25 Mar Feast of the Annunciation
Today is the Feast of the Annunciation.
Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Adapted from The Liturgical Year by Abbot Gueranger
This is a great day, not only to man, but even to God Himself; for it is the anniversary of the most solemn event that time has ever witnessed. On this day, the Divine Word, by Whom the Father created the world, was made Flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, and dwelt among us. We must spend it in joy. Whilst we adore the Son of God Who humbled Himself by thus becoming Man, let us give thanks to the Father, Who so loved the world, as to give His only-begotten Son; let us give thanks to the Holy Ghost, Whose almighty power achieves this great mystery. We are usually in the midst of Lent on this Feast, and yet the ineffable joys of Christmas are upon us; our Emmanuel is conceived on this day, and, nine months hence, will be born in Bethlehem, and the angels will invite us to come and adore the sweet Babe.
During Septuagesima week, we meditated upon the fall of our first parents, and the triple sentence pronounced by God against the serpent, the woman, and Adam. Our hearts were filled with fear as we reflected on the divine malediction, the effects of which are to be felt by all generations, even to the end of the world. But in the midst of the anathemas then pronounced against us, a promise was made to us by our God; it was a promise of salvation, and it enkindled hope within us. In pronouncing sentence against the serpent, God said that his head should one day be crushed, and that, too, by a woman.
The time has come for the fulfillment of this promise. The world has been in expectation for 4,000 years; and the hope of its deliverance has been kept up, in spite of all its crimes. During this time, God has made use of miracles, prophecies, and types, as a renewal of the engagement He has entered into with mankind. The blood of the Messias has passed from Adam to Noe; from Sem to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; from David and Solomon to Joachim; and now it flows in the veins of Mary, Joachim's daughter. Mary is the woman by whom is to be taken from our race the curse that lies upon it. God has decreed that She should be Immaculate; and has thereby set an irreconcilable enmity between Her and the serpent. She, a daughter of Eve, is to repair all the injury done by Her mother's fall; She is to raise up Her sex from the degradation into which it has been cast; She is to cooperate, directly and really, in the victory which the Son of God is about to gain over His and our enemy.
A tradition, which has come down from the apostolic ages, tells us that the great mystery of the Incarnation was achieved on the 25th of March. It was at the hour of midnight, when the Most Holy Virgin was alone and absorbed in prayer, that the Archangel Gabriel appeared before Her, and asked Her, in the name of the Blessed Trinity, to consent to become the Mother of God. Let us assist, in spirit, at this wonderful interview between the Angel and the Virgin: and, at the same time, let us think of that other interview which took place between Eve and the serpent. A holy bishop and martyr of the 2nd century, St. Irenaeus, who had received the tradition from the very disciples of the Apostles, shows us that Nazareth is the counterpart of Eden.
In the garden of delights there is a virgin and an angel; and a conversation takes place between them. At Nazareth a Virgin is also addressed by an Angel, and She answers him; but the angel of the earthly paradise is a spirit of darkness, and he of Nazareth is a spirit of light. In both instances it is the angel that has the first word. “Why,” said the serpent to Eve, “hath God commanded you, that you should not eat of every tree of paradise?” His question implies impatience and a solicitation to evil; he had contempt for the frail creature to whom he addresses it, but he hates the image of God which is upon her.
See, on the other hand, the Angel of light; see with what composure and peace he approaches the Virgin of Nazareth, the new Eve; and how respectfully he bows himself down before Her: “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with Thee! Blessed art Thou among women!” Such language is evidently of Heaven: none but an angel could speak thus to Mary.
Eve imprudently listens to the tempter's words; she answers him; she enters into conversation with one that dares to ask her to question the justice of God's commands. Her curiosity urges her on. She has no mistrust in the serpent; this leads her to mistrust her Creator.
Mary hears what Gabriel has spoken to Her; but this most prudent Virgin is silent. She is surprised at the praise given Her by the Angel. The purest and humblest of virgins has a dread of flattery; and the heavenly messenger receives no reply from Her, until he has fully explained his mission by these words: “Fear not, Mary, for Thou hast found grace with God. Behold, Thou shalt conceive in Thy womb, and shalt bring forth a Son: and Thou shalt call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of David His father: and He shall reign in the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there shall be no end.”
