Isaiah 7:10-14; 8:10d; Hebrews 10:4-10; Luke 1:26-38
The feast of the Annunciation, now recognized as a solemnity, was first celebrated in the fourth or fifth century. Its central focus is the Incarnation: God has become one of us. From all eternity God had decided that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity should become human. Now, as Luke tells us, the decision is being realized. The God-Man embraces all humanity, indeed all creation, to bring it to God in one great act of love. Because human beings have rejected God, Jesus will accept a life of suffering and an agonizing death as he says at the Last Supper: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”. Mary has an important role to play in God’s plan. From all eternity God destined her to be the mother of Jesus and closely related to him in the creation and redemption of the world. We could say that God’s decrees of creation and redemption are joined in the decree of Incarnation. Because Mary is God’s instrument in the Incarnation, she has a role to play with Jesus in creation and redemption. It is a God-given role. It is God’s grace from beginning to end. Mary becomes the eminent figure she is only by God’s grace. She is the empty space where God could act. Everything she is she owes to the Trinity.
This Feast commemorates the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she would conceive Jesus by the Holy Spirit. It is one of the most important feasts in the Church’s liturgical calendar. It celebrates the actual Incarnation of Our Savior the Word made flesh in the womb of His mother, Mary. The biblical account of the Annunciation is in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke. Luke describes the annunciation given by the angel Gabriel to Mary that she was to become the mother of the Incarnation of God. Here is recorded the “angelic salutation” of Gabriel to Mary, ‘Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you.” We have Mary’s response to God: “Let your will be done in me.” The Church’s celebration of the Annunciation is believed to date to the early 5th century, possibly originating at about the time of the Council of Ephesus in the year 431. The Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary dates back to at least the 6th century, and is mentioned between AD 530 and 533 in a sermon by Abraham of Ephesus. In the West, the first authentic reference is found in the 7th century. The Annunciation has always been celebrated on March 25, exactly nine months before Christmas Day. In a way, this feast should be on a par with Christmas. From one point of view, it is a greater occasion than Christmas. Together with the Trinity, an acceptance of the Incarnation is one of the doctrines which define our Christian faith. This is the moment when the Word was made flesh and lived among us.
The Bible tells us that for centuries prior to the birth of Christ, God’s chosen people had been waiting for the promised Messiah. As we heard during the First Reading taken from the Book of Isaiah that God spoke to king Ahaz through the Prophet. King Ahaz had offered his son for a sacrifice to the pagan god in order to save his kingship and now the dynasty was in danger since he had no other son. He was told to ask the Lord God for a sign, any sign that he wanted to have. But king Ahaz afraid of God and his prophet refused to ask for a sign, indicating that he would not put God to the test. Consequently, the Lord God chose a sign of His own to give. However God in his benevolence gave him a promise through the prophet. He told him that a young woman would be with child and bear a son, and he must name him Emmanuel, meaning, “God is with us. The king is now assured that his dynasty would continue. There he encountered God through the prophet even though he had offended him and God will continue to remain with his people.
In the Gospel we have the brief account of the Annunciation or the message of the Angel Gabriel to Mary. He informed her that she has been chosen by God to be the mother of the Messiah, the son of the Most High. Mary wanted always to love God above all and Him alone. Enlightened by the grace of God that was in her, and indeed in fullness, Mary chose virginity as the way to live most fully with God. So she objected to the angel Gabriel that she did indeed want to accomplish the will of God by becoming the Mother of Christ the Savior, but while preserving her virginity. When the Angel solved the problem concerning her virginity, she humbly accepted the role that God had planned for her. At that moment when she said Let your will be done in me, the Incarnation took place. The Son of God began his human life in the chaste womb of the virgin. Luke tells us again and again that Mary was a virgin, indicating that she was chaste, unmarried and a person who dedicated her life for God. The Almighty choose her to be the mother of his only begotten Son who will be coming to the world to bring salvation. We also see the Trinity at work. The angel tells Mary that the Holy Spirit will come upon her and bring God into the universe and she will be the person instrumental in bringing the salvation to human kind.
These words fulfill what we heard in the second reading of today. The tenth chapter from the letter to the Hebrews places before us a contrast between the Old and the New Covenant. The passage speaks of the ineffectiveness of offerings of animals for bringing reconciliation with God. It is the offering by Jesus of his own self totally to his Father which alone is effective. The Old Testament witnessed the offering of the sacrifice of animals and the blood of the victim sprinkled was the sign of forgiveness and reconciliation. The New Testament shows how Obedience is more important than the sacrifice of the victims. Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you have prepared for me. And the son said, here I am ready to do your will. The son volunteers to sacrifice himself for the sake of the humanity. These words express the readiness and willingness of the Son to do all that had been ordained and prophesied unto the making of a full satisfaction to God and the salvation of His people. Christ in the doing of God’s will was not merely performing that which was laid upon Him due to God’s counsel, but also that He desired to actively perform the work which had been allotted to Him. By his obedience he takes away the external sacrifice of the victims and replaces it with his own sacrifice of body and blood which he fulfils on Calvary. In these words we have the perfect obedience of Christ placed in direct contrast from the whole of the Old Testament offering. This unique sacrifice is above all and by this Christ willingly offered up by Him, for our sake. In reality, we have been sanctified by the obedience of Jesus Christ.
