I’ve been reading Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives and came across this fascinating little passage on the word rejoice. It certainly would have been fitting if I had posted this during the Christmas season, but I read this recently and it’s fresh in my mind. The Holy Father is discussing the Annunciation to our Blessed mother.
A striking feature of the angel’s greeting is that he does not address is that he does not address Mary with the usual Hebrew salutation shalom—peace be with you—but with the greeting formula chaîre, which we might translate with the word “Hail,” as in the Church’s Marian prayer, pieced together from the words of the annunciation narrative (cf. Lk 1:28-42). Yet at this point it is only right to draw out the true meaning of the word chaîre: rejoice! This exclamation from the angel—we could say—marks the true beginning of the New Testament. (p. 26)
[Quotes are from Image edition, 2012]
So it when Gabriel comes to the Virgin, he isn’t just greeting her with “Hail Mary,” he is greeting her with “Rejoice Mary.”
The word reappears during the Holy Night on the lips of the angel who says to the shepherds: “I bring you good news of great joy” (Lk 2:10). It appears again—in John’s Gospel—at the encounter with the risen Lord: “The disciples were glad when they saw the Lord” (20:20). Jesus’ farewell discourses in Saint John’s Gospel present a theology of joy, which as it were illuminates the depth of the word. “I will see you again and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you” (16:22). (p. 26-27)
Gladness in the John 20:20 quote is synonymous with joyous. Here then is the conflation of several Biblical events to the word “joy.” This observation is quite significant.
Joy appears in these texts as the particular gift of the Holy Spirit, the true gift of the Redeemer. So a chord is sounded with the angel’s salutation which then resounds throughout the life of the Church. Its content is also present in the fundamental word that serves to designate the entire Christian message: Gospel—good news. (p. 27)
Pope Benedict wrote this in German, so something might not have been completely conveyed in the translation. Gospel or “good news” is sometimes translated as “glad tidings,” which can therefore be translated as “joyous tidings.” So then at the heart of Christian faith is joy. This is what the Holy Father means above by “the theology of joy.”
And that is so true. What separates my life from the moment I fell in love with my faith—not just embraced it, but fell in love with it—is the joy that I feel afterward. I’m not even sure I know how to describe it other than to say it’s joy, but a joy beyond common joy, a supernatural joy. I’ve tried to describe this to atheists or even just routine, non-devout Christians. They understand it because it’s a foreign feeling to them. It’s not like the joy that I get from following baseball. I do get joy from that, but it’s not the same as the joy from Christ. That’s divine joy.