Category Archives: Annunciation

The Annunciation

Today is the Feast of the most important event in human history, when God became a man in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. Let us meditate upon this great mystery of our salvation.

And lest we forget, 26 years ago today, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre, great champion and defender of the Catholic Faith, passed from this life to the next. May he intercede for us, that God will swiftly bring to an end this catastrophic crisis that has been afflicting the Church.

Damsel of the Faith

Meditation from Fr. Prosper Gueranger:

This is a great day, not only to man, but even to God Himself; for it is the anniversary of the most solemn event that time has ever witnessed. On this day, the Divine Word, by which the Father created the world, was made flesh in the womb of a Virgin, and dwelt among us (St. John. i. 14). We must spend it in joy. Whilst we adore the Son of God who humbled himself by thus becoming Man, let us give thanks to the Father, who so loved the world, as to give his Only Begotten Son (3 Ibid. iii. 16.); let us give thanks to the Holy Ghost, Whose almighty power achieves the great mystery. We are in the very midst of Lent, and yet the ineffable joys of Christmas are upon us: our Emmanuel is conceived on this day, and, nine months…

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The Annunciation, according to Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich

 

With the Birth of Our Lord nigh, here is the recounting of His conception at the Annunciation, seen by Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich.  Taken from “The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”

“On the 25th of March, 1821, the Sister said,

I saw the Blessed Virgin soon after her marriage, in the house of Joseph at Nazareth, to which my guide conducted me. Joseph had departed with two asses. I think it was to fetch something that he had inherited, or to bring the tools of his trade. He seemed to me still on his journey.

Besides the Blessed Virgin and two young women of her own age, who had been, I believe, her companions in the Temple, I saw in the house Saint Anne with the widow, her relative, who was in her service, and who later on followed her to Bethlehem after the birth of Jesus. Saint Anne had renewed everything in the house.

I saw the four women walking about in the house, and then walk together in the court. Towards evening I saw them re-enter and pray standing round a little round table, after which they ate some herbs which had been brought there. They separated afterwards. Saint Anne still went about here and there in the house, like the mother of a family engaged in her duties. The two young persons went into their separate chambers, and Mary also retired into her own.

The chamber of the Blessed Virgin was at the back of the house, near the fireplace; it was reached by three steps, for the ground at this part of the house was higher than the rest, and on a rocky foundation. Opposite the door the chamber was round, and in this circular part, which was separated by a partition of the height of a man, was the bed of the Blessed Virgin, rolled up. The walls of the chamber were covered to a certain height with a kind of inlaid work, made of pieces of wood, of different colours. The ceiling was formed by parallel joists, the spaces between which were filled with wicker work, ornamented with figures of stars.

I was conducted into this chamber by the young man of shining appearance who always accompanies me,* and I will relate what I saw as well as such a wretched person as I am can do.

* Her guardian angel.

The Blessed Virgin on entering dressed herself, behind the screen of her bed, in a long robe of white wool, with a large belt, and covered her head with a veil of light yellow. In the meantime the servant entered with a light, lighted a lamp with several branches which hung from the ceiling, and retired. The Blessed Virgin then took a little low table which stood against the wall, and placed it in the middle of her chamber. It was covered with a red and blue cloth, in the middle of which a figure was embroidered. I cannot say whether it was a letter or an ornament. A roll of parchment, written upon, was on the table.

The Blessed Virgin having arranged it, between the place of her bed and the door, on a spot where the floor was covered with a carpet, placed before it a small round cushion on which to kneel. She then knelt down, her two hands leaning upon the table. The door of the chamber was in front of her, to the right. She turned her back to her couch.

Mary let down the veil over her face, and joined her hands before her breast, but without crossing the fingers. I saw her pray for a long time with great ardour, her face turned towards heaven. She invoked the redemption, the coming of the King promised to the people of Israel, and she asked also to have some part in this coming. She remained a long time on her knees transported in ecstasy. She then bent her head over her breast.

Then from the ceiling of the chamber descended, on her right side, in a slightly oblique direction, such a mass of light that I was obliged to turn myself towards the court, where the door was placed. I saw then in this light a resplendent young man, with white flowing hair, descend before her, through the air. It was the Angel Gabriel. He spoke to her, and I saw the words come from his mouth like letters of fire. I read them and understood them. Mary slightly turned her veiled head to the right side. Notwithstanding, in her modesty she did not look at him. The angel continued to speak. Mary turned her face on one side, as if in obedience to an order, slightly raised her veil, and replied. The angel spoke again. Mary completely raised her veil, looked at the angel, and pronounced the sacred words: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.”

The Blessed Virgin was in a profound ecstasy; the chamber was full of light. I saw no more the light of the lamp which was burning, neither did I see the ceiling of the room. Heaven appeared to be open; my observation followed the luminous way above the angel. I saw at the extremity of this river of light the Holy Trinity. It was like a luminous triangle whose rays reciprocally penetrated each ether. I then recognised what we must adore, but can never express the omnipotent God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and yet one only God Almighty.

When the Holy Virgin had said, “Be it done to me according to thy word,” I saw a winged apparition of the Holy Spirit, which, however, had not completely the ordinary representation under the form of a dove. The head had something like the human face; the light spread out on both sides like wings, and I saw come from it as it were three luminous streams towards the right side of the Blessed Virgin, where they were reunited; then this light penetrated her right side, the Blessed Virgin herself became luminous, and as if transparent: it seemed as if everything that was opaque in her retired before this light, as night before the day. She was at this moment so inundated with light that nothing in her appeared obscure or opaque; she was resplendent and as if completely illuminated.