What magnificent promises are these, which are made to Her in the name of God! What higher glory could She, a daughter of Juda, desire, knowing, as She does, that the fortunate Mother of the Messias is to be the object of the greatest veneration? And yet it tempts her not. She has forever consecrated Her virginity to God, in order that She may be the more closely united to Him by love. The grandest possible privilege, if it is to be on the condition of violating this sacred vow, would be less than nothing in her estimation. She thus answers the Angel: “How shall this be done, for I know not man?”
The first Eve evinces no such prudence or disinterestedness. No sooner has the wicked spirit assured her that she may break the commandment of her Divine Benefactor and not die; that the fruit of her disobedience will be a wonderful knowledge, which will put her on an equality with God Himself: than she immediately yields; she is conquered. Her self-love has made her at once forget both duty and gratitude: she is delighted at the thought of being freed from the twofold tie which binds her to her Creator.
Such is the woman that caused our perdition. But how different is She that was to save us! Eve cares not for her posterity; she looks but to her own interest: Mary forgets Herself to think only of Her God, and of the claims He has to Her service. The Angel, charmed with this sublime fidelity, thus answers the question put to him by Mary, and reveals to Her the designs of God: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon Thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow Thee. And therefore also the Holy One which shall be born of Thee shall be called the Son of God. And behold Thy cousin Elizabeth, she also hath conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her that is called barren; because no word shall be impossible with God.” This said, he is silent, and reverently awaits the answer of the Virgin of Nazareth.
Let us look once more at the virgin of Eden. Scarcely has the wicked spirit finished speaking than Eve casts a longing look at the forbidden fruit: she is impatient to enjoy the independence it is to bring her. She rashly stretches forth her hand; she plucks the fruit; she eats it, and death takes possession of her: death of the soul, for sin extinguishes the light of life; and death of the body, which, being separated from the source of immortality, becomes an object of shame and horror, and finally crumbles into dust.
But let us turn away our eyes from this sad spectacle, and fix them on Nazareth. Mary has heard the Angel's explanation of the mystery; the will of Heaven is made known to Her, and how grand an honor it is to bring upon Her! She, the humble Maid of Nazareth, is to have the ineffable happiness of becoming the Mother of God, and yet the treasure of Her virginity is to be left to Her! Mary bows down before this Sovereign Will, and says to the heavenly messenger: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it done to me according to thy word.”
Thus, as the great St. Irenaeus and so many of the holy Fathers remark, the obedience of the second Eve repaired the disobedience of the first: for no sooner does the Virgin of Nazareth speak her fiat, “be it done,” than the Eternal Son of God (Who, according to the divine decree, awaited this word) is present, by the operation of the Holy Ghost, in the chaste womb of Mary, and there He begins His human life. A Virgin is a Mother, and Mother of God; and it is this Virgin's consenting to the Divine Will that has made Her conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost. This sublime mystery puts between the Eternal Word and a mere woman the relations of Son and Mother; it gives to the almighty God a means whereby He may, in a manner worthy of His majesty, triumph over Satan, who hitherto seemed to be prevailing against the divine plan.
Never was there a more entire or humiliating defeat than that which this day befell Satan. The frail creature, over whom he had so easily triumphed at the beginning of the world, now rises and crushes his proud head. Eve conquers in Mary. God would not choose man for the instrument of His vengeance; the humiliation of Satan would not have been great enough; and therefore she who was the first prey of hell, the first victim of the tempter, is selected to give battle to the enemy. The result of so glorious a triumph is that Mary is to be superior not only to the rebel angels, but to the whole human race, yea, to all the angels of Heaven. Seated on Her exalted throne, She, the Mother of God, is to be Queen of all creation. Satan, in the depths of the abyss, will eternally bewail his having dared to direct his first attack against the Woman, for God has now so gloriously avenged Her; and in Heaven, the very Cherubim and Seraphim reverently look up to Mary, and deem themselves honored when She smiles upon them, or employs them in the execution of any of Her wishes, for She is the Mother of their God.
