His name Jesus Thou, preferably to Joseph, as thou art His real mother, and He has no father on earth (see Matthew 1:23).

Luk 1:32  He shall be great and shall be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father: and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever.

He shall be great. By the union of the human nature with the Divinity at His conception and Incarnation, He shall be great  by nature; that is, He shall be absolutely and intrinsically, the greatest human being in existence, being Himself God as well as man. Unlike John, who was great before the Lord  (v. 15), He Himself shall be that Lord who conferred limited greatness on John.

And shall be called son of the Most High. He shall really be and shall be recognised and proclaimed, both in life and death, but especially after His glorious Resurrection and Ascension, by angels, men, and devils, the Eternal Son of God.

And the Lord shall give unto him. He shall not obtain it by violence, tyranny, conquest, or unjust means of any kind, but He shall receive from the Lord Himself, through whom kings reign, ike peaceable and abiding possession, as legitimate heir, of, the throne of David his father, that is, the throne promised to David, and given to him in his seed, Christ (Ps 132:11; 2 Sam 7:12; Isaias 9:6-7; Amos 9:14), not the temporal throne, on which Christ did not sit, now transferred to a stranger, Herod, but the spiritual throne, of which David’ temporal throne was a mere type, a mere shadow. Hence, Christ is often called David  by the Prophets (Jeremias 30:9 ; Ezek 34:23; 27:24-25; Hos 3:5). No doubt, the Blessed Virgin was well acquainted with these promises; and hence, as all the Jewish people were at this time expecting the Messiah, who was to
restore and raise up the throne of David (Mark 11:10), that had by this time passed into the hands of strangers, she at once concluded that the Angel referred to His coming. Our Lord was said, in another sense, to sit on the throne of David, inasmuch as His reign was, in the first place, to commence with those, over whom, David, from whom he and they had sprung, had reigned the lost sheep of the house of Israel and from them to extend to all the tribes of the earth.

His father. Our Lord was the lineal descendant of David. In Him, the promises made to David were to be fulfilled.

And he shall reign in the house of Jacob. His reign will not be confined to merely two tribes, as happened some of David s successors. It shall comprise the twelve tribes of Israel, the sons of Jacob. It shall also embrace the spiritual Israel, who are to be aggregated to the Church from all nations to the end of time (Rev 4:7-9). Jew and Gentile shall be united under Him (Hos 1:11).

This power was granted the Man-God at His conception, partly, exercised in life, but consummated after His glorious Ascension,when He sat at the right hand of His Father in glory.

For ever. Unlike David, who reigned only forty years; whose kingdom after him was subject to division, casualties and interruptions, and at length ceased in the days of Herod, He shall reign of Himself, and not through successors like David. The duration of His reign shall be eternal, not waiting to be succeeded by a better. It shall be absolute, and not contingent and conditional, like David’s (Ps 132:12).

Luk 1:33  And of his kingdom there shall be no end.

And of his kingdom there shall be no end, more fully explains and corroborates, forever. It shall never terminate either as to the Ruler or His subjects, either in this world or in the world to come. This was the eternal duration promised to David in his seed, Christ (Psa 89:4, 5, 30, 36, 37; Daniel 2:44; 7:14).

Luk 1:34  And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man?

And Mary said to the angel-she now knew him to be an Angel from God-How shall this be done?  This question she puts not from a feeling of unbelief or distrust, like Zachary, who said, How am I to know this? or, what sign do you give me of this event regarding which I entertain some doubts? Mary did not doubt. She fully believed, blessed art thou that hast believed (v. 45). She sought for no sign. She only prudently wished to know the order of the compliance which was sought from her (Bede). She believed the announcement, but only doubted in regard to its accomplishment, consistently with her vow of chastity known to God, of whom Gabriel was the messenger accredited to her.

Because I know not man. viz., her husband Joseph, or any other. These words convey, that she would not, or rather could not, consistently with her duty to God, know him; otherwise, supposing it to be lawful for her to know him at any time, as it was hereafter she was to conceive, thou shalt conceive, there would be no meaning in her question, since the Angel might rejoin; you can for the purpose of conception know him hereafter. The present tense, I know not, embraces all time, past, present, and future. Thus we say of a man, who resolves not to drink wine either now or at any future time, he does not drink wine. In the present instance, the words have a future reference. For, the Angel does not say, thou dost now conceive, but, thou shalt conceive, arising from future agency. The Holy Fathers and Commentators infer from this, that Mary had made a perpetual vow of virginity. Indeed, this is implied in the question, how shall this be done? since such a vow is the only thing that would make it impossible in a moral sense, that is to say, unlawful for her to conceive of her husband in the ordinary way (there being no precept or law to inhibit it); the only thing that could secure inviolably her firm purpose to observe the virtue of chastity. When it was she made this vow, which is also attested by a most certain ecclesiastical tradition, is uncertain. It is most likely, before her espousals as is maintained by St. Augustine and that having apprized the chaste Joseph of it, she engaged in marriage with him on the condition of securing her chastity. It was not the custom with the Hebrews to make such vows. Hence, Mary espoused Joseph, who, far from attempting to deprive her of what she vowed, would rather guard and protect her against any attempts on the part of others. She fully believed the words of the Angel, from whom she clearly learned that she was to be the mother of the long-expected Messiah. She knew that she had vowed chastity to God. She also knew that a virgin was to conceive and bring forth a Son (Isaias 7).  Hence, she inquires, not from curiosity, but from an anxiety to know, the order of divine economy in the accomplishment of an event in which she herself was to be prominently instrumental, and also from a feeling of anxiety lest she might suffer in chastity. She continued an Immaculate Virgin, etiam post partum. “She read,” says St. Ambrose, “behold a virgin shall conceive, but how, she had not hitherto read.” “How great must have been the Virgin s love for chastity, since for its preservation, she would forfeit the most exalted dignity of Mother of God” (St. Anselm). It was only after the assurance that her virginity would be intact, she consented, Ecce ancilla Domini, &c.

