The Second Vatican Council spoke of Mary as the “Model of Virtues” and “Our Mother in the Order of Grace.” (Lumen Gentium, 65, 51) Mary is both our model and our Mother. As “full of grace” she provides a model for all Christians to follow. (Lk. 1:28) She is the living example of what it means to be full alive in grace. She is our “Mother in the Order of Grace” because in a “singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope, and burning charity in the work of the Savior in giving back supernatural life to souls.” (LG, 61) As our Mother, she continues to intercede for us with burning charity “to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation.” (LG, 62) As our Mother, she also teaches us by her example, and, in a special way, she teaches us to place our trust in God and surrender to his holy will.
When the angel, Gabriel, announces to Mary that she will conceive a son in her womb who will be “the Son of the Most High,” she humbly asks: “How can this be since I do not know man?” (Lk 1:32, 1:34) Church fathers such as St. Gregory of Nyssa and St. Augustine believed Mary’s question indicates a prior vow to remain a virgin. It seems that Mary was hoping that her vow of virginity would be honored and affirmed by Joseph in accordance with Numbers 30:6-8 and 13-16, which allowed a married woman to remain a virgin if her husband gave his consent. (Brant Pitre, Jesus and the Jewish Roots of Mary, 2018, 115)
Gabriel reveals to Mary that “the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you … for nothing will be impossible for God.” (Lk 1:35-37) Mary responds with complete trust and surrender: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your word.” This response is Mary’s “fiat” — her great “yes” to God’s wish for her to be the Mother of the Redeemer. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that Mary gave her consent “in the place of all human nature.” (Summa theologiae III q. 30 a. 1) As the New Eve, Mary unties the knot of Eve’s disobedience. As St. Irenaeus says, she “being obedient, became the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race.” (Adversus Haereses III, 22, 4)
Mary’s complete trust and surrender to God’s will is a sign of her humility. In her prayer, the Magnificat, she recognizes that “the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” (Lk 1:49) In Canto 33 of his Paradiso, Dante extols Mary as “humble and more exalted than any creature.” St. Louis de Montfort teaches that “Mary, being a mere creature fashioned by the hands of God is, compared to his infinite majesty, less than an atom, or rather is simply nothing since He alone can say: ‘I am who am.’” (True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, 14)
God had no absolute need of Mary just as he had no absolute need to create the universe. St. Louis de Montfort, however, recognizes that God, according to his plan of salvation, “has decided to begin and accomplish his greatest works through the Blessed Virgin ever since he created her.” God chose to redeem the human race by becoming incarnate of the Virgin Mary. Mary’s trust and submission to God, therefore, are parts of God’s plan for salvation. Mary’s trust is an expression of her complete faith in God. St. John Paul II, in his 1987 encyclical, Redemptoris Mater, highlights Mary’s obedience of faith:
Indeed, at the Annunciation Mary entrusted herself to God completely, with the “full submission of intellect and will,” manifesting “the obedience of faith” to him who spoke to her through his messenger. She responded, therefore, with all her human and feminine “I,” and this response of faith included both perfect cooperation with “the grace of God that precedes and assists” and perfect openness to the action of the Holy Spirit, who “constantly brings faith to completion by his gifts.” … Mary uttered this fiat in faith. In faith she entrusted herself to God without reserve and “devoted herself totally as the handmaid of the Lord to the person and work of her Son.” (13)
Mary’s trust and surrender to God involve her cooperation with grace — a grace that preserved her from all stain of sin from the first instance of her conception. The Blessed Virgin Mary was in fact “predestined from eternity by that decree of divine providence which determined the Incarnation of the Word to be the Mother of God.” (LG, 61) Mary’s predestination and Immaculate Conception, however, take nothing from her freedom. Her trust and submission to the will of God are not passive but active, for the Church sees her as “freely cooperating in the work of human salvation through faith and obedience.” (LG, 56)
During the Visitation, Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, says to Mary: “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” (Lk 1:45) Mary is blessed because she believed. She trusted in the Lord and surrendered herself to God’s will. Mary’s trust and surrender to the divine will are an expression of her spousal love of God, exemplified by her virginity and her gift of self. Pope St. John Paul II describes it this way in Redemptoris Mater:
It is significant that Mary, recognizing in the words of the divine messenger the will of the Most High and submitting to his power, says: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Lk. 1:38) … Mary accepted her election as Mother of the Son of God, guided by spousal love, the love which totally “consecrates” a human being to God. By virtue of this love, Mary wished to be always and in all things “given to God,” living in virginity. The words “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord” express the fact that from the outset she accepted and understood her own motherhood as a total gift of self, a gift of her person to the service of the saving plans of the Most High. And to the very end she lived her entire maternal sharing in the life of Jesus Christ, her Son, in a way that matched her vocation to virginity. (39)
Mary shows us that trust and submission to God are acts of love. If we love God, we place our trust in his wisdom and providence, especially during times of uncertainty and difficulty. Mary’s earthly life was not without suffering. Vatican II teaches that Mary “faithfully persevered in her union with her son unto the cross, where she stood, in keeping with the divine plan, grieving exceedingly with her only begotten Son, uniting herself with a maternal heart with his sacrifice, and lovingly consenting to the immolation of this Victim which she herself had brought forth. (LG, 58)
Our trust and submission to the will of God are often tested during times of sadness, suffering or confusion. The Blessed Mother, though, is our Mother of Mercy, who comforts us during these times of difficulty. Pope Francis reminds us:
[Mary] is both woman and mother: this is what is essential. From her, a woman, salvation came forth and thus there is no salvation without a woman. In her, God was united to us, and if we want to unite ourselves to him, we must take the same path: through Mary, woman and mother. (Homily, Jan. 1, 2020)
Pope Francis has also spoken of Mary as “the road that God travelled in order to reach us, and the road that we must travel in order to reach him. Through Mary, we encounter God the way he wants us to: in tender love, in intimacy, in the flesh.” (Homily, Jan. 1, 2021) For Pope Francis, Mary is the road we must travel to reach God. Mary is our Mother who teaches us to trust in God’s love and surrender ourselves to his holy will.