I afterwards saw the angel disappear; the luminous ray from which he had emerged retired; it was as if heaven drew it in and caused to re-enter into itself this flood of light.

After the disappearance of the angel I saw the Blessed Virgin in a profound ecstasy and altogether recollected in herself. I saw that she knew and adored the Incarnation of the Saviour in herself, where He was as a small luminous human body, completely formed, and provided with all His members. Here at Nazareth everything is completely otherwise than at Jerusalem. At Jerusalem the women have to remain in the vestibule, they cannot enter into the Temple priests only have access to the sanctuary but at Nazareth it is a virgin, who is herself the Temple. The Holy of Holies is with in her, the High Priest is within her, and she is alone with Him. How touching and wonderful is this, and yet how simple and natural. The words of David in the 45th Psalm are accomplished: “God is in the midst thereof (His tabernacle), and it shall not be moved.” It was a little past midnight when I saw this mystery. After some time Saint Anne entered into Mary s room with the other women: a marvellous movement in nature had awakened them, a luminous cloud had passed over the house. When they saw the Blessed Virgin on her knees under the lamp transported in ecstasy in prayer, they respectfully retired.

In contemplating this night the mystery of the Incarnation I was also instructed in many other things. Anne received an interior knowledge of what had been accomplished.

I learned why the Redeemer would remain nine months in the womb of His mother and become an infant; why He had not desired to come into the world a man, like our first father, and show Himself in all His beauty, like Adam coming from the hands of his Creator but I cannot clearly explain this. That which I now understand is that He wished to sanctify again the conception and the birth of men, which had been so much degraded by original sin. If Mary became His mother, and that He did not come sooner, was that she alone was what no creature was before or after her, the pure vessel of grace which God had promised to men, and in whom He would become man, to pay the debt of human nature by means of the superabundant merits of His passion. The Blessed Virgin was the perfectly pure flower of the human race unfolded in the fullness of time. All the children of God amongst men, all those who since the beginning had laboured in the work of their sanctification had contributed to His coming. She was the only pure gold of the earth. She alone was the pure and spotless portion of the flesh and blood of the whole human race, who, prepared, purified, gathered, and consecrated through all the generations of her ancestors, conducted, protected, and fortified under the regulations of the law of Moses, was finally produced as the fullness of grace. She was predestined in eternity and she has appeared in time as the Mother of the Eternal.

The Blessed Virgin was a little more than fourteen at the time of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ arrived at the age of thirty-three years and three times six weeks. I say three times six because the figure six was shown to me at this instant, but repeated three times.

When Joseph returned to Nazareth with the Blessed Virgin after her visit to her cousin Elizabeth, he saw by her figure that she was enceinte. He was then assailed with all sorts of troubles and doubts, for he knew nothing of the visit of the angel to Mary. Soon after his marriage he had gone to Bethlehem on some family affairs. Mary in the meantime had returned to Nazareth with her parents and some companions. The angelical salutation had taken place before the return of Joseph to Nazareth. Mary in her timid humility had kept to herself the secret of God.

Joseph, full of trouble and anxiety, did not attempt to learn anything from without, but struggled in silence against his doubts. The Blessed Virgin, who had perceived this, at once was grave and pensive, which increased still more the anxiety of Joseph.

When they had arrived at Nazareth I saw that the Blessed Virgin did not go at once into the house with Saint Joseph. She remained two days with a family connected with her own. They were the parents of the disciple Parmenas, who was not then born, and who afterwards became one of the seven deacons in the first community of Christians at Jerusalem.

These people were allied to the Holy Family; the mother was the sister of the third husband of Mary Cleophas, who was the father of Simeon, Bishop of Jerusalem. They had a house and garden at Nazareth. They were also allied to the Holy Family on the side of Elizabeth. I saw the Blessed Virgin remain some time with them before returning to Joseph’s house; but his trouble increased to such an extent, that when Mary desired to return to his house, he had formed the intention of leaving it and going away secretly. Whilst he was meditating on this project an angel appeared to him in a dream and consoled him.”

In the Bosom of Mary (Part II)

Part I here:  https://damselofthefaith.wordpress.com/2015/03/26/in-the-bosom-of-mary-part-i/

Part II of the meditation on the Incarnation, taken from the book Bethlehem by Fr. William Frederick Faber:

It was on the eighth of December that those primeval decrees of God first began to spring into actual fulfillment upon earth. Like all God’s purposes, they came among men with veils upon their heads, and lived in unsuspected obscurity. Yet the old cosmogony of the material world was an event of less moment far than the Immaculate Conception. When Mary’s soul and body sprang from nothingness at the word of God, the Divine Persons encompassed Their chosen creature in that selfsame instant, and the grace of the Immaculate Conception was Their welcome and Their touch. The Daughter, the Mother, the Spouse, received one and the same pledge from All in that single grace, or well-head of graces, as was befitting the grandeur of her Predestination, and her relationship to the Three Divine Persons, and the dignity she was to uphold in the system of creation. In what order her graces came, how they were enchained one with another, how one was the cause of another, and how others were merely out of the gratuitous abundance of God, how they acted on her power of meriting, and how again her merits reacted upon them,—all this it is beside our purpose to speak of, even if we could do so fittingly. But the commonest grace of the lowest of us is a world of wonders itself, and of supernatural wonders also. How then shall we venture into the labyrinth of Mary’s graces, or hope to come forth from it with any thing more than a perplexed and breathless admiration? It was no less than God Who was adorning her, making her the living image of the August Trinity. It was that she might be the mother of the Word and His created home, that omnipotence was thus adorning her. To the eye of God her beautiful soul and fair body had glided like stars over the abyss of a creatureless eternity, discernible amid the glowing lights and countless scintillations of the Angelic births, across the darkness of chaos and the long epochs of the ripening world, and through the night of four thousand years of wandering and of fall. How must she have come into being, if she was to come worthily of her royal predestination, and of the decrees she was obediently to fulfill, and yet with free obedience!

