CNS PHOTO | CROSIER
The visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary to her cousin Elizabeth is depicted in a wall painting
The intimate communion between the Holy Spirit and Mary continued throughout her life. Her Immaculate Conception was not merely an episode at the start of her life. Rather, the Spirit abided.
This is most clear in Luke's Gospel, which has been called the Gospel of the Holy Spirit. It is also the Gospel in which Mary takes centre stage in the first two chapters.
At the Annunciation, Mary's "fiat" - "let it be done to me according to your word" - represents her total commitment in obedience to the Father's will. She opens herself to the love of the Holy Spirit and becomes the human presence of the Spirit in the world.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says of Mary at the Annunciation: "Espousing the divine will wholeheartedly, without a single sin to restrain her, she gave herself entirely to the person and to the work of her Son" (n. 494).
After having been "overshadowed" by the power of the Holy Spirit and conceived her son Jesus, Mary sets out to be of service to her cousin Elizabeth who will give birth to John the Baptist in her old age. Her openness to serve her kinswoman in need at this point is striking.
As the child leaps in Elizabeth's womb, Elizabeth too is filled with the Holy Spirit and proclaims that Mary is "the mother of my Lord." Mary responds with her prayer, the Magnificat, the only prayer of hers recorded in Scripture (Luke 1.46-55). It is a prayer of a woman full of the Holy Spirit, a prayer Pope John Paul II said displays "the religious and poetical exultation of her whole being towards God" (Mother of the Redeemer, 36).
Thus, if we want to understand the Holy Spirit, we should examine the Magnificat. In it, we can see how a life is transformed by the Spirit's power.
"My soul magnifies the Lord and my Spirit rejoices in God my Saviour."
Another translation says, "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord." Either way, Mary radiates not ego, but the presence of the Most High. Her very being makes God greater in the world and human desires and strivings less evident.
The result is not a downcast spirit, but rejoicing. Wherever the Spirit is present, joy is one of the first fruits.
"Surely from now on, all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me and holy is his name."
Again, Mary will be remembered not because of her own exploits. The presence of the Holy Spirit in her soul and her giving birth to the Messiah means that forever people will see and praise the holiness of God.
"He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty."
The Holy Spirit brings about a great reversal of human expectations. Where we give power, God takes it away.
Real lasting power lies with the lowly, those who fear the Lord and the hungry. Those in whom the Spirit abides have a hunger for the Lord and are held low in the eyes of the world. In those things that really matter, they will be filled and made rich.
The Magnificat is another lasting fruit of the communion between Mary and the Holy Spirit. Jesus himself testifies to the power of the communion when during a talk in his public ministry, a woman cries out, "Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts that nursed you!" Instead of responding, "Yes, I have a marvellous mother," Jesus says, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it!" (Luke 11.27-28).
Even greater than being the mother of the Redeemer, he is saying, is that Mary was fully submissive to God's will. That is the work of the Holy Spirit within her.
Mary is the mother of the Church. That is a grand title, but it speaks of her humble union with the Holy Spirit. She has heard the word of God and done it. Pope John Paul said, "The Church is close to her and seeks to be like her" (MR, 44).
The pope then went on to conclude, "The Church's mystery also consists in generating people to a new and immortal life; this is her motherhood in the Holy Spirit."
To become disciples of Christ and followers of the Holy Spirit, we must turn to Mary and imitate her receptive openness to the will of God. Like her, we can receive the Holy Spirit that God desired to give us. Through Mary and the Holy Spirit we are brought more deeply into the life of the Church and the life of the Spirit.