Scripture renders very few occasions where it is recorded that Mother Mary spoke. From the 27 books in the New Testament, only 2 of these books report the words that came from Mother Mary. Her presence speaks louder than the words that she says, and this tells us of her role in accompanying Jesus in His ministry – how the things that she would say are not so important, but rather the things that she would do to be the sign that will point to Jesus would take precedence – from his infancy to his death and resurrection, and finally with the first community of apostles at Pentecost and in the early years of the Church (Peters, n.d.). In Mary, we see what it means to be a Contemplative in Action.

In the infancy narratives found in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, we are given a glimpse into the personality and disposition of Mary. The announcement of the birth of Jesus to Mary by the Archangel Gabriel parallels the announcement of John the Baptist to Zechariah, yet the response that Mary gives is vastly different from Zechariah. This is confirmed in the person of Elizabeth who says, “Blessed are you who believed” (Luke 1:45). Her role as the first believer is made firm in this declaration by Elizabeth and will continue in her never-ending support and presence among “those who believed” in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1 to 14). Beyond her earthly ministry, her help for us her children, extends in the Church Triumphant. This is summed up in the prayer of the Sub Tuum Praesidium the oldest known prayer to the Virgin Mary, unearthed in the 3rd century, and written on Greek papyrus (University of Dayton, n.d.):

We turn to you for protection,
Holy Mother of God.
Listen to our prayers
and help us in our needs.
Save us from every danger,
glorious and blessed Virgin.

During the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry, we hear of the curious case of a woman crying out in the crowd: “Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you suckled on,” (Luke 11:27) to which Jesus replies, “Blessed, rather, are those who hear the word and keep it.” (Luke 11:28). Interestingly, this call and response speaks volumes of the earthly sonship of Jesus through Mary His mother, and also His Divinity – for He is the Word, made flesh, and this promise was fulfilled because Mary kept fidelity to the Word, and pondered upon it often in the silence of her heart – “And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Luke 2:19; cf. Luke 2: 51).

Mary not only heard the Word, she allowed the Word to bear fruit in her, and as a result of her obedience to the Will of God, this “lowly handmaiden” would henceforth be exulted in all generations to come (Luke 1:48).

How was it that Mary was able to be completely docile and accepting of the Word and Will of God? What was it in her life that prepared her for this? How did she know that the Angel that appeared to her at the Annunciation was from God, and not a figment of her own imagination? How did Mary not question Jesus when he said, “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2: 49)

While it is hinted at implicitly in the New Testament, and little is written about Mother Mary, we turn to the Protoevangelium of James, a 2nd century text about the earlier stages of the life of Mother Mary and the earlier years of Jesus’ infancy. This Protoevangelium is the source of many Church traditions and Christian Art imagery today. For example, from this we understand that the parents of Mother Mary are Joachim and Anna, while many artistic and literary works continue to be influenced by the descriptions given in the Protoevangelium – such as Jesus’ birth in a cave, which is echoed in Byzantine, Russian Orthodox, and Greek Orthodox iconography, and other motifs like Mary spinning yarn outside a building or temple are found in artefacts and art pieces dating back to the Late Antiquity period (Horn, 2018).

Nonetheless, as a point of note, the Protoevangelium was not accepted as part of the Western Canon of the Bible – and I postulate perhaps because the New Testament was to focus on Christ, rather than Mary and Joseph, while in the Eastern Church, this same Protoevangelium was widely propagated and accepted. On the other hand, the Infancy Gospel of Pseudo-Thomas, was completely rejected in both the Western and Eastern canon (Horn, 2018). We can trace the development of pivotal liturgical feasts:  The Conception of Mary (December 9 in the East, December 8 in the West), the Nativity of Mary (September 8), the Entry of the Mother of God into the Temple as it is named in the  Eastern Church (November 21), which is celebrated in the West, as the Presentation of Mary in the Temple, and the Feast Day of Joachim and Anna, Mary’s Parents (July 25 in the East, July 26 in the West), from the infancy narratives of Mary that are found in the Protoevangelium.

From the Protoevangelium, we have a deeper understanding as to how Mary was able to discern that the events that were happening to her were a result of the Hand of God. We see that as a child, Anna created an environment for her to grow up in that was holy, and when she was 2 years old, Joachim and Anna took her to the temple to be consecrated to the Lord, where she lived until the age of 12. From a young age, she had received ongoing formation and had learnt how to discern the voice of God, because her environment immersed her and prepared her, and in pondering over the Word of God during her days in the temple, was able to learn how to listen as she allowed God to speak to her. The temple was literally Mary’s house. Living in the Father’s house, Mary learnt obedience to God the Father.

Thus, when Jesus speaks about being in His Father’s house, this would also recall Mary’s childhood in almost a déjà vu moment, and when the Angel of the Lord appeared to Mary, it would not be as a stranger, but as someone whom Mary knew most closely. In that way, she was perturbed, but not disturbed, and she clearly heard the Voice of God speaking to her.

The Magnificat, Mary’s Song of Praise, therefore gives thanks to God for whatever has happened in Mary’s life – her formation, her training, the events in her life that were preparing her to be the Mother of God, the things that have happened in the course of Salvation History and that were coming, a declaration of the surety of God’s promises, and is also a prayer of Faith, that looks forward to something glorious that is for sure, to come.

Yet, Mary did not just sit around waiting for things to happen. She actively made haste to address the things that needed to be addressed. She made haste to offer her help to Elizabeth, who in her old age was pregnant (cf. Luke 1). She quickly sought the help of Jesus at the Wedding of Cana (cf. John 2).

Mary truly allowed her Ministry and active life to arise from her contemplation of the mystery and wonder of God, and this contemplative life in turn informed her decision-making and her purposes in her active life. There cannot be one without the other, and Mary shows us the way to pause, to reflect, to be silent, to listen, and to move in one accord with the Spirit of the Lord.


By the Grace of God,
Brian Bartholomew Tan



Horn, C. (2018). The Protoevangelium of James and Its Reception in the Caucasus: Status Quaestionis, Scrinium14(1), 223-238. doi:


Peters, M. D. (n.d.). Bible Quotes by Mary. All About Mary. University of Dayton. Retrieved December 29, 2022, from


Protoevangelium of James. (1886). Trans. Walker. A. Ante-Nicene Fathers, 8. Eds. Roberts, A., Donaldson, J. & Coxe, C. A.. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co. Revised and edited for New Advent by Knight, K. Retrieved December 29, 2022 from


University of Dayton. (n.d.). Sub Tuum Praesidium Prayer. All About Mary. University of Dayton. Retrieved December 29, 2022 from