Out of the abundance of the beautiful gifts with which God endowed her, some colossal graces rose, like lofty mountain tops, far above the level of the exquisite spiritual scenery which surrounded them. The use of reason from the first moment of her Immaculate Conception enabled her to advance in grace and merits beyond all calculation. Her infused science, which, from its being infused, was independent of the use of the senses, enabled her reason to operate, and thus her merits to accumulate, even during sleep. Her complete exemption from the slightest shade of venial sin raised her as nearly out of the imperfections of a creature as was consistent with finite and created holiness. Her confirmation in grace made her a heavenly being while she was yet on earth, and gave her liberty and merit a character so different from ours that in propositions regarding sin and grace we are obliged to make her an exception, together with our Blessed Lord. So gigantic were the graces of that supernatural life, which God made contemporaneous with her natural existence, that in her very first act of love her heroic virtues began far beyond the point where those of the highest Saints have ended. All this is but a dry theological description of the Word’s created home, as it was when the Divine Persons clothed and adorned it as it rose from nothingness. Yet how surpassingly beautiful is the sanctity which it implies! Fifteen years went on, with those huge colossal graces, full of vitality, uninterruptedly generating new graces, and new correspondences to grace evoking from the abyss of the Word new graces still, and merits multiplying merits, so that if the world were written over with ciphers it would not represent the sum. It seems by this time as if her grace were as nearly infinite as finite thing could be, and her sanctity and purity have become so constrainingly beautiful that their constraints reach even to the Eternal Word Himself, and He yields to the force of their attractions, and anticipates His time, and hastens with inexplicable desire to take up His abode in His created home. This is what theology means when it says that Mary merited the anticipation of the time of the Incarnation.

But let us pause for a moment here. St. Denys, when he saw the vision of Mary, said with wonder that he might have mistaken her for God. We may say, in more modern and less simple language, that Mary is like one of those great scientific truths, whose full import we never master except by long meditation, and by studying its bearings on a system, and then at last the fertility and grandeur of the truth seem endless. So it is with the Mother of God. She teaches us God as we never could else have learned Him. She mirrors more of Him in her single self, than all intelligent and material creation beside. In her the prodigies of His love toward ourselves became credible. She is the hill-top from which we gain distant views into His perfections, and see fair regions in Him, of which we should not else have dreamed. Our thoughts of Him grow worthier by means of her. The full dignity of creation shines bright in her, and, standing on her, the perfect mere creature, we look over into the depths of the Hypostatic Union, which otherwise would have been a gulf whose edges we never could have reached. The amount of human knowledge in the present age is overwhelming: yet, the deepest thinkers deem science to be only in its infancy. Many things indicate this truth. Just as each science is yearly growing, yearly outgrowing the old systems which held it within too narrow limits, so is the science of Mary growing in each loving and studious heart all through life, within the spacious domains of vast theology; and in Heaven it will forthwith outgrow all that earth’s theologies have laid down as limits, limits rather necessitated by the narrowness of our own capacities than drawn from the real magnitude of her whom they define.

Yet we should ill use Mary’s magnificence, or rather we should show that we had altogether misapprehended it, if we did not use it as a revelation of God, and an approach to Him. What was it in her which so attracted God? What drew the Word from the Bosom of the Father into her Bosom with such mysterious allurement? It was as if He were following the shadow of His Own beauty. It was because the delights of the Holy Trinity were so faithfully imaged there. All was His. It was to His Own He went. It was His Own which drew Him. He was but falling in love with His Own wisdom, when He so loved her. Her natural life was His Own idea, her beauty a sparkle of His science, her birth an effortless act of His Own almighty will. Her graces were all from Him. She had nothing which she had not received. Like the moon, her loveliness was all from borrowed light, softening and glorifying even in her a thousand craters of finite imperfection, which would have yawned black and dismal if the endless shining of the sun had not beaten full upon her, making beautiful and almost luminous the very shadows that are cast from her unevenness. Her grandest realities are but pale reflections of Himself. Her immense sanctity is less than a dew-drop of His uncreated holiness, which the beautiful white lily has caught in its cup and holds up trembling to the sunrise. Thus it is that God is all in all. Thus it is that the higher we rise in the scale of creatures, the less we see that is their own, and the more we see that all is His. The Angels gleam indistinguishably bright in their individual brightnesses, because they lie so near to God. In Mary, character, personality, special virtues, cognizable features, the creature’s own separate though not independent life, are to our eyes almost obliterated, because the bloom of God flushes her all over with its radiance, making herself and the lineaments of self as indistinguishable as a broad landscape beneath the noonday sun. The orb must have sloped far westward before we can measure distances, and discern the separate folds of wood, and the various undulations of the champaign. With Mary, the Orb will never slope westward. It will stand vertical forever. But we shall have a light of glory, like a new sense, fortifying our souls, and we shall go into the blaze, and see her there with magnificent distinctness lying deep in the glow of God. She will be a million times more great and beautiful to us then than she is now, and yet we shall see that less than a mote is to the magnitude of the huge sun, so much less that it is a littleness inexpressible, is Mary, the creature, to the greatness, the holiness, the adorable incomprehensibility of her Creator! Yet in Him, not in her, will be our rest. Even Him we shall see as He is! Oh, dizzy thought! Most overwhelming truth! Yet nothing less than this Vision, to the very least of us, was the almost incredible purpose of our creation, the glorious consequence of our faint similitude to that Incarnate Word of Whom Mary was the elected Mother!

