Sunday, May 15, 2016

20 Mysteries: The Annunciation

Luke 1:26-38

[26] And in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, [27] To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin' s name was Mary. [28] And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, Kekaritomene, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. [29] Who having heard, was troubled at his saying, and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be. [30] And the angel said to her: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. 
[31] Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus. [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. [33] And of his kingdom there shall be no end. [34] And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man? [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.

[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: [37] Because no word shall be impossible with God. [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.

Praised be Jesus Christ!

Now and forever. Amen.

I have decided to offer some reflections on the mysteries of the rosary, a series which I am calling the "20 Mysteries" after the twenty mysteries found in the devotion of the rosary. I will go in the same order that these mysteries appear in the rosary, beginning with the Joyful Mysteries, then proceeding through the Luminous, Sorrowful, and Glorious Mysteries respectively. So, I will begin today with the Annunciation, the first Joyful Mystery.

The Annunciation refers the announcement to Mary by the angel Gabriel, that she was to bring forth a son whom she would name Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit. This scene is recounted for us in the Gospel of Luke, chapter 1, verses 26 to 38, as shown above. It is situated as part of a larger passage about the conception and birth of John the Baptist, wherein we see the stage set, both from a prophetic point of view, as well as a historical point of view, about the situation into which Jesus would be born.

The Sixth Month

We see the phrase "the sixth month" used twice in this passage. This gives us a historical setting for Mary's conception of Jesus. In the first case, the sixth month refers to the calendrical month in which this scene occurs. In the second case, the sixth month refers to how far along Elizabeth is with John. We can infer from her term of pregnancy and that this scene takes place in the sixth month of the year, that Elizabeth conceived John the Baptist during the first month of the year.

This has caused no shortage of confusion, particularly in trying to determine when Jesus was actually born. For, if Jesus was conceived in the sixth month, well, nine months later is the third month, and on the Jewish calendar, that looks like it's in May/June, with the Jewish calendar starting (1 Nisan) in March/April (there is drift between the Jewish calendar and our calendar because theirs is lunar and ours is solar, so in order to "realign" the months, there are Jewish "leap years" which include an additional month).

However, Zachary was from the class of Abia, the eighth of the twenty-four priest classes, and so served one week at a time, twice a year, in offering incense at the temple twice each day. Now, because of the presence of leap years, the weeks of the year that each class serves are not fixed, they change over time. But, we know that he will have fulfilled this service twice a year.

We do know, however, that the Temple was destroyed on 9 Av (Av is the fifth month) in 70 AD (the generally accepted date), on which day the first priest class, Jojarib, was serving. Luke establishes Zachary's service during Herod's rule. Since we know Herod died in 5 BC (A.U.C. 749 - Julian calendar), this year will be the latest that this event could have taken place. So, assuming that the priestly classes served correctly in this capacity from this time up to the destruction of the Temple, we can determine that Zachary served in 5 BC during the weeks of April 17-24 and October 2-9.

Now, since April 17-24 would have been during the month of Nisan, the first month, it seems like we have a winner for John's conception month, and also Jesus' birth month as being in June the following year. However, it might interest you to know that at the time, there were actually four Jewish calendars, each having their own "new year's day." These were: Nisan 1 (first month of the Sacred Calendar by which their feast days were calculated), Elul 1 (sixth month of the Sacred Calendar), Tishri 1 (seventh month of the Sacred Calendar), and Shevat 15 (eleventh month of the Sacred Calendar).

The Civil Calendar, which begins Tishri 1, was instituted after the destruction of the second Temple. This is why Tishri 1 is called Rosh Hashana, which means "head of the year." Incidentally, the Civil Calendar is the calendar that was typically used to track birth dates. Tishri occurs in September/October, and since we know Zachary would have served October 2-9 of that year, and that Luke would have used the civil calendar to track the births of John and Jesus, as was typical at the time, it seems clear that the first month, in this context, will have been Tishri, occurring in October.

This places the Annunciation by Gabriel in the month of Nisan, the start of the Sacred Calendar, but the sixth month of the Civil Calendar, and therefore Jesus' birth in the month of Kislev, which would have been December that year, near the feast of Hanukkah. Now, what major Holy Day occurs during Nisan, around the time of Jesus conception? The Pesach, or Passover, a day that has very strong associations with "the first born". The is a clear overshadowing of Jesus' mission.


