Merry Christmas! On this glorious day, we celebrate the birth of our Savior and the story of his Nativity. In doing so, we acknowledge the role of his mother, our Blessed Mother. It was Mary who responded to the Lord’s call, and her words have echoed down through the ages:
“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).
This phrase, “may it be done to me,” is often referred to as Mary’s fiat, which is Latin for “let it be done.” Saints, popes and theologians have reflected on these very words and have offered ways for us to emulate Mary’s openness to the Lord and to the greater good.
“The mystery of the Incarnation was accomplished when Mary uttered her fiat: ‘Let it be to me according to your word,’ which made possible, as far as it depended upon her in the divine plan, the granting of her Son’s desire,” wrote St. John Paul II in his 1985 encyclical, “Redemptoris Mater.”
“Mary uttered this fiat in faith,” he said. “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.’”
While Mary’s “yes” is connected to the Annunciation, her response was repeated over and over. “May it be done to me” shaped her life — from Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, to the flight into Egypt, to the temple in Jerusalem, and even to Calvary, at the foot of the cross.
“Mary was and is the one who is ‘blessed because she believed,’” St. John Paul reminded us. “She was the first to believe.”
Her example is our inspiration today. Mary brought the light of the world into the world. We, as disciples, are called to do the same for others.
Before his noon Angelus prayer at the Vatican last Sunday, Pope Francis addressed Mary’s fiat and what it means to us today.
“Like Mary, we ask the Lord, ‘Let your word be fulfilled in me,’” he said. “May Our Lady help us to say it with our lives, with our approach to these last days in which to prepare ourselves well for Christmas.”
If we are honest with ourselves, most of us find ways to avoid following Mary’s example. Pope Francis understands our weaknesses and urges patience, as well as prayer.
“How often is our life made up of postponements, even the spiritual life,” he asked those attending the Angelus. “Today, on the threshold of Christmas, Mary invites us not to postpone, but to say ‘yes.’”
What ways can we say yes?
“Instead of complaining in these difficult times about what the pandemic prevents us from doing, let us do something for someone who has less,” Pope Francis suggested. “And another piece of advice: in order for Jesus to be born in us, let us prepare our hearts, let us go to pray, let us not let ourselves be swept up by consumerism. … Consumerism is not found in the manger in Bethlehem: there is reality, poverty, love. Let us prepare our hearts to be like Mary’s: free from evil, welcoming, ready to receive God.”
These are challenging words for us, but nothing as challenging as what Mary faced when she offered her fiat. “Let it be done to me according to your word,” as spoken by our Blessed Mother, is an invitation to us towards Christmas. “For if the birth of Jesus does not touch our lives,” says Pope Francis, “it slips past us in vain.”
May we all find ways in our lives to welcome the Messiah and bring the peace of Christmas to others, today and in the days to come.