The Divine decrees came forward in their mysterious slowness. They appeared on earth, and then paused, as it seemed, for fifteen years, and then, as it were, leaped precipitately and out of course to their fulfillment. There is almost always this double appearance, first of slowness and then of precipitation, in all Divine works. It is a characteristic of them, the pondering of which will reward us when we have leisure to do so. It is as if wisdom waited and was slow, till love called in omnipotence to its aid, and forthwith gained its end. Meanwhile we must wait on the grand decree which is trembling on the very verge of its accomplishment. The Eternal Word is about to assume His created nature. All things are subordinate to this. The magnificence of Mary is but His road, His instrument, His means. Her magnificence is simply in her ministering. The day, the hour, the place, the messenger, all come at last; for His beautiful created Home is ready for Him, shining with the greatness of its graces, fragrant with the perfume of its holiness. The day has come. According to our counting, it is Friday the twenty-fifth of March. Why has it been so long delayed? This is a mystery which does not concern us. Why is it that preparation always forms so much greater a part of the Creator’s works than it does of the creature’s? Is it wholly for the creature’s sake, or is it indicative of some perfection in the Creator? It is at least a disclosure of His character, which fixes our attention, and is not without its influence on our conduct. Why was He so long in preparing the world for the habitation of man? What means the old age of the lifeless rocks? Wherefore were those vast epochs of gigantic foliage, as if it were not beneath the minute considerateness of His love to be laying in wealth and power for generations of unborn men? Why were land and sea distributed and redistributed again and again, as if He were a fastidious artist Who could not please Himself because He could not express His idea except through repeated experiments? What end did those secular periods of huge sea-monsters and terrific creeping things subserve? Why was man so late a birth in the epoch of those perfect animals which were either his predecessors or his companions? Why should earth have to be the teeming burial-ground of dynasties dethroned and tribes extinct, before the true life for which it was meant came upon it? Who can tell? Perhaps it was not so. But, if it was so, it was His will. The delay of the Incarnation is parallel to what geology professes to reveal to us of the fitting and adorning and re-touching of the planet, if that can be called re-touching which was doubtless the simple development of a vast and tranquil uniformity. But the day came at last, the twenty-fifth of March, ever memorable among men as the date of the Incarnation. There was doubtless some deep and beautiful reason why it was not on the twenty-fourth or on the twenty-sixth, and why it should be on the anniversary of Adam’s fall, and hereafter of the Crucifixion,—there was doubtless some deep reason, because God has no surface; all things are deep which are in Him.

But of the chosen day the first moment was chosen also. The stars had scarcely marked the midnight in the sky, when the decree accomplished itself. Perhaps the greatest silence of created things, the hush of the nocturnal earth, was most suited to the Creator’s coming, just as it was with Adam in the old Asiatic Paradise. Goodness, also, like evil, though for opposite reasons, affects darkness and obscurity. God seem[s] marvelously to shun witnesses. The Resurrection manifests this to us, that unwitnessed mystery, the witnessing of which was nevertheless to be a main function of the college of Apostles. Yet they even were only allowed to bear witness, not to its taking place, but to its having undoubtedly taken place. So it is in science, in all questions of life, in the creation of species, in God’s viewless omnipresence, in the operation of His supernatural Sacraments, in the actual communications of grace, in all positive contacts with Him, our research is baffled on the very threshold of discovery. We just reach the point where we should see God the next moment; and without any visible obstacles, without walls or rocks or any palpable fences, we are mysteriously stayed. We can advance no further. We seem to hear the sound of God working, almost to feel His breath; but He will not be witnessed. He remains invisible. As it is in His lesser works, so was it in this His greatest. He came in the dark night, when men were unsuspecting: yet He did not take them by surprise; for, when the morning broke, He did not even tell them that He had come. Do we not know ourselves that, although we are God’s creatures, and creation is full to overflowing of Him, and is meant to raise us to Him, we nevertheless feel we are most with God when least occupied with His outward creation, and draw nearest to Him in proportion as we draw back furthest from creatures? So, on His side, He seems to keep aloof, even when He is coming in closest contact with us. He shrinks from view, Whose blaze we could not bear.

The place, where the Word’s assumption of His created nature was to be effected, was the inner room, or woman’s apartment, of the Holy House of Nazareth, where Mary and Joseph dwelt. It was an obscure dwelling of humble poverty in a rustic and sequestered village of a small land, whose days of historic glory had passed away, and whose destiny in the onward march of civilization would seem, as philosophical historians would speak, to be exhausted. The national independence of the people had come to an end. The questions, which divided their sects, were narrow and trivial. Jerusalem, long since eclipsed by Athens and outgrown by Alexandria, sat now, humbled and silent, beneath the somber shade of Rome. Even in this land Nazareth was almost a byword of contempt. Filled with pastoral green hills which shut it up within itself, its men were known beyond their own hills only for a coarse and fierce rusticity, with perhaps a reputation for something worse. The Eternal God was about to become a Nazarene. He, Whose eye saw down into every wooded hollow and penetrated every sylvan glen upon the globe, Who saw the white walls of fair cities perched jealously on their hill-tops or basking in the sunshine by the blue sea, chose that ill-famed, inglorious Nazareth for the scene of His great mystery. Who can deem that aught with God is accidental, or that anything happened as it might chance to happen with the central wonder of the Incarnation? It was His choice; and to us Nazareth, and its Holy House, exiled, wandering, and angel-borne, Syrian, Dalmatian, Italian, all by turns, are consecrated places, doubly consecrated by their old memories, and also by their strange continued life of local graces and the efficacious balm of a Divine Presence, awful and undecayed.