The angel Gabriel addresses Mary as Kekaritomene, which is a Greek word. Typically, you will see this translated in one of two ways: 1) full of grace, and 2) highly favored daughter, and how your Bible translates this word typically depends on whether you're Catholic/Orthodox, or Protestant, and this is due to differences in theological opinion.

In the Catholic prayer, "Hail Mary," the first part of the prayer quotes this passage. However, in the prayer, there is an addition to the quote. Namely, Mary's name, Mary. Gabriel does not address Mary as Mary. He simply addresses her as Kekaritomene, which does not mean Mary. In fact, he didn't refer to her as Mary until after perceiving that she was troubled by the way he greeted her, in this way.

This is interesting, because throughout the Old Testament, what we find is that whenever God changes someone's name, something momentous is taking place. Think of Abram being named Abraham, or Jacob being named Israel, as examples. So, the fact that Gabriel addresses Mary with a new name should immediately alert us to the fact that something important in salvation history is taking place here, and that Mary, herself, is an important figure in that history.

So, what does this name mean, Kekaritomene? The root of this word is Karito, which is a verb that means, variably, "to receive grace, make gracious, charming, beautiful, nice, examine with grace, honor with blessings, encourage, gratify." The prefix "ke" places this word in the perfect tense, and the suffix "mene" indicates the form of passive participle.

Being a passive participle, Kekaritomene indicates that Mary is not the source of the "grace received" that she did not make herself gracious, or that she in any way is responsible for the blessings of grace giving to her by God. She is the passive participant in the graces received.

Being a perfect passive participle, indicates a completeness to the verb. This is why St. Jerome translated this word as "Full of Grace," to indicate a fullness, a completeness, to the received graces. According to scholars, the perfect, is interpreted differently according to the kind of Greek being used. In Classical Greek, the perfect had exact and momentary value. In other words, in Classical Greek, Kekaritomene would be saying something about Mary at that exact time without reference to her state of grace before or after that moment. However, in Koine and New Testament Greek, the perfect had continuative, permanent and durative value.

This means that in the Greek that this was written in, the word Kekaritomene indicated that Mary's grace, that grace given to her by God, was perfect, complete, full, and that it was not grace received by her work effort or work, but perfectly initiated by God, and that it is a is continuous from a past position, and that it is a permanent and durable state. The implication of this title, this name that Gabriel addresses her by is indicative of the Doctrine held by the Church of Mary's Immaculate Conception (conceived in a state preserved from Original Sin, and remained sinless throughout her earthly life).

Perpetual Virgin

In this passage, Mary is called a virgin twice. In the first case, we are given her situation: espoused to a man named Joseph, and in the second case we are given her name: Mary. Some translations use the terms "betrothed" or "engaged" rather than espoused, in order to give clarification that May and Joseph were not yet married at this time.

You may be wondering why, if they weren't married, did Joseph decide to "divorce her quietly" after finding out she was pregnant? The reason is that the Jewish marriage custom of the time was that when two people became "engaged" (I prefer espoused, but I'm using engaged for explanative purposes), they signed a contract of marriage, but it wasn't ratified immediately. The groom would "go away" for one year in order to get his affairs in order, to be establish a home in which they would live, with a stable income and source of wellbeing. After that one-year period, the man would return to retrieve his bride, and the marriage would be ratified, and then consummated.

During the one-year period prior to ratification, the couple's union was held as strongly as though they were married, but intercourse was forbidden since the marriage hadn't been finalized. So, for example, if infidelity during that period was discovered, the couple would have to go through the divorce process just the same as if their marriage were already ratified and consummated.

So, it might seem odd to state clearly that Mary was a virgin and at the same time indicate that she wasn't yet married. Maybe in our day, the loss of virginity prior to marriage might not be a significant thing, but in their day, not being married, it would have been taken for granted that you were still a virgin.