The annunciation reminds us that God’s motherly nature is equally as important as those images of God which speak in more personal terms. As truly as God speaks to us as the Lord of History, the one who emerges victorious over death, the one who will rule and reign in glory at the end of time, God also speaks to us as the one who takes us tenderly into God’s arms, nurtures us as a mother nurses her children, and takes us to God’s own self when we are in the pain of loss, guilt, sin, and death. In the Church’s great prayer, we pray that Mary the virgin mother of the Lord will pray for us to the Lord our God, and as we say that prayer, remember too that the God to whom she prays is still the God who takes us to himself in order to restore us to the Glory which God originally intended for us.
Mary, we are told, is already betrothed to a man called Joseph. This means that she is committed to be his wife but they have not come together or had conjugal relations. She is still, as the Gospel states, a virgin. The angel greets her and calls her a person full of grace. He tells her that she will be the mother of God’s son who is no ordinary son. The angel describes him in extraordinary language which, in fact, recalls many passages from the Hebrew Testament referring to the Messiah. He is to be called Son of the Most High, a title which can mean the divine Son of God or the Messiah. The indications that this Son is the Messiah are indicated by the angel saying that he of the royal lineage. Mary was more puzzled and disturbed with. To remove Mary’s anxiety and to assure her that her virginity would be preserved, the angel Gabriel told her that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and the power of the Most High shall overshadow her. To further support the birth of the Child, the angel informed Mary that her cousin Elizabeth who was of old age, she was presently pregnant and she also would have a child. In response to the angel’s Annunciation, Mary gave her “Fiat” by saying, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord, and be it done to me according to thy word.” From the moment of conception the child is fully God and fully a human person.
It is doubtful if Mary really understood the implications of what she had been told. But she recognized the messenger as coming from God and, in deep faith and trust, accepted what she was being asked to do and what she should be. Later on, when Mary is praised by woman in a crowd for having produced such a wonderful son as Jesus, Jesus replied, Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it. And here is Mary’s true greatness, not so much that she was chosen to be the Mother of God but that she responded with such generosity. And, right up to the very end, she would stand by her Son. Together with Jesus, the privileged and graced Mary is the link between heaven and earth. She is the human being who best, after Jesus, exemplifies the possibilities of human existence. She received into her lowliness the infinite love of God. She shows how an ordinary human being can reflect God in the ordinary circumstances of life. She exemplifies what the Church and every member of the Church is meant to become. She is the ultimate product of the creative and redemptive power of God. She manifests what the Incarnation is meant to accomplish for all of us.
Through Mary at the moment of the Annunciation, Jesus entered the world in His human nature. Through Mary, He became a member of the human race. Through Mary, Jesus was given to the world for the salvation of mankind. Through Mary, an Immaculate Virgin, Jesus received His human form to become the perfect sacrifice and sin offering according to the Divine will of God the Father. Through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus came an end to the imperfect sacrifices and sin offerings of bulls and goats. For these, offered according to the law, were imperfect in nature. When Mary signaled to Gabriel her acceptance of God’s Will, Christ was conceived in her womb through the power of the Holy Spirit. While most of the Fathers of the Church say that Mary’s fiat was essential to God’s plan of salvation, God foresaw Mary’s acceptance of His Will from all eternity. The narrative of the Annunciation testifies powerfully to the truth of the Catholic tradition that Mary was indeed a virgin when Christ was conceived, but also that she intended to remain one perpetually.
The sacrifice of the Mother of God in accepting to bear and nourish God, giving Him her blood, bones and flesh, and raise Him as a man is such that she alone among all mankind can take us outside the cycle of wars and can lead us, if we wish to follow her, into Eternity, to the Resurrection of Christ. Speaking of the Virgin Mary and the Church, the Council of Vatican II summarizes the Annunciation of Mary in the following manner: “In the mystery of the Church, the Blessed Virgin stands out in eminent and singular fashion as exemplar both of virgin and mother. By her belief and obedience, not knowing man but overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, as the new Eve she brought forth on earth the very Son of the Father, showing an undefiled faith, not in the word of the ancient serpent, but in that of God’s messenger.” On March 25, 1987, Blessed Pope John Paul II signed his Encyclical on the Virgin Mary, “Redemptoris Mater”. In it, he said: “The Holy Spirit had already come down upon her, and she became his faithful spouse at the Annunciation.”
In summary, the Feast of the Annunciation of the Lord reminds us to commemorate the moment when the Word of God the Father took human nature upon Himself. We are also called to remember that although Jesus has resurrected and is sitting at the right hand of the Father in Heaven, He remains present with us in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, in the Living Word and in the Holy Tabernacles. There He continuously longs for the moments when all the faithful will manifest their love for Him by assembling before Him in His cherished Temple on earth. My brothers and sisters, our saving Lord, our God, has come and remains with us. Of His Kingdom, there will be no end. “Let us never forget Him!”
There is an old story about a workman on scaffolding high above the nave of a cathedral who looked down and saw a woman praying before a statue of Mary. As a joke, the workman whispered, “Woman, this is Jesus.” The woman ignored him. The workman whispered again, more loudly: “Woman, this is Jesus.” Again, the woman ignored him. Finally, he said aloud, “Woman, don’t you hear me? This is Jesus.” At this point the woman looked up at the crucifix and said, “Be still now, Jesus, you keep quiet; I’m talking to your mother.” That is why Catholics treasure Marian devotions and doctrines that their non-Catholic brothers and sisters do not have. It is because, I think, the Catholic Church is trying us that have a mother who is concerned about us.
Fr. Eugene Lobo S.J., Mangalore, India
Annunciation of the Lord April 08, 2013.
Isaiah 7:10-14; 8:10d; Hebrews 10:4-10; Luke 1:26-38