Last Updated: Tuesday - 01/04/2011
March 26, 2001
Mary and the Holy Spirit
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON — This week, we celebrate the Annunciation, that great commemoration of Mary's "yes" to God, of her humble statement, "Let it be to me according to your word."
But if the Annunciation is a feast of Mary, it is also a feast of the Holy Spirit. For it is here that the angel proclaims that "the Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you" (Luke 1:38, 35).
We have come to know Mary as the spouse of the Holy Spirit because of the deep and abiding intimacy between them that was brought into the open at the Annunciation. But that relationship goes back to the moment when Mary was conceived. For Mary alone (besides Jesus) was conceived without sin - her redemption came prior to Jesus' death on the cross so that she might be a fitting vessel to give her flesh to the Son of God.
This "immaculate conception" was not something negative. It was not a matter so much that Mary was lacking in sin as that she shared in the fullness of life of God from the moment of her conception. Her free will was not destroyed; rather, she had an abiding and intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit.
So it is appropriate that Mary be called spouse of the Holy Spirit. Unlike the relationship of Old Testament figures with the Spirit, Mary's relationship with the Third Person of the Trinity is not a momentary occurrence. It abides. In that intimate, abiding relationship, Mary is transformed into that which we will all be when we are united with the Father.
To understand Mary's "yes" at the Annunciation, it is important to know that the Holy Spirit is not a new acquaintance of hers. We might be tempted to think of Mary's acceptance of God's call to become the mother of Jesus as a human act alone.
That acceptance is Mary's supreme act of faith, but it is also the result of God's grace acting in her. Mary gives of herself by her own act of free will, but that act embodies the presence of the Holy Spirit within her. This is the paradox of grace and free will, faith and works that exists in all of our truly good acts.
St. Maximilian Kolbe, the Franciscan who was martyred at Auschwitz, sums this up succinctly: Mary "is raised to such a height of perfection above all other creatures that she accomplishes in everything the will of the Holy Spirit who dwelt in her from the first instant of her conception." Just as the Holy Spirit is the eternal love between Father and Son, so Mary is receptive to the power of God. At the Annunciation, Mary opens herself to the love of the Holy Spirit and becomes the human presence of the Holy Spirit in the world.
So Mary is a special case. She receives redemption pre-emptively. But, more basically, she is one of us. We should venerate Mary just as we honour those who in the secular world perform laudable deeds. More importantly, we should imitate Mary. Of course, we cannot imitate Mary's immaculate conception, her being a virgin mother or her bodily assumption into heaven after death.
What we should imitate is her openness to the power of the Holy Spirit that was given to her. For the Spirit has also been given to us through Baptism and Confirmation.
The theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar says, "The mother's precedence before us - essential for the establishing of the road between God and us - does not imply her isolation, but rather the opening up of the possibility to us too becoming assenters, the possibility of the Word reaching us, too, and of us reaching God in the Word."
Mary's relationship with the Holy Spirit grew. Although she was without sin from her conception, her relationship with the Spirit deepened through her free acceptance of God's Word. Despite her intimacy with the Spirit, she seems to be strangely uncomprehending of the nature of her Son as he grows to maturity.
Mary's closeness to the Spirit will grow still more as she stands under the cross and is present in the Upper Room at Pentecost. God is an infinite God, always reaching out to us, yet beyond our comprehension. Even the most perfect human can always draw closer to him.
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