St. Augustine calls our attention to the role Mary plays in the Eucharist when he says that “she gave milk to our bread.” The Nursing Madonna fed the child Jesus. Therefore, her milk entered his body. When we receive Communion we receive the Body of Christ that contains his mother’s milk. We might say that the Eucharist is fortified with Vitamin D.
Mary’s role as the Nursing Madonna is preceded by the Annunciation that signifies her acceptance of being the mother of Christ, the Visitation, when she rejoices in her pregnancy, and the Nativity, when she exults in the birth of her child. These three Joyful Mysteries offer us a pattern that guides us in her footsteps so that we can comply with her threefold acceptance of life.
Mary’s fiat at the Annunciation, her “yes” to conceive Christ, corresponds to our acceptance of the Word of God. It is always easier to say “no.” We tend to avoid anything that is inconvenient, difficult or laborious. Children say “no” far more often than they say “yes.” Yet, the “no” word, which always separates us from something, can never be fulfilling. It can never unite us with what we need. Our spiritual life begins when we can say “yes” to God. This may be difficult, but it is necessary. Saying “no” to everything does not make us free. It makes us isolated, lonely, and unfulfilled. In his book, Love and Responsibility, Pope John Paul II writes, “If freedom is not used, is not taken advantage of by love, it becomes a negative thing and gives human beings a feeling of emptiness and unfulfillment.”
The Visitation corresponds to cultivating the word of God in our hearts. There are many who hear the Word of God, perhaps from a good homily, but do not cultivate it and consequently soon forget it. During the Visitation, Mary’s cousin, Elizabeth, greeted her by saying, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb (Luke 1:43). On another occasion, when a woman in a crowd raised her voice and said to Jesus, “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you suckled,” he replied by saying, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it” (Luke 11:27). Our spiritual journey is short-circuited if we hear the Word but do not keep it.
The Nativity corresponds to bringing the Word of God into the world. Keeping and cultivating the Word is not enough. We must express it, or, so to speak, give birth to it. Our mission in life goes beyond keeping the word to ourselves. We are commanded to love our neighbor. The distinguished theologian, Raniero Cantalamessa, in his book, Mary Mirror of the Church, states that “our spiritual journey ends . . . if we don’t seriously examine the problem of putting the Word into practice, if we don’t ever pass from contemplation to the imitation of Christ” (p. 71). Christ did not keep his thoughts to himself. Just as the Annunciation leads to the Visitation and then to the Nativity, our hearing the Word of God should lead, step by step, to putting it into practice.
The first three Joyful Mysteries, which are also three stages of an affirmation of life, are particularly relevant in today’s world where abortion is prevalent. Mary’s acceptance at the Annunciation is the antithesis of contraception. Her joyful pregnancy at the time of the Visitation stands in opposition to induced abortion, and bringing Christ into the world at the Nativity contradicts something that is called “wrongful birth” (when contraception and abortion fail). Herod regarded the birth of Jesus as “wrongful” and plotted to prevent it from happening.
Just as the Eucharist follows Baptism and Confirmation, so too, does the Nativity follow the Annunciation and Visitation. In a parallel sense, our bringing the Word of God into the world follows hearing and keeping it. The first three Joyful Mysteries, therefore, outline how we should live as Catholics and also how they help us to understand the significance of the Eucharist.
In addition, they remind us of the sacred character of human life as they stand firmly opposed to contraception, abortion, and “wrongful birth.” The motherhood of Mary is something that we should all adopt. As St. Augustine has stated the following, with all Christians in mind: “The members of Christ give birth, therefore, in the Spirit, just as the Virgin Mary gave birth to Christ in her womb: in this way you will be mothers of Christ. This is not something that is out of your reach; it is not beyond you, it is not incompatible with you; you have become children, be mothers as well” (Sermons 72A, 8).
By accepting Mary as our mother and spiritual role model, we re-enact in our own particular way, the mysteries of the Annunciation, Visitation, and Nativity.