Therefore is it that we, the children of Adam, who have been snatched by Mary's obedience from the power of Hell, solemnize this day of the Annunciation. Well may we say of Mary those words of Debbora in her song of victory over the enemies of God's people: “The valiant men ceased, and rested in Israel, until Debbora arose, a mother arose in Israel. The Lord chose new wars, and He Himself overthrew the gates of the enemies” (Judges 5: 7-8). Let us also refer to the Holy Mother of Jesus these words of Judith, who by her victory over the enemy was another type of Mary: “Praise ye the Lord our God, Who hath not forsaken them that hope in Him. And by me, His handmaid, He hath fulfilled His mercy, which he promised to the House of Israel; and He hath killed the enemy of His people by my hand this night… The almighty Lord hath struck him, and hath delivered him into the hands of a woman, and hath slain him” (Judith 13: 17-18; 16:7). (7)
Sermons for Children's Masses:
by Rev. Raphael Frassinetti, 1900
Gospel. Luke i. 26-38. And in the sixth month, the Angel Gabriel was sent from God into a city of Galilee, called Nazareth, to a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin's name was Mary. And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace: the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women. Who having heard, was troubled at his saying, and thought with herself what manner of salutation this should be. And the angel said to her: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of David his father: and He shall reign in the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there shall be no end. And Mary said to the angel: How shall this be done, because I know not man? And the angel answering, said to her: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And behold thy cousin Elizabeth, she also hath conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her that is called barren: because no word shall be impossible with God. And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to thy word.
On this day the archangel Gabriel, by God's command, descended from heaven to the little city of Nazareth, to Mary, in order to announce to her the near coming of the Redeemer of the world. The angel entered her little room, and making a reverential bow, said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women.” No doubt the humble virgin felt great perturbation at this sudden apparition. She was disturbed at the appearance of the angel, who came under the form of a comely youth, and also at the singular announcement. St. John Chrysostom says that Mary manifested great virtues on this occasion, for she heard the salutation with blushes, and instead of breaking out into unbecoming joy, she appeared, in her humility, much concerned at the speech. In truth, what greater praise could the angel have given her than the words “Thou art full of grace”? That fulness of grace supposed that she was free from all sin; a fulness of grace which presupposed the practice and possession of every virtue, by which Mary had become so acceptable to God. That fulness of grace indicated that she was more privileged than the angels and saints. No wonder that she was so full of grace, because the Lord was with her, and she was the privileged woman of her sex. All generations shall call her blessed.
The angel saw the maiden's trouble, and to reassure her, he said, “Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found favor with God. Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son, and thou shalt call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of David his father: and He shall reign in the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there shall be no end.” What does the Virgin answer to this announcement? “How shall I become the mother of this great man, when I have consecrated my virginity to God?” The angel answered, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee, and therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. Nothing is impossible to God; for thy cousin, St. Elizabeth, hath conceived in her old age.” Understand, O Mary, that thou shalt not conceive by the power of a man but by the power of the Holy Ghost. The angel waits for thy answer; we too, poor creatures, await your consent, which will be the beginning of our redemption. On thy word depends the consolation of the miserable, the freedom of slaves, the liberation from the sentence of eternal death; in short, the salvation of all the children of Adam. Then the Virgin answered. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to thy word.” Then was the word made flesh and dwelt among us. The angel joyfully spread his golden wings and hastened to announce to the inhabitants of paradise the happy news, that this glorious Virgin had consented; that already the incarnation had taken place.
O Mary, I fall down at thy feet, and thank thee from the bottom of my heart for that consent. I salute thee as the Mother of my Redeemer, Jesus Christ; not only do I salute thee as the Mother of Jesus, but as my Mother also. St. Francis de Sales exclaimed: “How happy I am! My Mother, the most holy Virgin, loves me as her child!” Have not we, my dear young friends, great reason to rejoice, because we have so good a mother, one so rich, and so loving, who is all powerful with her divine Son? Mary becomes the dispenser of all graces, and some theologians say that God confers no favors on us except by the hands of the Blessed Virgin. Mary is the vessel of graces, and she gives them out with generosity to all. The benefits we have received, and they are as numerous as the sands on the seashore, all have come to us through Mary. The younger Father Segneri says, “As for me, when I consider the graces which I have received from Mary, let me openly state to the glory of my dear Mother, that I am like one of those churches, where all the walls are covered with votive tablets on which I read, ‘For graces received, for graces received.' So also, everywhere in my body and soul I find inscribed, ‘by graces received, I am well and strong; by graces received, I have been baptized and preserved in the service of God.'”
You, my dear young friends, have the same story to tell. Health, life, good parents, good education, good companions and teachers–all these blessings come to you from Mary.
Let us then with a loud voice praise the Madonna, honor her as well as we can, think of her often, call her by the endearing name of Mother, love her with a tender affection. St. Stanislaus Kostka was once asked how he loved the Blessed Virgin. “How can I answer this question?” he asked. “She is my Mother, and what more can I say?” If you, too, say with a like affection, she is my Mother and that is why I love her, she on her part will look upon you as her dear child and she will love you with a constant love; she will defend you against the enemies of your salvation, she will cover you with her mantle, she will bestow on you her choicest blessings and will bring you safely to heaven.
