In today’s first reading, Isaiah utters the famous prophecy that the virgin shall conceive and bear a son and name him “God-with-us.”Today’s Gospel, in turn, proclaims the fulfillment of this prophecy in the story of the Annunciation. How, then, can we not hear in the psalm response – “Let the Lord enter, he is the king of glory” – the continuation of Gabriel’s invitation to Mary?
But what was that invitation, more specifically?
The Annunciation is a wedding proposal. And not just a wedding proposal; it’s the wedding proposal of all wedding proposals. It’s the Creator asking all of creation – all of creation being summed up in this one Woman – do you want to be one with me? Do you want me to fill you with my Infinite love and life? If so, then “let the Lord enter…”
As Saint John Paul II wrote, “in the pages of the Annunciation … the New Covenant is presented to us as the Nuptial Covenant of God with man, the divinity with humanity.” Here “God’s nuptial love, announced by the prophets, is concentrated on [Mary] perfectly and definitively. She is also the virgin-bride to whom it is granted conceiving and bearing the Son of God: the particular fruit of the nuptial love of God toward humanity, represented and almost comprehended in Mary.”
As St. Louis de Montfort put it, God sent his angel to Mary “in order to win her heart.” And on account of the “hidden delights” of his divine proposal, “she gave her consent.” Continuing with de Montfort’s imagery, at that moment, God poured an invisible “chalice of ambrosia” into the womb of his virgin bride and, opening to this “divine nectar,” she conceived God’s own Son in a miraculous, virginal way.
Throughout the Christmas season, in the Church’s prayers, hymns and readings, we will hear repeated praises of Mary’s virginity. And when her virginity is praised, those in the pew often interpret it as an implicit (if not explicit) devaluation or rejection of sexuality. Yet nothing could be further from the true mind of the Church. Christian virginity is not a negation of sexuality, but a proclamation of the ultimate purpose and meaning of it – to point us to union with God (see Eph 5:31-32).
As French philosopher and member of the Pontifical Council for the Laity Fabrice Hadjadj expressed it, “Mary’s virginity is not a rejection of sexuality as is frequently thought, but, on the contrary, its most perfect fulfillment. Mary is not asexual, but a woman made of blood and bone.” Sexuality properly understood, Hadjadj continues, “is above all an opening onto transcendence. It is, which is especially important here, a fertile opening. It enters into a drama and this drama is connected with being fruitful. In Mary this opening is radical. She reveals that the essence of sexuality is not a passing pleasure, but being open to … God himself.” Hence, Hadjadj concludes that “in the case of Mary we are dealing with the revelation of the very essence of sexuality” – that essence being the opening of oneself to the divine.
Mary’s virginal womb is a symbol of the “empty space” in every human heart waiting and longing (aching, yearning, crying out!) to be filled, to be impregnated with the Infinite… It is precisely the hope that every single one of us will be “filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:19) that we celebrate at Christmas. All we need do, in union with Mary, is say, “May it be done to me according to your word.” Amen.
Christopher West is the world’s most recognized teacher of St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. He is founder and president of The Cor Project and cofounder of the Theology of the Body Institute. Christopher offers free ongoing formation in the Theology of the Body at www.corproject.com and advanced formation with exclusive benefits for just $10/month through the Cor Membership program at www.cormembership.com. Follow him on Facebook at cwestofficial, on Twitter at @cwestTOB and on Youtube at The Cor Project channel.