Luk 1:35  And the angel answering, said to her: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

The Angel now informs her of the mode in which the mystery can be accomplished without detriment to her virginity, and thus calms her apprehensions on that head. The Holy Ghost-whom thou hast already with thee, by the superabundance of grace, producing in thee effects different from fecundity, which He is now to superadd-shall come upon thee. Shall descend from Heaven, to impart to thee new efficacy, fecundity, and miraculous powers of conception.

And the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. These words are explanatory of the preceding, showing the peculiar way in which the Holy Ghost was to descend on her, viz., by His Almighty power, imparting to her the efficacy of conceiving a Son in her womb, without passion or carnal corruption of any kind, chastely supplying the place usually assigned to man in human conception, forming out of the chaste blood of the Virgin a perfect human body, into which was simultaneously infused a created soul, and at one and the same indivisible instant, both body and soul, perfect man, united under one personality to the Divine Person of the Eternal Word. The peculiar metaphorical meaning of επισκιασει, overshadow, as expressive of this wonderful conception by the Virgin through the power of the Holy Ghost, is differently explained by Commentators. Literally, the word means, to overshadow, to surround, to assist and exert an influence, as here. Some explain it: the Holy Ghost shall invisibly and mysteriously accomplish this in such a way, that no one can perceive it, just as a cloud prevents us from seeing beyond it. Others explain it thus: as the clouds discharge rain and fertilize the earth, so shall the Almighty power of God render thee fruitful, and cause thee to conceive in thy womb. But whatever maybe the peculiar reason for using the word, overshadow, one thing is clearly denoted by it, viz., that the Holy Ghost will miraculously cause her to conceive a son in her womb without human intervention or carnal corruption of any sort. Although the Incarnation of the Son of God is common to the entire Blessed Trinity, as being an actus ad extra, it is by appropriation ascribed to the Holy Ghost, as being an act of boundless love, just as acts of wisdom are appropriated to the Son; of power, to the Father.

And therefore also the Holy, which shall be born of thee, &c. The Greek for born  is γεννωμενον, what is born or rather conceived; for it is of the conception by the Virgin the Angel is treating. The present is employed, as the conception is to take place immediately, and is virtually present. The Holy is used in the neuter αγιον, sanctum, to convey, that, taken in its total comprehension, this holy offspring, would not merely be man, but God also. (St. Gregory, St. Leo, &c.) The masculine, qui, would naturally refer to man. The words mean: therefore, in virtue of this pure operation of the Holy Ghost, without the intervention of man, the Being to be conceived, and, in due time, brought forth in this pure and holy way, free from all corruption and defilement, shall be in reality in consequence of the union of the Divinity with the Humanity, the Son of God, and shall be called, such, shall be I reclaimed and acknowledged all over the world, to the end of time, as the Son of God, the same who was begotten of the Father by an eternal generation.

Shall be born of thee. The words, of thee, which express the real conception of our Lord in the Virgin s womb, are generally missing in Greek MSS.

Luk 1:36  And behold thy cousin Elizabeth, she also hath conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her that is called barren.

And behold thy cousin Elizabeth. The Angel from himself adduces the example of the supernatural and miraculous conception by Elizabeth of the Baptist, not for the purpose of begetting faith in the Blessed Virgin, who had already believed, but only to strengthen her faith in the still more miraculous and exalted privilege of fecundity conferred on herself. God has shown His miraculous power on Elizabeth, who being beyond the age of child bearing, and moreover, barren, could not therefore, naturally conceive a son. As then Elizabeth, old and sterile, conceived against nature; so, the Virgin’s humility ought not to shrink from a similar blessing being conferred on herself. As her kinswoman was blessed; so might she also. The Angel refers to the example of Elizabeth, preferably to the miraculous instances of child bearing in past ages Sara, Rachel, Rebecca, &c., because the example of Elizabeth was present to her, she could see her pregnancy, and did so in a few days; and moreover, being of a domestic and family nature, it would be more apt to affect her.

