1st Joyful Mystery: The Annunciation

This is from my old Patristic Rosary Project

Because October is dedicated in a special way to the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, during the month I, as a dedicated patristiblogger, will work my way through the Mysteries of the Rosary offering some comments from the Fathers of the Church.  Let’s jump right in!

1st Joyful Mystery: The Annuniciation

Commenting on Luke 1:26-38, the announcement of Jesus’ birth, St. Ambrose of Milan (+397) makes a connection between Mary and the Church.  :

And, therefore, the Evangelist, who had undertaken to prove the incorrupt mystery of the incarnation, thought it fruitless to pursue evidence of Mary’s virginity, lest he be seen as a defender of the Virgin rather than an advocate of the mystery.  Surely, when he taught that Joseph was righteous, he adequately declared that he could not violate the temple of the Holy Spirit, the mother of the Lord, the womb of the mystery.  We have learned the lineage of the Truth.  We have learned its counsel.  Let us learn its mystery.  Fittingly is she espoused, but virgin, because she prefigures the Church which is undefiled (cf. Eph 5:27) yet wed.  A virgin conceived us of the Spirit, a Virgin brings us forth without travail.  And thus perhaps Mary, wed to one, was filled by Another, because also the separate Churches are indeed filled by the Spirit and by grace and yet are joined to the appearance of a temporal Priest.  [Exposition of the Gospel of Luke 2.6-7]

The Marian thought of Ambrose has an ecclesiological dimension.  The Second Vatican Council cited this important passage in Lumen gentium, the dogmatic constitution on the Church:

63. By reason of the gift and role of divine maternity, by which she is united with her Son, the Redeemer, and with His singular graces and functions, the Blessed Virgin is also intimately united with the Church. As St. Ambrose taught, the Mother of God is a type of the Church in the order of faith, charity and perfect union with Christ.  For in the mystery of the Church, which is itself rightly called mother and virgin, the Blessed Virgin stands out in eminent and singular fashion as exemplar both of virgin and mother.  By her belief and obedience, not knowing man but overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, as the new Eve she brought forth on earth the very Son of the Father, showing an undefiled faith, not in the word of the ancient serpent, but in that of God’s messenger. The Son whom she brought forth is He whom God placed as the first-born among many brethren, namely the faithful, in whose birth and education she cooperates with a maternal love.

Because of Mary’s “Fiat mihi“, we can be members of the Church with Mary as our Mother.  Our baptism integrates us into this wondrous bond.  St. Leo the Great (+461) in one of his glorious sermons says:

Each one is a partaker of this spiritual origin in regeneration.  To every one, when he is reborn, the water of baptism is like the Virgin’s womb, for the same Holy Spirit fills the font, who filled the Virgin, that the sin, which that sacred conception overthrew, may be taken away by this mystical washing.  [s. 24.3]

Theopanes BrandedThis is not merely a Western insight.  While it is a little late for our Patristic interests, here is a snip from fascinating Kontakion of the Annunciation by the 9th century Theophanes Graphtos, the Branded:

The Theotokos said: Thou bringest me good tidings of divine joy: that Immaterial Light, in His abundant compassion, will be united to a material body.and now thou criest out to me: all-pure one, blessed is the fruit of thy womb!
The Archangel said: Rejoice, lady; rejoice, most pure virgin! Rejoice, God-containing vessel! Rejoice, candlestick of the light, the restoration of Adam, and the deliverance of Eve! Rejoice, holy mountain, shining sanctuary! Rejoice, bridal chamber of immortality!

The Theotokos said: The descent of the Holy Spirit has purified my soul; it has sanctified my body: it has made me a temple containing God, a divinely adorned tabernacle, a living sanctuary, and the pure Mother of Life.

The Archangel said: I see thee as a lamp with many lights; a bridal chamber made by God! Spotless maiden, as an ark of gold, receive now the Giver of the Law, who through thee has been pleased to deliver mankind’s corrupted nature!

Here the Blessed Virgin represents the Temple, the Tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant, images of the Church.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Sliwka says:

    Rev. Fr.