The occupations of that Holy House at Nazareth must not pass unnoticed. The minutest feature in the most ordinary circumstance of the Creator’s assumption of a created nature must be full of significance. From the Gospel narrative of the Annunciation [Luke 1: 26-40] we should infer that Mary had received no warning of what was about to happen, still less therefore of the time when the mystery should be accomplished. Great events commonly cast a peaceful trouble into great souls before they come, as if there was deep down in heroic natures something like a natural gift of prophecy. Such vibrations awakening yet indistinct, may have thrilled through Mary’s soul. Otherwise the mystery took her unawares; and, till the moment came, the greatness of her science and the wonder of her conscious holiness had not so much as excited a suspicion in her beautiful humility. Her unpreparedness thus gives a greater significance to her occupations at the time. The night was still and calm around her. We know not whether Joseph was wakefully pondering on the Divine mercies, or whether that man of heavenly dreams was resting from the toils of the artisan’s rude day in holy sleep. When the shadow of the everlasting decree stole upon her, Mary the wonderful and chosen creature, was alone, and, according to the universal belief, immersed in prayer. She was spending the hours of the silent night in closest union with God. Her spirit, then, as always, was doubtless raised in ecstasy to heights of rapturous contemplation. It was in the act of her prayer that the Word took possession of His created home. It was perhaps the immense increase of merit, and so the immense increase of her interior beauty, in that very prayer, which ended the delay, and precipitated the glorious mystery. It was perhaps one of her intense aspirations, an aspiration into which her whole soul and all the might of its purity were thrown, that drew the everlasting Son so suddenly at last from the Bosom of the Father. How often have the desires of the Saints been their own immediate fulfillment, because of their intensity! But what desire ever had such intensity as Mary’s yearning for Messias, unless indeed it were His Own eternal longing for His created nature? It was at least in an hour of awe-stricken worship that God visited her. Her created spirit was busied in adoration, when the Uncreated came, and took His Flesh and Blood, and dwelt within her. In all this too we see the fashion of God’s ways.

Yet His coming was not abrupt. He sent His messenger, before He came himself. We know nothing of the antecedents of the individual Angels; but Gabriel appears throughout Scripture, in the days of Daniel as well as those of Mary, to be the Angel of the Incarnation.  There was doubtless something in his own character, something in his special graces, something in the part he had taken against the rebellious Angels, which peculiarly fitted him for this office, to which also he had unquestionably been predestinated from all eternity. It implies an extreme beauty of character, and a special relationship to each of the Three Divine Persons, and also a peculiar angelical similitude to Mary. He had been throughout the official herald of the decrees regarding the Incarnation, and he appears at this time in the midnight room at Nazareth, because the weeks of Daniel have run out, and he is preceding now, hardly by a moment, the everlasting decrees. But what is the especial purpose for which he has come? To ask in the name of God for Mary’s consent to the Incarnation. The Creator will not act in this great mystery without His creature’s free consent. Her freedom shall be a glorious reflection of His own ineffable freedom in the act of creation. The Omnipotent stands on ceremony with His feeble, finite creature. He has already raised her too high to be but a blind instrument. Moreover, the honor of His own assumption of a created nature is concerned in the liberty wherewith creation shall grant Him what he requires. He would not come, claiming His rights or using His prerogatives. Sometimes we have seen the tide pile up its weltering waves one upon another, as if it were building a tower of water, before some insignificant obstacle which the pressure of one rolling billow would have driven before it far up the sounding beach. This is a picture to us of the moment of the Incarnation. Innumerable decrees of God, decrees without number, like the waves of the sea, decrees that included or gave forth all other decrees, came up to the midnight room at Nazareth, as it were to the feet of that most wonderful of God’s creatures, with the resistless momentum which had been given them from eternity, all glistening with the manifold splendors of the Divine perfections, like huge billows just curling to break upon the shore; and they stayed themselves there, halted in full course, and hung their accomplishment upon the Maiden’s word.

It was an awful moment. It was fully in Mary’s power to have refused. Impossible as the consequences seem to make it, the matter was with her, and never did free creature exercise its freedom more freely than did she that night. How the Angels must have hung over that moment! With what adorable delight and unspeakable complacency did not the Holy Trinity await the opening of her lips, the fiat of her whom God had evoked out of nothingness, and Whose Own fiat was now to be music in His ears, creation’s echo to that fiat of His at whose irresistible sweetness creation itself sprang into being! Earth only, poor, stupid, unconscious earth, slept in its cold moonshine. That Mary should have any choice at all is a complete revelation of God in itself. How a creature so encompassed and cloistered in grace could have been free in any sense to do that which was less pleasing to God is a mystery which no theology to be met with has ever yet satisfactorily explained. Nevertheless the fact is beyond controversy. She had this choice, with the uttermost freedom in her election, in some most real sense of freedom. But who could doubt what the voice would be, which should come up out of such abysses of grace as hers! There had not been yet on earth, nor in the Angels’ world, an act of adoration so nearly worthy of God as that consent of hers, that conformity of her deep lowliness to the magnificent and transforming will of God. But another moment, and there will be an act of adoration greater far than that. Now God is free. Mary has made Him free. The creature has added a fresh liberty to the Creator. She has unchained the decrees, and made the sign, and in their procession, like mountainous waves of light, they broke over her in floods of golden splendor. The eternal Sea laved the queenly creature all around, and the Divine complacency rolled above her in majestic peals of soft mysterious thunder, and a God-like Shadow falls upon her for a moment, and Gabriel had disappeared, and without shock, or sound, or so much as a tingling stillness, God in a created nature sate in His immensity within her Bosom, and the eternal will was done, and creation was complete. Far off a storm of jubilee swept far-flashing through the Angelic world. But the Mother heard not, heeded not. Her head sank upon her bosom, and her soul lay down in a silence which was like the peace of God.