Thy cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth, whose father was of the Tribe of Levi, she was of the daughters of Aaron (v. 5), might be cousin to Mary, of the Tribe of Juda, inasmuch as one of Elizabeth’s parents in the maternal line, might have married a man of the Tribe of Juda, and vice versa, which was not prohibited save in case of heiresses. Thus Joiada, High Priest, married Josebeth, of the Tribe of Juda (2 Chron 22:11), David married Michol, daughter of King Saul, of the Tribe of Benjamin.

This is the sixth month. She is advanced in her sixth month of pregnancy, which now cannot be concealed. That is called barren, who has been barren, and has been called, and reputed, and well known to be such, by all, so as to go by the name of the barren one. And, as she who was remarkable for her barrenness, has conceived a son, and that at a time, when another natural obstacle intervened, viz., old age; there is nothing repugnant in your becoming a mother, still remaining a virgin; since in both cases, it is the effect of the power of God.

Luk 1:37  Because no word shall be impossible with God.

By word some understand His promise; He is able to fulfil everything He promises. Others, understand it of a thing; a sense quite common in SS. Scriptures. For, with God to say, is to do. Nothing within the range of possibility exceeds His power. Hence, He can as easily bring about miraculously and supernaturally the conception of a son by a virgin, as by an old woman, who was also naturally sterile. If there be any thing, which God cannot do, such as to deceive, to tell a lie, these are exceptions from the general assertion regarding God’s omnipotence; since they are excepted not only by Scripture itself, but by the very nature of things and their absolute repugnance to the attributes of God. Such exceptions, if included within the range of God s omnipotence, would prove God was not omnipotent, but absolutely impotent; since they would prove Him not to be God at all (St. Augustine de Civitate Dei, c. 10, and contra Faustum, Lib. 26, c. 5).

Luk 1:38  And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it done to me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

It was only after she was informed that this great mystery was to be accomplished by the operation of the Holy Ghost, without detriment to her virginal chastity, she gives her consent, upon which hung the destiny of the world a consent which Heaven was awaiting with breathless expectation. For, had she refused assent to the words of the Angel, most probably, the world would never have been redeemed.

Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Behold, here I am ready for the divine command-a form usual among the Jews. Behold I am at hand, the handmaid of the Lord,  ready, at His disposal, to be dealt with, as He pleases, placing myself and my services in His hand. He is my Sovereign Lord, having full power, control and authority over me; I am His servant. All the singular gifts and priceless privileges already conferred, and still destined for me, are His, the gifts of His grace and Sovereign beneficence. I surrender myself into His hands. I give myself over to His will; let Him do with me what He pleases. Behold, &c., may also mean, I acknowledge myself as the handmaid of the Lord, and therefore, bound not to disobey or contradict, but to execute His will; or, I offer myself to the Lord, to act as His obedient handmaid. I even wish that what He proposes be done. Be it done unto me according to thy word. In the depth of her humility, she refrains from recounting the things spoken to her by the Angel, so full of her praises: she merely sums up all in the brief phrase, according to thy word, as thou hast stated or promised, I am ready to become Mother of God, my chastity being secured. Undoubtedly, the Virgin, specially enlightened from above, understood fully the nature of the Angel’s announcement and message. What an example of humility the Virgin leaves us here! She is addressed, as full of grace, destined to become Mother of God; she calls herself, His handmaid; of obedience, ready as His handmaid to do what God pleases; of modesty, charity and thorough resignation to the Divine will.

No sooner had she uttered these words of consent, than the Holy Ghost formed out of her pure blood in her chaste womb, a body, perfectly and in every respect organized, which at the same indivisible instant was animated by a created rational soul; and at one and the same instant, this body and soul, perfect man, was united to the Person of the Divine Word, before it began to subsist by human personality: For it subsisted in the Personality of the Son of God alone. It had no human personality, but only the Personality of the Eternal Son of God, who became united not to the human Person for there was no such but to the human nature of Christ. It was after the Virgin uttered these words, and not before, the mystery of the Incarnation took place, as is clear from the entire context. Almighty God, who disposes all things sweetly, was pleased to await the Virgin s consent, before His Eternal Son took flesh of her. Had she refused, it is hard to say, what might have become of the human race. How the Powers of Heaven must have hung with awful, wonderful suspense upon the expression of the Virgin’s consent; and how much are we indebted to her whose consent to the will of Heaven has been instrumental in procuring for us the ineffable blessings of Redemption! At the Almighty’s original fiat the first creation sprang into existence. On the Virgin‘s fiat, was made to depend the second and more sublime Creation in the work of Redemption, and reparation of the blighting evils entailed by sin on the original creation.

And the angel departed from her, having now successfully discharged his mission, which concluded with the ineffable Mystery of the Incarnation of the Son of God. It is piously believed, that the Angel on bended knees addressed the Virgin; by this reverential posture, paying homage to her, who was in the designs of God, destined to become soon the Mother of God, and Queen of the whole hosts of Heaven.




7 Responses to “Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Luke 1:26-38”

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