    I see lots of icons and general art-pieces in which the Blessed Virgin is spinning wool, or has a drop spindle near her. Is there patristic writing at the basis of this symbol, and if so what do they say about it?

    Is it simply a symbol for the now Incarnate Lamb of God?

  2. Supertradmum says:

    Father Z., write a book. I have a rosary mediation as well buried in my blog based on the Litany of Loreto, which I wrote in 1983 or so.

    As to Mary spinning, three symbolisms I know of, from history, literature, and meditation…the first is that she is a spinster, which originally did not mean an old unmarried woman, but any unmarried woman and yet, one of marriagable age. So that symbolism is connected to Mary’s ever-virginity. This type of woman would be of a certain class, as well, not a peasant, but a skilled worker. Spinning is a symbol of good households, and, therefore, stability. Spinning women were a good symbol, as spinsters, not bad-a pure person with skill from a good family.

    The second would be that she is the mother of Christ, who is of the Tribe of Judah, a descendant of David, on the “distaff” side. Jewish custom is still to take the ancestry from the mother, as one always knows who the mother is, and in this case, Mary as the Mother of God, is the primary source of His identity, not Joseph. The distaff, which Mary would have had, not a spinning wheel, which came much later, indicates this Woman’s role of power in the household of God–the Theotokos, the most powerful, yet humble woman in the world.

    The last is that Mary is the New Fate, the Woman in charge of our destiny, like the Fates in Greek mythology and other mythologies, who wove history and personal destinies. She weaves mystically the new life of all the saints by her humility, example and intercession. Mary has woven the destiny of all mankind by saying “yes” to God, thus changing history forever.

    I use to teach art appreciation and history of art, btw, as well as intro to art when I taught Humanities a long time ago.

  3. Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda says:

    “The descent of the Holy Spirit has purified my soul; it has sanctified my body: it has made me a temple containing God, a divinely adorned tabernacle, a living sanctuary, and the pure Mother of Life.”

    Wasn’t it the preeminent and preternatural grace draw mysteriously from the merits of Our Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross that allowed the Blessed Virgin to be conceived without sin?

    This line of text from the Kontakion of the Annunciation seems to insinuate that it was the descent of the Holy Spirit at the Annunciation that led to a purification of Mary’s soul (from what impurity?) and a sanctification of Mary’s body (from what from what profane thing needing sancfitication?) at that time in history.

    Perhaps I am over-reading this, but it seems a bit of Eastern confusion about the Immaculate Conception bleeding through….

  4. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    Book idea. Book idea. Book idea.

  5. The Cobbler says:

    Atra Dicenda, Rubra Agenda,

    I’m not seeing any implications in the prayer about the nearness or farness of the time in question, but maybe that’s just me an my poor sense of timing.

  6. cwillia1 says:


    Certainly the doctrine of the immaculate conception was only defined a thousand years later. Aquinas does not accept it. The short answer to your concern is that this is poetry.

    The long answer is that the archangel calls her the all-pure one before the Theotokos says the descent of the Holy Spirit purifies her. And the descent of the Holy Spirit is the “mechanism” by which the incarnation is accomplished. The teaching is that Mary is “full of grace” from her conception in anticipation of the saving work of Christ. And Mary is no theologian in the Western sense of the word. We can see this as an instinctive acknowledgement on her part that her purity and the incarnation are inextricably .linked.

    Yes, it is possible to over-think this and I am probably doing just that.

  7. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Hurrah and thanks for this reposting and the project! (And dittos for considering a book!)

  8. Venerator Sti Lot says:


    Thank you for your comment!

    I seem to remember that after her presentation in the Temple, she was supposed to be involved in making or repairing cloth (even the Veil?): if so, this might be part of the background, too.

  9. Suburbanbanshee says:

    There is a lot of Mary symbolism showing her as a weaver or a loom (Christ’s human body is the fabric), and the same thing for Christ or the Holy Spirit (Creation being the fabric). Spinning is related.

    Also Proverbs 31, as Mary and the Church are the Valiant Woman, who spins.

    Also Eve is commonly shown spinning, postEden, so it is the New Eve who does the spinning correctly and removes the knots and tangles.

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