The encounter also calls to mind the cloud of glory which covered the mountain when God gave Moses the Law on Sinai (Exodus 24). Here the cloud overshadows the one through whom the New Law of Love would be enfleshed, the Incarnate Word, would be conceived and born for the sake of the world. The cloud also covered the Tent of Meeting (Exodus 40), and no one was able to enter because the glory of God filled the tabernacle. Mary is the living tabernacle, the Ark of the New Covenant, the dwelling place of God Incarnate, Jesus Christ, and the new temple.
Throughout God’s relationship with Israel He promises to espouse His people to Himself (see Hosea 2:19). This language of spousal love, of nuptiality, is also present in this overshadowing by the Holy Spirit. She becomes the Spouse of the Spirit and her “Fiat” becomes the model for all who bear the name “Christian.” In fact the language of nuptiality continues throughout the New Testament wherein the Church is the Bride of Christ and the final book of the Bible, Revelation, depicts the wedding feast of the Lamb (see Rev. 19:7-9).
Mary was there at the Incarnation, Birth, Crucifixion, and Resurrection of God Incarnate. She was there throughout the often called “hidden years” in Nazareth. In the life of the Redeemer, every one of His words and acts were redemptive, revealing the very life of God, the mystery of Heaven touching Earth, and the deeper purpose of our own lives. She was there in those moments whose impact is timeless. They are still as filled with the invitation of grace today as they were when they first occurred.
She was there on the great day of Pentecost, the birthday of the Church. She was there as the first evangelizer and disciple who gave the first Christian testimony to her cousin, Elizabeth, and won the first convert “in utero” in the person of John the Baptist. This event, traditionally called “The Visitation,” is recorded in the Gospel of St. Luke (Luke 1:39-45).
Mary is therefore also the mother of the domestic church, the Christian family. She was — and is — a real mother to us all. Understanding this is truly important if we hope to respond to the universal call to holiness. It is in our ordinary lives that we encounter the Lord and it is there where we grow into His Image. That is what holiness is all about. We never really leave the Church. We leave the building where the Liturgy is offered, but we live in the heart of the Church for the sake of the world.
“This woman of faith, Mary of Nazareth, the Mother of God, has been given to us a model of our pilgrimage of faith. From Mary we learn to surrender to God’s will in all things. From Mary we learn to trust even when all hope seems gone. From Mary we learn to love Christ, her Son, and the Son of God. For Mary is not only the Mother of God, she is the Mother of the Church as well.”
Pope St. John Paul’s great devotion to Mary was characteristic of holy men and women throughout the history of the Church. We are all “saints” in the sense of having been set aside for the Lord to live holy lives. That is what holy means, to be set aside for God. We are all called into communion with Him, and through Him, with one another for the sake of the world (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 946-952). This is what is meant by the communion of saints. Death does not separate us (Romans 8:38, 39).
However, from the earliest centuries of the Church, those Christians who lived lives of intimate communion with the Lord and demonstrated heroic virtue; those who reflected the radiance of Christ were honored, both during life and after they entered eternal communion with the Lord. They were given a place of honor within the “communion of saints.” This is the fertile field from which the practice of canonizing some of the members of the Body of Christ began.
Among all of them, the “God-bearer,” the Mother of the Lord, Mary was always given the place of honor at the side of the King of Kings, her Son and Savior Jesus Christ. The Catechism explains: “‘But while in the most Blessed Virgin, the Church has already reached that perfection whereby, she exists without spot or wrinkle, the faithful still strive to conquer sin and increase in holiness. And so, they turn their eyes to Mary’: in her, the Church is already the ‘all-holy’” (CCC, n. 829).
The great saints of the Church — canonized or not — had a special devotion to Mary, the Queen of the Saints. St. Bernard of Clairvaux reminds us that in dangers, doubts, and difficulties, we can think of Mary and call upon Mary.
“Let not her name depart from your lips, never suffer it to leave your heart. And that you may obtain the assistance of her prayer; neglect not to walk in her footsteps. With her for guide, you shall never go astray; while invoking her, you shall never lose heart; so long as she is in your mind, you are safe from deception; while she holds your hand, you cannot fall; under her protection you have nothing to fear; if she walks before you, you shall not grow weary; if she shows you favor, you shall reach the goal.”
Through Mary, the Father’s blessing has shone forth on mankind.
Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you. What joy could surpass this, O Virgin Mother? What grace can excel that which God has granted to you alone? What could be imagined more dazzling or more delightful?
Before the miracle we witness in you, all else pales; all else is inferior when compared with the grace you have been given. All else, even what is most desirable, must take second place and enjoy a lesser importance.
The Lord is with you. Who would dare challenge you? You are God’s mother; who would not immediately defer to you and be glad to accord you a greater primacy and honor?
For this reason, when I look upon the privilege you have above all creatures, I extol you with the highest praise: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you. On your account joy has not only graced men, but is also granted to the powers of Heaven.
Truly, you are blessed among women. For you have changed Eve’s curse into a blessing; and Adam, who hitherto lay under a curse, has been blessed because of you.
Truly, you are blessed among women. Through you the Father’s blessing has shone forth on mankind, setting them free of their ancient curse.
Truly, you are blessed among women, because through you your forebears have found salvation. For you were to give birth to the Savior who was to win them salvation.
Truly, you are blessed among women, for without seed you have borne, as your fruit, Him who bestows blessings on the whole world and redeems it from that curse that made it sprout thorns.
Truly, you are blessed among women, because, though a woman by nature, you will become, in reality, God’s mother. If He whom you are to bear is truly God made flesh, then rightly do we call you God’s mother. For you have truly given birth to God.