Father Alphonsus Salmeron, a devout client of Mary, often repeated on his death-bed, ” To paradise, to paradise! blessed be the hour in which I have served Mary; blessed are the sermons which I have heard in thy honor, O Mary; blessed be the work I have done for thee!” If you have loved Mary, your Mother, with a true heart, you will also confidently repeat the same words, “To paradise, to paradise! blessed be the hour in which I have honored Mary!” (6)
By St. Gregory Thaumaturgus (a.k.a. Gregory of Neocaesarea),
A.D. 213 – ca. 270 (excerpt)
Today are strains of praise sung joyfully by the choir of angels, and the light of the advent of Christ shines brightly upon the faithful. Today is the glad springtime to us, and Christ the Sun of righteousness has beamed with clear light around us, and has illumined the minds of the faithful. Today is Adam made anew, and moves in the choir of angels, having winged his way to heaven. Today is the whole circle of the earth filled with joy, since the sojourn of the Holy Spirit has been realized to men.
Today the grace of God and the hope of the unseen shine through all wonders transcending imagination, and make the mystery that was kept hid from eternity plainly discernible to us.
Today are woven the chaplets of never-fading virtue.
Today, God, willing to crown the sacred heads of those whose pleasure is to hearken to Him, and who delight in His festivals, invites the lovers of unswerving faith as His called and His heirs; and the heavenly kingdom is urgent to summon those who mind celestial things to join the divine service of the incorporeal choirs.
Today is fulfilled the word of David, “Let the heavens rejoice, and let the earth be glad. The fields shall be joyful, and all the trees of the wood before the Lord, because He cometh.” David thus made mention of the trees; and the Lord's forerunner also spoke of them as trees “that should bring forth fruits meet for repentance,” or rather for the coming of the Lord. But our Lord Jesus Christ promises perpetual gladness to all those who believe on Him. For He says, “I will see you, and ye shall rejoice; and your joy no man taketh from you.”
Today is the illustrious and ineffable mystery of Christians, who have willingly set their hope like a seal upon Christ, plainly declared to us.
Today did Gabriel, who stands by God, come to the pure virgin, bearing to her the glad annunciation, “Hail, thou that art highly favoured! And she cast in her mind what manner of salutation this might be. And the angel immediately proceeded to say, The Lord is with thee: fear not, Mary; for thou hast found favour with God. 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. Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? ” Shall I still remain a virgin? is the honour of virginity not then lost by me? And while she was yet in perplexity as to these things, the angel placed shortly before her the summary of his whole message, and said to the pure virgin, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” For what it is, that also shall it be called by all means.
Meekly, then, did grace make election of the pure Mary alone out of all generations. For she proved herself prudent truly in all things; neither has any woman been born like her in all generations. She was not like the primeval virgin Eve, who, keeping holiday alone in paradise, with thoughtless mind, unguardedly hearkened to the word of the serpent, the author of all evil, and thus became depraved in the thoughts of her mind; and through her that deceiver, discharging his poison and refusing death with it, brought it into the whole world; and in virtue of this has arisen all the trouble of the saints.
But in the holy Virgin alone is the fall of that (first mother) repaired. Yet was not this holy one competent to receive the gift until she had first learned who it was that sent it, and what the gift was, and who it was that conveyed it. While the holy one pondered these things in perplexity with herself, she says to the angel, “Whence hast thou brought to us the blessing in such wise? Out of what treasure-stores is the pearl of the word despatched to us? Whence has the gift acquired its purpose toward us? From heaven art thou come, yet thou walkest upon earth! Thou dost exhibit the form of man, and (yet) thou art glorious with dazzling light.”
These things the holy one considered with herself, and the archangel solved the difficulty expressed in such reasonings by saying to her: “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee. Therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. And fear not, Mary; for I am not come to overpower thee with fear, but to repel the subject of fear. Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found favour with God. Question not grace by the standard of nature. For grace does not endure to pass under the laws of nature. Thou knowest, O Mary, things kept hid from the patriarchs and prophets. Thou hast learned, O virgin, things which were kept concealed till now from the angels. Thou hast heard, O purest one, things of which even the choir of inspired men was never deemed worthy. Moses, and David, and Isaiah, and Daniel, and all the prophets, prophesied of Him; but the manner they knew not. Yet thou alone, O purest virgin, art now made the recipient of things of which all these were kept in ignorance, and thou dost learn the origin of them. For where the Holy Spirit is, there are all things readily ordered. Where divine grace is present, all things are found possible with God. The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall; overshadow thee. Therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” And if He is the Son of God, then is He also God, of one form with the Father, and co-eternal; in Him the Father possesses all manifestation; He is His image in the person, and through His reflection the Father's glory shines forth. And as from the ever-flowing fountain the streams proceed, so also from this ever-flowing and ever-living fountain does the light of the world proceed, the perennial and the true, namely Christ our God. For it is of this that the prophets have preached: “The streams of the river make glad the city of God.”And not one city only, but all cities; for even as it makes glad one city, so does it also the whole world.
