Solemnity: Liturgical Color: White
The Feast of the Annunciation is the reason why we celebrate Christmas on December 25th. Christmas comes exactly nine months after the Archangel Gabriel invited the Virgin Mary to be the Mother of God, an event we mark today, on March 25th. The dating of these Feast Days, although interesting, is of minor importance compared to their theological significance. It is fruitful to reflect upon the incarnation of Jesus Christ in the womb of the Virgin Mary as the antecedent to the explosion of joy, caroling, gift giving, eating, drinking, love and family unity that surrounds the birth of the Savior. Perhaps Mary had a sort of private and internal Christmas at the moment of the Annunciation. Maybe she felt the fullness of the world’s Christmas joy inside of her own heart when she realized she had been chosen to be the Mother of God.
God could have become man in any number of creative ways. He could have incarnated Himself just as Adam was incarnated in the book of Genesis, by being formed from the clay and having a breath of divine air breathed into Him. Or God could have slowly backed down to earth on a tall golden ladder as a twenty five year old man, ready to walk the highways and byways of Palestine. Or maybe God could have taken flesh in an unknown way and just been found, like Moses, floating in a basket by the young couple Joseph and Mary as they enjoyed a Sunday picnic along the Jordan river.
The Second Person of the Trinity chose, however, to become man like we all become man. In the same way that he would leave the world through the door of death, as we all have to do, before his Resurrection and Ascension, he also entered the world through the door of human birth. In the words of the early Church, Christ could not redeem what he did not assume. He redeemed everything because he took on human nature in its breadth, depth, complexity and mystery. He was like us in all things save sin.
The incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity was a self emptying. It was God choosing to become small. Imagine a human person becoming an ant, while retaining his human mind and will. The ant would appear to be like all the others around him, and participate in all of their ant activities, yet be thinking at a level far above them. And he would hold in his mind the realities of the human world he had left behind, all the while learning what it meant to be an ant, not because ant life was superior to his own, but because these behaviors were inferior, and thus had to be learned through experience. All analogies limp, but, in a similar way, the Second Person of the Trinity retained his infused divine knowledge while becoming man and learning man life, doing man work, and dying a man death. By such a self emptying He dignified all men and opened to them the possibility of entering into his higher life in Heaven.
The Church’s theological tradition speculates that one of the reasons the bad angels may have rebelled against God was envy. They may have discovered that God chose to become man, instead of the higher form of an angel. This envy would have been directed at the Virgin Mary as well, that Vessel of Honor and Ark of the Covenant who bore the divine choice. God not only became man, we must remember, but did so through a human being, one prepared from her conception to be perfect. March 25th is one of only two days of the year when we kneel at the recitation of the Creed at Mass. At the words “…by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man” all heads bow and legs bend at the wonder of it. If the story of Christ is the greatest story ever told, today is the first page of that great tale.
O Holy Virgin Mary, we ask your intercession to make us as generous as you in accepting the will of God in our lives, especially when that will is expressed in mysterious ways. May you be our example of a generous response to what God desires of us.
From Butler’s Lives of the Saints:
THIS great festival takes its name from the happy tidings brought by the angel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin, concerning the Incarnation of the Son of God. It commemorates the most important embassy that was ever known: an embassy sent by the King of kings, performed by one of the chief princes of His heavenly court; directed, not to the great ones of this earth, but to a poor, unknown virgin, who, being endowed with the most angelic purity of soul and body, being withal perfectly humble and devoted to God, was greater in His eyes than the mightiest monarch in the world. When the Son of God became man, He could have taken upon Him our nature without the cooperation of any creature; but He was pleased to be born of a woman. In the choice of her whom He raised to this most sublime of all dignities, He pitched upon the one who, by the riches of His grace and virtues, was of all others the most holy and the most perfect. The design of this embassy of the archangel is to give a Saviour to the world, a victim of propitiation to the sinner, a model to the just, a son to this Virgin, remaining still a virgin, and a new nature to the Son of God, the nature of man, capable of suffering pain and anguish in order to satisfy God’s justice for our transgressions.
When the angel appeared to Mary and addressed her, the Blessed Virgin was troubled: not at the angel’s appearance, says St. Ambrose, for heavenly visions and a commerce with the blessed spirits had been familiar to her; but what alarmed her, he says, was the angel’s appearing in human form, in the shape of a young man. What might add to her fright on the occasion was his addressing her in words of praise. Mary, guarded by her modesty, is in confusion at expressions of this sort, and dreads the least appearance of deluding flattery. Such high commendations make her cautious how she answers, till in silence she has more fully considered of the matter: “She revolved in her mind,” says St. Luke, “what manner of salutation this should be.” Ah, what numbers of innocent souls have been corrupted for want of using the like precautions!
The angel, to calm her, says: “Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found favor before God.” He then informs her that she is to conceive and bring forth a Son Whose name shall be Jesus, Who shall be great, and the Son of the Most High, and possessed of the throne of David, her illustrious ancestor. Mary, out of a just concern to know how she may comply with the will of God without prejudice to her vow of virginity, inquires, “How shall this be?” Nor does she give her consent till the heavenly messenger acquaints her that it is to be a work of the Holy Ghost, who, in making her fruitful, will not intrench in the least upon her virginal purity.
In submission, therefore, to God’s will, without any further inquiries, she expresses her assent in these humble but powerful words: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to Thy word” What faith and confidence does her answer express! what profound humility and perfect obedience!
Reflection.—From the example of the Blessed Virgin in this mystery, how ardent a love ought we to conceive of purity and humility! The Holy Ghost is invited by purity to dwell in souls, but is chased away by the filth of the contrary vice. Humility is the foundation of a spiritual life. By it Mary was prepared for the extraordinary graces and all virtues with which she was enriched, and for the eminent dignity of Mother of God.
Lives of the Saints, by Alban Butler, Benziger Bros. ed.