It might seem odder still, for a woman who is betrothed to be married to ask how she will become pregnant, since she "know[s] not man" (note, "know" in Biblical terms can be understood as a colloquial term to refer to marital intercourse). After all, she's going to be married, so pregnancy is a normal, natural and expected outcome.

Some scholars have suggested that Mary had taken a vow of perpetual virginity, and that this can explain the oddities mentioned above. In this context, Mary's betrothal to Joseph would not be one of normal matrimony, but rather Joseph would have fulfilled more of a protective role for Mary, that he would guard her and care for her, and provide estate for her after his passing. This is part of the reason Joseph has traditionally been understood to be older, because there wouldn't have been any expectation of raising a family together.

This lends further support to the idea that Mary and Joseph did not have any children together. Not because Mary had become espoused to the Holy Spirit (after all, are we, as members of the Church, not also espoused to the Christ?), but because Mary had sworn a vow of perpetual virginity. So, we see the sense of Jesus passing on the care of Mary to John at His death, because she had no other children to take care of her.

Thou Shalt Call His Name Jesus

So, what does the angel Gabriel tell Mary about this child she is to conceive? Gabriel makes seven pronouncements about her child: 1) Thou shalt call his name Jesus, 2) He shall be great, 3) [He] shall be called the Son of the most High, 4) the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father, 5) [H]e shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever, 6) [O]f his kingdom there shall be no end, and 7) [T]he Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

Thou shalt call his name Jesus: Jesus is the anglicized version of the Latin Jesu, which itself is a transliteration of the Greek Iesous. Iesous is the Greek translation of the Hebrew name Yeshua, which means "He will save," and this may be a shortened version of Yehoshua, which means "the Lord saves." Therefore, Gabriel's naming of Jesus here is a declaration of His mission.

He shall be great: This is perhaps to class Jesus among all the great figures of the Old Testament. He is the new Adam, who will redeem the original Adam's sin. He is the new Noah who passes through death into new life, a new creation. He is the new Moses, who frees His people from slavery, giving then a new law. You understand my point.

He shall be called the Son of the most High: The "most High" is a reference name of God which is seen dozens of times throughout the Old Testament. The meaning here is explicit that Jesus will be called the Son of God. This links back to the previous declaration of Jesus as being "great." The great saints of the Old Testament are referred to as sons of God.

The Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father: Jesus is heir to the throne of David by right of adoption through Joseph, who is of the line of David. Mary is also in the line of David, but lineage is normally established through paternity, not maternity. So, for example, if Joseph were not of the line of David, Mary's lineage would not be enough to establish a right to David's throne. Adoption supersedes maternal lineage. Jesus is to be a king.

He shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever: Though David united the Tribes of Israel, his rule began only with Judah. This declaration establishes Jesus' rule as belonging also to all of the Tribes of Israel (Jacob), and that this rule over all the tribes will be an everlasting one.

Of his kingdom there shall be no end: Mary's son will be greater even than King David, whose kingdom did come to an end.

The Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God: Here Gabriel reaffirms that Jesus will be called the Son of God (the most High). Except, whereas in the first instance this may have been understood after the manner of the other saints of the Old Testament, Gabriel declares this in relation to Jesus' paternity. He says this immediately after describing how Jesus will be conceived, that the Holy Spirit will come to her, and the power of the most High will overshadow her, and she will conceive. And he says the "Holy" which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. Here, he is very clearly establishing the Divine Origin of Jesus, that He is Holy, that He is the Son of God, not in an allegorical sense, but in a real sense.

What an awesome thing to be told: you will bear a son who's mission it is to save, that He will be among the great heroes of your religion, that He will be a saint, a son of God, that He will be a King over all your people, that He will be greater than your greatest king, that He will rule forever... that He will be God, Himself! Your son! How awesome, and how terrifying a responsibility.

Be It Done To Me

And finally, we have the greatest response to God's invitation of His grace that has ever been given: Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word. She's just been told that she will become pregnant, but not by her husband, and in apparent violation of her vow of virginity. The scandal that will cause, but personally and publicly, would have been frightening. She's just been told that she going to give birth to the greatest man to ever live, and to God, Himself. How unworthy might she have felt in the face of such great pronouncements? Yet, she doesn't appear to hesitate: let it be done to me.

Thanks for reading!

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