THE ANGEL GABRIEL WAS SENT FROM GOD TO A VIRGIN NAMED MARY. In the Cistercian Missal published prior to the Vatican II, as was the tradition in the Roman Rite as well, the Feast we celebrate today was known as The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. After the Council, in the updated Liturgy, a new name was substituted for this commemoration so as to shift the focus of our attention from the Blessed Virgin and the angel Gabriel to the person of the Lord Jesus who was conceived in the Virgin’s womb. And so it happens that today we celebrate the Annunciation of Our Lord.
Saint Bernard, writing more than eight hundred years before the Council, had understood clearly that the primary subject of the Annunciation is the surpassing mystery of the Incarnation. Mary, essential though her role is, occupies the background of this central event. In the first of his three Sermons entitled “On the Annunciation of Blessed Mary, his attention is so directed to the need for a redeemer who, being God himself, can alone re-establish the human race in justice and peace that he does not even mention the name of Mary or refer to her role. All depends on the divine intervention. It is not surprising then that Bernard anticipates the Council’s decision when he refers to this event as “The Annunciation of our Lord.” The statement that condenses Bernard’s view of this Feast is his citation of a psalm. Here are his words: “Then he (the Word of God) said: Behold, I come” (“Tunc ergo dixit: ‘Ecce venio’” [Sermo I.14, In Annunciatione B. Mariae PL 183: 389]). Having in this way stressed the Incarnation of the Son of God as the proper mystery we are commemorating in this feast, in his second sermon for this same occasion, Bernard is concerned to draw our attention to the special role assigned to Mary in whom the surpassing mystery of the Incarnation is realized.
The world we live in, we now realize, is a surpassing, harmonious whole, vast beyond all imagination in its extent, and so replete with information that serves increasingly to teach us the secrets of its structure and operations. Bernard, who was uncommonly sensitive to its complexity and beauty, could only perceive in a relatively general manner, guided by his senses and the limited science of his times. But he grasped with a powerful and vivid intuition, enlightened by Sacred Scripture that there the Incarnation is a unique event that calls for a uniquely endowed woman, prepared for her role by a singular grace. At the same time, this happening has a universal character that has fundamental significance for all persons. The very uniqueness of the mystery gives rise to its universality. Bernard addresses Mary herself . “Singularly does your womb bear fruit”, he writes, “but it arrives, through you, to the minds of all.” (S. II, In Annunciatione B. Mariae, PL 183:396).
We celebrate this mystery of the Annunciation of Our Lord with this Eucharist first of all to thank God for the Incarnation of the Son of the Eternal Father. For the Incarnation is first of all, an expression of the love that the Father has for us. The beginning of salvation is not some human act but a divine decree to which the Son of God himself assented. The purpose of this gracious plan is to reconcile us with the Father and to prepare us for eternal life with him. We are challenged by the Father’s divine largess that gives his beloved son to become man and so to assume the same nature that we share as human beings. Accordingly, to deepen our appreciation of the mystery we commemorate here today, we can do nothing more helpful than to strive to grasp with more informed awareness who it is and what are the characteristics of the divine nature that takes flesh among us so as to enable us to share in the very life of God himself. The Annunciation is the beginning of the Son of God’s sharing our human nature and, by that very fact, giving new dimensions to our own human self. The destiny of each of us assumes a fresh, and very real dimension that is measured by the holiness, beauty, power, and love of God Himself. The Incarnation is the commencement of a new epoch in human history that begins with the assent of the Virgin Mary and that finds its fulfillment beyond time in the world where God is all in all. By the grace of this Eucharist may we accept the challenge and the opportunity of this Feast, then, to enhance our faith by loving meditation and prayer, and strengthen our commitment to live as worthy members of the household of God.&
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