Appropriately, therefore, did the angel say to Mary the holy virgin first of all, “Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee; “inasmuch as with her was laid up the full treasure of grace. For of all generations she alone has risen as a virgin pure in body and in spirit; and she alone bears Him who bears all things on His word. Nor is it only the beauty of this holy one in body that calls forth our admiration, but also the innate virtue of her soul. Wherefore also the angels addressed her first with the salutation, “Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee, and no spouse of earth; “He Himself is with thee who is the Lord of sanctification, the Father of purity, the Author of incorruption, and the Bestower of liberty, the Curator of salvation, and the Steward and Provider of the true peace, who out of the virgin earth made man, and out of man's side formed Eve in addition. Even this Lord is with thee, and on the other hand also is of thee. Come, therefore, beloved brethren, and let us take up the angelic strain, and to the utmost of our ability return the due meed of praise, saying, “Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee!” For it is thine truly to rejoice, seeing that the grace of God, as he knows, has chosen to dwell with thee-the Lord of glory dwelling with the handmaiden; “He that is fairer than the children of men ” with the fair virgin; He who sanctifies all things with the undefiled. God is with thee, and with thee also is the perfect man in whom dwells the whole fulness of the Godhead. Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the fountain of the light that lightens all who believe upon Him! Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the rising of the rational Sun, and the undefiled flower of Life! Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the mead of sweet savour! Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the ever-blooming vine, that makes glad the souls of those who honour thee? Hail, thou that art highly favoured!-the soil that, all untilled, bears bounteous fruit: for thou hast brought forth in accordance with the law of nature indeed, as it goes with us, and by the set time of practice, and yet in a way beyond nature, or rather above nature, by reason that God the Word from above took His abode in thee, and formed the new Adam in thy holy womb, and inasmuch as the Holy Ghost gave the power of conception to the holy virgin; and the reality of His body was assumed from her body. And just as the pearl comes of the two natures, namely lightning and water, the occult signs of the sea; so also our Lord Jesus Christ proceeds, without fusion and without mutation, from the pure, and chaste, and undefiled, and holy Virgin Mary; perfect in divinity and perfect in humanity, in all things equal to the Father, and in all things consubstantial with us, apart from sin.
Most of the holy fathers, and patriarchs, and prophets desired to see Him, and to be eye-witnesses of Him, but did not attaint hereto. And some of them by visions beheld Him in type, and darkly; others, again, were privileged to hear the divine voice through the medium of the cloud, and were favoured with sights of holy angels; but to Mary the pure virgin alone did the archangel Gabriel manifest himself luminously, bringing her the glad address, “Hail, thou that art highly favoured!”
And thus she received the word, and in the due time of the fulfilment according to the body's course she brought forth the priceless pearl. Come, then, ye too, dearly beloved, and let us chant the melody which has been taught us by the inspired harp of David, and say, “Arise, O Lord, into Thy rest; Thou, and the ark of Thy sanctuary.” For the holy Virgin is in truth an ark, wrought with gold both within and without, that has received the whole treasury of the sanctuary. “Arise, O Lord, into Thy rest.” Arise, O Lord, out of the bosom of the Father, in order that Thou mayest raise up the fallen race of the first-formed man. Setting these things forth, David in prophecy said to the rod that was to spring from himself, and to sprout into the flower of that beauteous fruit, “Hearken, O daughter, and see, and incline thine ear, and forget thine own people and thy father's house; so shall the King greatly desire thy beauty: for He is the Lord thy God, and thou shalt worship Him.” Hearken, O daughter, to the things which were prophesied beforetime of thee, in order that thou mayest also behold the things themselves with the eyes of understanding. Hearken to me while I announce things beforehand to thee, and hearken to the archangel who declares expressly to thee the perfect mysteries. (1)
Image: The Annunciation. Artist: El Greco, Circa 1590.
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff