Perhaps it stands to reason that since many persons today claim that Jesus Christ did not grasp who He was during most of His earthly sojourn that the corresponding view that His Blessed Mother Mary, too, was not privy to the knowledge of His Sacred Divinity has also been adopted in not a few quarters.
In his valuable Mary In Our Life, (1) the late Father William George Most, Ph.D., tackled this critical matter in Appendix II entitled “Mary’s Knowledge of the Divinity of Christ at the Time of the Annunciation.” (2) His reflections, still timely and helpful, are used in this article which, given the recently-ended Christmas Season, alters the question only slightly by considering Our Lady’s Knowledge of the Messiah’s Divinity immediately after His Birth in Bethlehem.
Father Most defended what he termed the “traditional view” that Our Blessed Mother did know from the moment of the Annunciation that her Son was God and employed two primary arguments on behalf of this thesis.
First, the Maiden of Nazareth was a faithful Jewess who was intimately familiar with the Old Testament prophecies regarding the Messiah. From the days of her tender youth as a girl in Jerusalem’s Temple, Our Blessed Lady was painstakingly educated in the cherished Jewish customs and beliefs. Therefore, she was quite aware of the various Scriptural references to the long-awaited Coming of the Messiah. The Hebrew words, with their shades of meaning, would have been understood by someone who spent so much time in prayer and meditation, not to mention by one who pined for the arrival of the One sent by the Lord. In considering the import of the divinely-inspired passages of Sacred Scripture that Mary was conscious of, Father Most averred: “Now if the Holy Spirit meant divinity by these words, then, although many Jews did not understand, surely Mary, the Spouse of the Holy Spirit, full of grace and the light of grace, would be unlikely to miss the meaning.”
Second, Mary heard a very significant message from the Archangel Gabriel. Hearing such phrases, as observed in Saint Luke’s account of the Annunciation (1:26-38), as “the Son of the Most High,” “He shall reign in the house of David forever” and “the Son of God,” Mary would have comprehended that her Son would be no ordinary boy but rather an outstanding Child Who would reign forever. Gabriel’s audacious language would not have been lost on Mary. And, Father Most continued, given that many Fathers of the Church were convinced that the adoration offered by the Magi was a “recognition” of the Sacred Divinity of Jesus, “how could we suppose that the Magi would know of the divinity of Christ so soon, if Mary herself could not recognize the clear indications in the Old Testament prophecies and in the words of Gabriel? The Magi had not had these advantages.”
Two arguments have often been raised against the belief that Mary knew her Son’s Divinity.
The first is that Mary did not understand the haunting explanation of His absence uttered by the twelve year-old Jesus when she and Joseph found Him in the Temple after three days. Yet, it is unnecessary to think that Our Lady would know every detail of God’s plan.
The second is that Mary would have had to grasp the meaning of the Most Blessed Trinity, a truth which was not explicitly revealed in the Old Testament, in order to come to a knowledge of the Sacred Divinity of her Divine Son. Father Most was quick to counter this assertion. “But the Three Persons are clearly mentioned in the words of the Archangel: Christ is said to be the ‘Son of the Most High’—an indication of the first two Persons. And He is to be conceived when ‘the Holy Spirit shall come upon thee’—the Third Person.”
In summarizing his persuasive contention, Father Most concluded thus:
Finally, it would be surprising indeed if Mary did not know of her Son’s divinity at this time. She would have had to miss or misunderstand so many texts that are clear enough in themselves. After all, it does not seem that any very extraordinary grace would be needed to show her their clear meaning—and how could we suppose that such a grace would be withheld from her who was full of grace?
We add here, pertinent to this essay, this thought: Consider the span of nine months from the moment of the Annunciation until the Baby Jesus appeared at His miraculous Birth, in which Our Lady—by a singular privilege—retained her Virginity. Imagine how Mary, endowed with indescribable divine favor, must have grown in her appreciation and comprehension of that which God was doing. To hold that Mary—who spoke with the Archangel, conceived Jesus in her chaste womb, heard the stirring praise of God and accolades addressed to herself by Elizabeth and then brought Jesus from her body without relinquishing her Virginity—did not know her Son’s Sacred Divinity is more incredible than to posit that Mary, given the foregoing, really did know.
The first Christmas stands out for many reasons, one of which is the startling information known by a fully human person about her Baby resting in a rustic manger.
Msgr. Charles M. Mangan, is an official of the Vatican Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
(1) P. J. Kenedy and Sons, New York, 1954.
(2) Ibid., pp. 257-258.