Solemnity of the Annunciation of the LordMar 25th, 2011 | By Bryan Cross | Category: Blog Posts
Today we celebrate the central event in the whole of human history: the Incarnation of the Second Person of the most Holy Trinity, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, nine months before His nativity. On this day, God fulfilled the promise He had made in the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:15) that He would send a Seed of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head.
Fra Angelico (1442-43)
Convento di San Marco, Florence
On this day in the fullness of time, God accomplished the following lines in the Creed:
Τὸν δι’ ἡμᾶς τοὺς ἀνθρώπους καὶ διὰ τὴν ἡμετέραν σωτηρίαν
κατελθόντα ἐκ τῶν οὐρανῶν
καὶ σαρκωθέντα ἐκ Πνεύματος Ἁγίου καὶ Μαρίας τῆς Παρθένου
Qui propter nos hómines et propter nostram salútem
Descéndit de cælis.
Et incarnátus est de Spíritu Sancto ex María Vírgine,
et homo factus est.
Who for us men and for our salvation
came down from heaven.
And was incarnate by the Holy Spirit from the Virgin Mary,
and was made man.
This feast is called the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord. On this day the angel Gabriel came to Mary in the city of Nazareth, as recorded in St. Luke 1:26-38, greeting her as one “full of grace.” He announced that she had found favor with God, and that she had been chosen to bear a Son, who was to be named Jesus, who is the “Son of the Most High.” Gabriel told Mary that her Son would be given the throne of David, that He would reign over the house of Jacob forever, that His Kingdom would have no end, and that He would be called the “Son of God,” fulfilling the prophecies made a thousand years earlier. (2 Sam. 7:12-16. Cf. Jer. 23:5, Dan. 2:44, 7:13-14, Ps. 72) Mary was being told that she was the woman referred to in Genesis 3:15, that it was her Seed who would crush the serpent’s head. She was being told that her child would be the Son of God (i.e. divine), and thus that she had been chosen to be the “Mother of God,” the Mother of the One who would set up an everlasting Kingdom. This Messianic Kingdom is the Church, over which the gates of hell shall never prevail.
What role did Mary play on this day? When Mary gave her consent, she opened the door for God to become man, and thus for man to be united to God, through Christ. By opening the door for the union of God with man, and man with God, she mediated between God and man, and between heaven and earth. In this way, she as the second Eve, assisted in undoing what the first Eve had done. St. Justin Martyr wrote in the second century:
For Eve, who was a virgin and undefiled, having conceived the words of the serpent, brought forth disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy, when the angel Gabriel announced the good tidings to her that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon her, and the power of the Highest would overshadow her: wherefore also the Holy Thing begotten of her is the Son of God; and she replied, “Be it unto me according to thy word.” And by her has He been born. (Dialogue with Trypho, 100)
And St. Irenaeus, also in the second century, wrote:
In accordance with this design, Mary the Virgin is found obedient, saying, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to your word.” But Eve was disobedient; for she did not obey when as yet she was a virgin. And even as she, having indeed a husband, Adam but being nevertheless as yet a virgin … having become disobedient, was made the cause of death, both to herself and to the entire human race; so also did Mary, having a man betrothed [to her], and being nevertheless a virgin, by yielding obedience, became the cause of salvation, both to herself and the whole human race. . . . And thus also it was that the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosed by the obedience of Mary. For what the virgin Eve had bound fast through unbelief, this did the virgin Mary set free through faith.” (Against Heresies, III.22.4)
As St. Thomas says, “At the Annunciation the concurrence (i.e. acceptance/consent) of the Virgin was awaited as a representative of [lit. in the place of] the whole of human nature.” [Et ideo per Annuntiationem expetebatur consensus virginis loco totius humanae naturae.] (Summa Theologiae III Q.30 a.1 ad 1)
St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090 — 1153) had expressed this same truth a century earlier, in a homily in which he describes how at the moment of the Annunciation, all the souls in Abraham’s bosom were waiting expectantly for Mary’s consent:
You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us. … Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race. Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word. … Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord,” she says, “be it done to me according to your word.” (“De in laudibus matris virginis” ["Homily in praise of the Virgin Mother"]
In this way, Mary participates in Christ’s work as His associate, the associate of the Second Adam. (See “Mary as Co-Redemptrix.”) By His incarnation Christ has two natures, and thus two wills, i.e. His divine will and His human will. Their synergism shows that the use of the human will does not detract from God’s glory, but gives greater glory to God than if occasionalism were true. Likewise, Mary’s consent is a kind of synergism in the divine work of redemption, because through her free consent to God, God became man, and heaven was brought to earth. All the subsequent works of Christ on earth, depended on Mary’s “Be it done unto me according to Thy Word.”
Mary’s relation to God throughout her life is characterized by those words at the Annunciation: “Be it done unto me according to Thy Word,” and at the wedding at Cana: “Do whatever He tells you.” They manifest the perfect humility and obedience of God’s greatest creation, and provide us an example to imitate.
Last Fall, Professor Lawrence Feingold of Ave Maria University’s Institute for Pastoral Theology gave a lecture on the subject of the Annunciation to the Association of Hebrew Catholics. That lecture, and the following Q&A can be heard here:
Download the mp3s here.