Of the countless descriptions and titles for Mary, perhaps the most beautiful is the one she uses to describe herself, the “Handmaid of the Lord.”1 Though mentioned only twice in Scripture, this title for Mary is significant and enduring because it describes the essential character of her soul, the underlying disposition from which all other titles for Mary originate – that of a servant.
Throughout the Bible, various words are used to designate the role of a “servant.” While the term may have negative connotations in our day, the Church has always recognized it as a positive expression – more akin to coworker. To be a servant of God is an honor that Mary invites us to share with her – to join her in the Lord’s work. Jesus calls us to serve as well, but chooses the more masculine term, “laborer.” We must adopt this attitude if we are to be His disciples. Jesus tells us that no one – not even He himself – is exempt from this way of thinking. “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”2
But there’s another aspect of this endearing description of our Blessed Mother that holds importance for each one of us. Taken literally, “handmaid” means that Mary is “close at hand” – she is nearby, attentive and available. In one sense, this means that where Jesus is, Mary is sure to follow. Because she joyfully assented to God’s will in every moment of her earthly life, she will remain united to her Son for all eternity. They are almost inseparable! But it also suggests that if we enjoy a close, personal relationship with Christ, our friendship with His Mother – though necessarily different – shouldn’t be any less intimate. As she was available to Jesus throughout His life, so she is available to each of us. Mary freely extends her help to all those who call her Son Lord.
“…Through love, be servants of one another.” Galatians 5:13
– Kelley Holy
1 Mary uses this expression first in Luke 1:38, when she gives her assent, agreeing to be the mother of God’s Son. Later, in Luke 1:48, when visiting her cousin Elizabeth, Mary again refers to herself as a lowly “handmaid,” proclaiming the words now known as the Magnificat.
2 Mark 10:43-45