I'm referring, of course, to the song "Mary, Did You Know?" It's a beautiful song (the a capella arrangements, at least), one that is dear to my heart. It's one of the first songs I learned as a Trouvere, and also one of the first I sang with my mom and sisters.
So I admit, I get a little defensive when people roll their eyes and say, "Of course Mary knew."
Because when you stop and think about it, how much did Mary really know?
Luke 1:28–33 reads:
And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.
And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.
And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.
He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:
And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.It's all right there in the text—yes, Mary knew she would be the mother of the son of God. She knew he would be great. She knew he would save the world. While every other mother can only hope their child will do great things, Mary had that assurance before her child was even conceived.
But just like with every prophecy, whether it be rooted in scriptures, legend, or epic fantasy, it's impossible to fully understand it when it is first given. Mary continually pondered things in her heart, but her understanding of her divine son came slowly. James E. Talmage puts it this way:
Mary appears never to have fully understood her Son; at every new evidence of His uniqueness she marveled and pondered anew. He was hers, and yet in a very real sense not wholly hers. There was about their relation to each other a mystery, awful yet sublime, a holy secret which that chosen and blessed mother hesitated even to tell over to herself. (Jesus the Christ, pg. 116)This isn't to rip on Mary in any way. Most people expected the Messiah to be a king and conqueror—how could she have known that her son would have the authority to challenge their religious traditions, walk on water, heal the blind and deaf, save more than just the people he interacted with during his mortal ministry? It basically defies human logic to expect any of these things to happen.
Yes, Mary knew who her child was. But it took some time to fully understand what that meant. "Mary, Did You Know?" is not like that question Harry asked Dumbledore regarding whether he knew Tom Riddle would grow up to be the darkest wizard of all time. The question merely reflects the constant wonder Mary must have felt as she watched her child grow. It's a phenomenon we're still marveling over today, even after 2,000 years.
That question isn't just for Mary. It's for us, too.