The Word was made flesh.

Even to us in the retrospect it is a moment of unutterable gladness. Love ponders it many times, when the world presses heavily and life goes wearily. When all things, but God, give way, because they are void and empty, and our pursuits are like the colored ends of rainbows, seen through even while we pursue them, and always receding before us as we advance, then we find such rest and such sufficiency and such transcending calm in God, that love weeps over the weakness of its own worship, and frets with a tranquil fretfulness because it cannot love Him more. It is then that the first act of love of the Sacred Heart of Jesus rises consolingly to our remembrance. It was a finite act, and yet of value infinite. Then first was the blessed majesty of God worshipped as it deserved to be. His glory lay outspread in all its broad perfection, in all its unembraced immensity, and that first act of love embraced it. Its worship was as broad as the uncomprehended breadth that lay before it. To our thoughts, to the foolishness of our venturous thoughts as finite beings, there was something desolate in that creatureless eternity of God. It was not an uncompanioned life, because of the Three Divine Persons in One God. But worship is our highest thought, and there is something dreary in the idea of an unworshipped splendor, something appalling, like a scene oppressively sublime, in an unworshipped God. It is our own foolishness, our own littleness. Yet what vent has love except in worship? We turn from our own worship of God as beneath even the complacency of our own vain-glory. We think with joy of the Saints and of the Angels, whose adoration reaches so much nearer to the Throne. Mary’s worship of God is all but rest to our eagerness to see Him loved exceedingly and worthily. But love’s rest, love’s sweet satiety, is in the worship of the Sacred Heart, and there alone. So that, in the first moment of the Incarnation, not only were the amazing decrees of everlasting wisdom fulfilled, and creation with incredible magnificence completed, but the creation thus completed turned round as it were to the Face of the Creator, and worshipped Him with a worship equal to Himself. When the heart is sick because “truths are diminished among the children of men,” and the weight of unintelligibly triumphant and abundant sin lies heavy on it, and the mind is dragged through thorny places till it bleeds, then the frightened soul flies back to that moment of the first love of Jesus, and rests there with the more full assurance and abiding calm, because it knows that that first act of love is not ended yet. It has stretched from that old midnight at Nazareth to this hour, and is not weakened by the stretch. It can bear the weight of millions of new creations. It will wear for untold eternities. Old as it is, it is new still. It is unending. Its arms are round the majesty of God, its kiss is on His feet, for evermore.

Thus had the Eternal Word begun His created life on earth. He had taken possession of that fair home which He had predestinated for Himself from everlasting. He had begun to live a life so full and broad and deep, that, if all the lives of Angels and men ran into one confluent stream, they would make but an insignificant and impoverished rill compared with the flood of real, enduring, solid, efficacious life which was His. It was a life without intermittence, without experiments, without failures, without inequalities. It was always at hightide, always succeeding, always reaching the ends at which it aimed, always fulfilling its purposes in the loftiest manner. It was a life without advance, without growth, beginning with its fullness both of science and of grace. It was a life which had measures, but its measures were practically immeasurable. Its worth was infinite, even while it was not absolutely infinite itself. It was a life also which comprehended all lives both of Angels and of men, touched them, vivified them, ennobled them, immortalized them. It ran over and abounded in mysteries, in merits, in satisfactions. It was the perpetual plenary indulgence of all other life that ever was. It was a life of the most absorbed contemplation, and at the same time of the most beneficent and heroic activity. It was a life of incomparable intellectual excellence, of unsurpassed moral wisdom, and of unexampled sanctity. It was a life so real and so true, so self-conscious and substantial, creating, perfecting, consolidating so much, that all other life by the side of it is but a shadow of life, a bare taking hold and letting go again, a mere ineffectual clutching of the hands in sleep. It was the life on which all noble, manful, divine lives were to be modeled, and moreover it contained the energetic cause and efficacious prophecy of all such lives within itself.

In the Bosom of Mary (Part I)

Taken from Bethlehem by Fr. William Frederick Faber:

The Incarnation lies at the bottom of all sciences, and is their ultimate explanation. It is the secret beauty in all arts. It is the completeness of all true philosophies. It is the point of arrival and departure to all history. The destinies of nations, as well as of individuals, group themselves around it. It purifies all happiness, and glorifies all sorrow. It is the cause of all we see, and the pledge of all we hope for. It is the great central fact both of life and immortality, out of sight of which man’s intellect wanders in the darkness, and the light of a Divine life falls not on his footsteps. Happy are those lands which are lying still in the sunshine of the faith, whose wayside crosses, and statues of the Virgin Mother, and triple Angelus each day, and the monuments of their cemeteries, are all so many memorials to them that their true lives lie cloistered in the single mystery of the Incarnation! We too are happy, happy in thinking that there are still such lands, few though they be and yearly fewer, for the sake of Him Whom we love and Who reaps from them such an abundant harvest of faith and love. Yet who is there that does not love his own land best of all? To us it is sad to think of this western island, with its world-wide empire, and its hearts empty of faith and the true light gone out within them. Multitudes of Saints sleep beneath its sod, so famous for its greenness. No land is so thickly studded with spire and tower as poor mute England. In no other kingdom are noble churches strewn with such a lavish hand up and down its hill and dale. Dearest land! Thou seemest worth a martyrdom for thine exceeding beauty! It must be the slow martyrdom of speaking to the deaf, of explaining to the blind, and of pleading with the hardened.

