The Christian Feast of the Annunciation is About More than Mary
March 25 was the Feast of the Annunciation of the Lord in the Catholic Liturgical Calendar of the Latin Rite. However, this powerful biblical account which describes the encounter between Mary and the Angel is recognized by all Christians for its significance in salvation history.
The mystery of Mary’s cooperation in God’s plan has inspired some of the most profound reflection in the entire Christian tradition, and for good reason. It is not only about Mary, it is about all who bear the name Christian.
Our first reading at the Catholic Liturgy for the day is taken from the messianic Prophet Isaiah places the event within the fulfillment of God’s plan and the answer to His promise to Israel.
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel, which means “God is with us!” (Isaiah 7).
The Gospel text for the Mass of the day is taken from St. Luke:
The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”
But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” And the angel said to her in reply, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God. Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38)
This encounter between Mary and the Angel is not only about Mary and the Angel, it is about you and me! It opens up the meaning of our own lives, and sheds light on our call to participate in God’s loving plan, right now.
In the midst of all of the challenges we face as Christians in a Culture which has forgotten God, we are invited to celebrate and live in God’s loving plan – and to remember that the great liberating promise of the Gospel is intended for all men and women. We are to bear witness to that truth in the world of our own age – by both our words and our lifestyle.
We are the bearers of Good News in an age of bad news. We are the bearers of light in an age of encroaching darkness. We are the solution to an age which is facing a seemingly insurmountable problem. For those who seek, freedom, human flourishing, and God’s loving plan of salvation, we point the Way to the One in whom it is fully revealed on a cross and fulfilled in an empty tomb.
That is because we are Christians, followers of Jesus Christ, the Son and Savior sent by the Father. Through our Baptism into Jesus Christ, we are now members of the Body of Christ, the Church, and Jesus the Head continues his redemptive mission through us, if we say yes to the invitation.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us, – What the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines in turn its faith in Christ. (CCC#487)
Years ago I wrote a reflective book entitled The Prayer of Mary: Living the Surrendered Life. Its intended audience was Christians of other communities who, in the sad aftermath of the hundreds of years of divisions in Western Christianity, have too often lost the great treasure of the witness of Mary – as mother, model of the faith and symbol of the whole Church.
The Catholic Catechism summarizes this mystery in these words:
At once virgin and mother, Mary is the symbol and the most perfect realization of the Church: “the Church indeed. . . by receiving the word of God in faith becomes herself a mother. By preaching and Baptism she brings forth sons, who are conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of God, to a new and immortal life. She herself is a virgin, who keeps in its entirety and purity the faith she pledged to her spouse.” (CCC#507)
The little Virgin of Nazareth teaches us how to live our own Christian life.When the Angel of the Lord appeared, bearing the message and calling her to a special mission, she said “YES.” We must say “Yes” as well and believe that “nothing is impossible with God.”
Let’s consider her response to the message: “I am the handmaiden of the Lord; let it be to me according to your Word.” It is in these words that we can discover the heart of every Christian vocation.
Gregory of Nyssa once wrote:
“What came about in bodily form in Mary, the fullness of the godhead shining through Christ in the Blessed Virgin, takes place in a similar way in every soul that has been made pure. The Lord does not come in bodily form, for ´we no longer know Christ according to the flesh´, but He dwells in us spiritually and the Father takes up His abode with Him, the Gospel tells us. In this way the child Jesus is born in each of us”.
When Mary spoke those few words, human history was forever changed. They came from a deep spiritual reservoir within the heart of a young Jewish girl who was in love with the God of her Fathers – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. A woman of deep, living faith. A woman of prayer.
Mary´s “Yes” is called the Fiat: in Latin, “Let it be done.” Mary´s Fiat was spoken from a heart filled with love for God. In a Biblical context, “heart ” is a word that means much more than the fleshy organ at the center of our chest cavity. It refers to our center, the core of each of us, the place where our deepest identity is rooted, and from which our fundamental choices about life are made. It is the seat of our moral personality. (CCC 2517)
Mary´s words proceeded from her humble, surrendered heart. This young woman was not full of herself, not self-protective, not cynical; she was emptied out of self in order to be filled with the grace of the Lord. She was therefore able to completely surrender herself in love, to Love, and be filled with His Life for others.