Time was, in ages of faith, when the land would not have lain silent, as it lies now, on this eve of the twenty-fifth of March. The sweet religious music of countless bells would be ushering in the vespers of the glorious feast of the Incarnation. From the east, from central Rome, as the day declined, the news of the great feast would come, from cities and from villages, from alpine slope and blue sea-bay, over the leafless forests and the unthawed snow-drifts on the fallow uplands of France. The cold waves would crest themselves with bright foam as the peal rang out over the narrow channel: and if it were in Paschal-time, it would double men’s Easter joys; and if it were in Lent, it would be a very foretaste of Easter. One moment, and the first English bell would not yet have sounded; and then Calais would have told the news to Dover, and church and chantry would have passed the note on quickly to the old Saxon-mother church of Canterbury. Thence, like a storm of music, would the news of that old eternal decree of God, out of which all creation came, have passed over the Christian island. The Saints “in their beds” would rejoice to hear Augustine, Wilfrid, and Thomas where they lie at Canterbury, Edward at Westminster, our chivalrous protoMartyr where he keeps ward amidst his flowery meads in his grand long Abbey at St. Alban’s, Osmund at Salisbury, Thomas at Hereford, Richard the Wonderful at Chichester, John at Beverley, a whole choir of Saints with gentle St. William at York, onward to the glorious Cuthbert, sleeping undisturbed in his pontifical pomp beneath his abbey fortress on the seven hills of Durham. With the cold evening wind the vast accord of jubilant towers would spread over the weald of Kent, amid its moss-grown oaks and waving mistletoe. The low, humble churches of Sussex would pass it on, as day declined, to Salisbury, and Exeter, and St. Michael’s fief of Cornwall. It would run like lightning up the Thames, until the many-steepled London, with its dense groves of city churches, whose spires stand thick as the ship-masts in the docks, would be alive with the joyous clangor of its airy peals, steadied as it were by the deep bass of the great national bell in the tower of Old St. Paul’s. Many a stately shrine in Suffolk and Norfolk would prolong the strain, until it broke from the sea-board into all the inland counties, sprinkled with monasteries, and proud parish churches fit to be the cathedrals of bishops elsewhere, while up the Thames, by Windsor, and Reading Abbey, and the gray spires of Abingdon, Oxford with its hundred bells would send forth its voice over field and marsh to Gloucester, Worcester, and even down to Warwick and to Shrewsbury, and its southern sound would mingle with the strain that came across from Canterbury, amid the Tudor churches of the orchard-loving Somerset, at the foot of Glastonbury’s legendary fane, and on the quays of Bristol, whose princely merchants abjured the slave-trade at the preaching of St. Wulstan. In the heart of the great fen, where the moon through the mist makes a fairy-land of the willows and the marsh-plants, of the stagnant dikes and the peat embankments and the straight white roads, the bells of the royal sanctuary of Ely would ring out merrily, sounding far off or sounding near as the volumes of the dense night-mist closed or parted, cheating the traveler’s ear. A hundred lichen-spotted abbeys in those watery lowland would take up the strain; while great St. Mary’s, like a precentor, would lead the silvery peals of venerable Cambridge, low-lying among its beautiful gardens by the waters of its meadow-stream. Lincoln from its steep capitol would make many a mile of quaking moss and black-watered fen thrill with the booming of its bells. Monastic Yorkshire, that beautiful kingdom of the Cistercians, would scatter its waves of melodious sound over the Tees into Durham and Northumberland, northward along the conventual shores of the gray North Sea, and westward over the heath-covered fells and by the brown rivers into Lancashire, and Westmoreland, and Cumberland, whose mountain-echoes would answer from blue lakes, and sullen tarns, and the crags where the raven dwells, and the ferny hollows where the red deer couches, to the bells of Carlisle, St. Bees, and Furness. Before the cold white moon of March has got the better of the lingering daylight, the island, which seemed to rock on its granite anchors far down within the ocean, as if it tingled with the pulses of deep sound, will have heard the last responses dying muffled in the dusky Cheviots, or in the recesses of gigantic Snowdon, and by the solitary lakes of St. David’s land, or trembling out to sea to cheer the mariner as he draws nigh the shore of the Island of the Saints. Everywhere are the pulses of the bells beating in the hearts of men. Everywhere are their hearts happier. Everywhere, over hill and dale, in the street of the town, and by the edge of the fen, and in the rural chapels on the skirts of the hunting-chase, the Precious Blood is being out-poured on penitent souls, and the fires of faith burn brightly, and holiest prayers arise; while the Angels, from the southern mouths of the Arun and the Adur to the banks of the brawling Tweed and the sands of the foaming Solway, hear only, from the heart of a whole nation, and from the choirs of countless churches, and from thousands of reeling belfries, one prolonged Magnificat.

These things are changed now. Let them pass. Yet not without regret. It is the Feast of the Incarnation. God is immutable. Our jubilee must be in Him. We must nestle deeper down in His Bosom, while science, and material prosperity, and a literature which has lost all echoes of Heaven, are thrusting men to the edge of external things, and forcing them down the precipice. It may be a better glory for us, if our weakness fail not in the wilderness, that our faith should have to be untied from all helps of sight and sound, and left alone in the unworldly barrenness where God and His eagles are. Poor England! Poor English souls! But it is the Feast of the Incarnation. God is immutable. Our jubilee must be in Him.