Her initial assent to the Angel Gabriel´s announcement also reveals the meaning of another Biblical word, “holy “. Holiness is not about looking pious. It is about being selfless. Mary was holy, and she shows us the way to become holy, too.
In the original languages, the words in Holy Scripture which are translated into the English word “holy” mean to be set apart or consecrated, entirely dedicated to God´s service, given over to God and His worship.
If we want to be holy, we need to explore the meaning of these words and make them our own. We are also called to be set apart for the living God. We are to make a place for Him within ourselves and within the world.
We are to invited to bear His message through living in a way which radiates His love. It is only by being consecrated to the Lord that our own personal histories can be truly transformed. This happens through conversion, or “metanoia“, which, in Greek, means “to change.”
Our hope for change, for becoming holy, is to open our lives to the One who is the source of all goodness and holiness, Jesus Christ. We are called to respond to His invitation, to say “Yes” to a relationship with Him. Not just one, but every day, every waking moment. To live a lifestyle of Yes.
This is what Mary´s Fiat is all about. In saying Yes to God, as Mary did, we are able to discover the path to conversion, to holiness, to authentic spirituality. Our call to embrace the Fiat and to make it our own is not a formula for easy spiritual growth, nor is it the first in a series of steps that lead to solving the problems of life. The spiritual life is a path, a Way, and it involves a continuing, ongoing walk with the Lord.
He has invited each of us into an intimate, personal, exchange of love. This kind of intimacy with a living, loving God is the interior meaning of Mary´s Fiat, her Magnificat, and her entire way of life.
When we embrace Mary´s Prayer and make it our own, we allow the Love that Mary bore in her body to be incarnated in and through us, too. Each of us can say “Yes” to God, right now, wherever we are. Each of us can respond with our entire being, with a Fiat of surrendered love.
When we do so, our positive response marks the beginning of a participation in the very life of the God, the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We become sons and daughters in the Son and enter into the inner life of the Trinitarian God.
In and through Jesus Christ we find our deepest identity, our real selves. We are redeemed and made new by participation in the One who redeems us and transforms us by His continual grace into His Image.
Conversion is a process which begins when we say Fiat with our words and our deeds. This surrender, freely given, introduces to us a new and dynamic way of living with God, and in God. As we lose ourselves in Him, we find ourselves again, made new and completed.
This holy exchange – our life for His- is the essence of the Christian vocation and the pattern of the Way. It is not about power but powerlessness. It is not about increase but decrease. It is not about becoming greater – but about becoming smaller. In short, true Christian spirituality is about surrendered love.
Mary teaches us to stay afloat in the ocean of life, with all of its undertows. Mary´s way is to become an ark within, where the same God who became incarnate within her can take up His residence in us. He comes to dwell in all men and women who say “Yes” to Him. Mary invites us to participate in the ongoing incarnation of God´s Love, for the sake of world which He still loves.
It is an invitation to live our own lives redemptively, by being poured out for others. The ongoing re-creative and redemptive work of God´s love in Jesus Christ continues through us. We truly are are members of His Body. As learn how to become arks, or dwelling places, through which Incarnate Love comes alive for all those around us, we participate in the loving plan of God for others as it continues through time and into eternity.
We enter into Christ´s continuing Incarnation and participate in His ongoing redemptive mission as we respond in the same way Mary did to His invitation: “Behold the servant of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to Thy word.”
Mary, in her selflessness, was already open to the angel´s visit. She recognized who was speaking. She listened, received and responded. In so doing, she shows us the way to respond to the Lord’s call in our own lives.
He still speaks. Do we listen?
God initiates the relationship – and we respond in loving and free surrender to Him. That is still the loving plan of the loving God who fashioned us in His Image and gave us the freedom to respond to Love. That is still the plan of the Father who sent His only Son to restore our freedom and bring us home.
Walking along this Way of giving a continual Yes to God, leads us into a dialogue, a conversation, a communion, a new Way of life, the Christian Way. We become disciples. By saying Yes, offering our own Fiat, we become consecrated and enlisted in the ongoing mission of the Lord Jesus Christ. Mary shows us that way. It is the Way of Her Son and Savior, the Way of the Cross.
Come now, as we look toward the Holiest Week of the Liturgical year, where we enter into the timeless mysteries made present by grace, let us freely join our Yes to Mary and the whole communion of saints and continue the wonderful work of God’s saving power in a world waiting to be born again.
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