God is incomprehensible. When we speak of Him, we hardly know what we say. Faith is to us instead both of thought and tongue. In like manner those created things, which lie on the edges of His intolerable light, become indistinct through excess of brightness, and are seen confusedly as He is Himself. Thus He has drawn Mary so far into His light, that, although she is our fellow-creature, there is something inaccessible about her. She participates in a measure in His incomprehensibility. We cannot look for a moment at the noonday sun. Its shivering flames of black and silver drive us backward in blindness and in pain. Who then could hope to see plainly a little blossom floating like a lily on the surface of that gleaming fountain, and topped everywhere by its waves of fire? So is it with Mary. She lies up in the fountain-head of creation, almost at the very point where it issues from God; and amid the unbearable coruscations of the primal decrees of God she rests, almost without color or form to our dazzled eyes; only we know that she is there, and that the Divine light is her beautiful clothing. The longer we gaze upon her, the more invisible does she become, and yet at the same time the more irresistible is the attraction by which she draws us toward herself. While her personality seems to be almost merged in the grandeur of her relationship to God, our love of her own self becomes more distinct, and our own relationship to her more sweetly sensible.

It was a wonderful life which the Eternal Word led in the Bosom of the Father. It fascinates us. We can hardly leave off speaking of it. Yet behold! He seeks also a created home. Was His eternal home wanting in aught of beauty or of joy? Let the raptured seraphs speak, who have lain for ages on the outer edge of that uncreated Bosom, burning their immortal lives away in the fires of an insatiable satiety, fed ever from the vision of that immutable Beatitude. There could be nothing lacking in the Bosom of the Father. God were not God, if He fell short of self-sufficiency. Yet deep in His unfathomable wisdom there was something which looks to our eyes like a want. There is an appearance of a desire on the part of Him to Whom there is nothing left to desire, because He is self-sufficient. This apparent desire of the Holy Trinity becomes visible to our faith in the Person of the Word. It is as if God could not contain Himself, as if He were overcharged with the fulness of His Own essence and beauty, or rather as if He were outgrowing the illimitable dimensions of Himself. It seems as He must go out of Himself, and summon creatures up from nothing, and fall upon their neck, and overwhelm them with His love, and so find rest. Alas! how words tremble, and grow wild, and lose their meanings, when they venture to touch the things of God! God’s love must outflow. It seems like a necessity; yet all the while it is an eternally pondered, eternally present, freedom, glorious and calm, as freedom is in Him Who has infinite room within Himself. What looks to us so like a necessity is but the fulness of His freedom. He will go forth from Himself, and dwell in another home, perhaps a series of homes, and beatify wherever He goes, and multiply for Himself a changeful incidental glory, such as He never had before, and scatter gladness outside Himself, and call up world after world, and bathe it in His light, and communicate His inexhaustible Self inexhaustibly, and yet remain immutably the Same, awfully reposing on Himself, majestically satiating His adorable thirst for glory from the depths of His Own Self. Abysses of being are within Him, and His very freedom with a look of imperiousness allures Him into the possibilities of creation. Yet is this freedom to create, together with the free decree of creation, as eternal as that inward necessity by which the Son is ever being begotten, and the Holy Spirit ever proceeding. All this becomes visible to us in time, and visible in the Person of the Word, and only visible by supernatural revelation, which reason may corroborate, but never could discover.

The Word in the Father’s Bosom seeks another home, a created home. He will seem to leave His uncreated home, and yet He will not leave it. He will appear as though He were allured from it, while in truth He will go on filling it with His delights, as He has ever done. He will go, yet He will stay even while He goes. Whither, then, will He go? What manner of home is fit for Him, Whose home is the Bosom of the Father, and Who makes that home the glad wonder that it is? All possible things lay before Him at a glance, as on a map. They lay before Him also in the sort of perspective which time gives, and by which it makes things new. His home shall be wonderful enough; for there is no limit to His wisdom. It shall be glorious enough; for there is no boundary to His power. It shall be dear to Him beyond word or thought; for there is no end to His love. Yet even so, nothing short of an infinite condescension can find any fitness for Him in finite things. Nevertheless such as a God’s power and a God’s wisdom and a God’s love can choose out of a God’s possibilities, His created home shall be. Who then shall dream, until he has seen it, what that thrice infinite perfection of the Holy Trinity shall choose out of His inexhaustible possibilities? Who, when he has seen it, shall describe it as he ought? The glorious, adorable, and eternal Word, in the ample range of His unrestricted choice, predestinated the Bosom of Mary to be His created home, and fashioned, with well-pleased love, the Immaculate Heart which was to tenant it with Himself. O Mary, O marvelous mystical creature, O resplendent mote, lost almost to view in the upper light of the supernal fountains! who can sufficiently abase himself before thee, and weep for the want of love to love thee rightly, thee whom the Word so loved eternally?

There were no creatures to sing anthems, in Heaven, when that choice was made. No angelic thunders of songs rolled round the Throne in oceans of melodious sound, when the Word decreed that primal object of His adorable predilection. No creations of almost Divine intelligence were there to shroud their faces with their wings, and brood in self-abasing silence on the beauty of that created Home of their Creator. There was only the silent song of God’s Own awful life, and the eternal voiceless thunder of His good pleasure. Forthwith—we must speak in our own human way—the Holy Trinity begins to adorn the Word’s created home with a marvelous effluence of creative skill and love. She was to be the head of all mere creatures, having a created person as well as a created nature, while her Son’s created nature, with the Uncreated Person, was to be the absolute Head of all creation, the unconfused and uncommingling junction of God and of creation. She was to be a home for the Word, as the Bosom of the Father had been a home for Him, realized and completed in unity of nature. The materials which the Word was to take for His created nature were once to have been actually hers, so that the union between the Word and herself should be more awful than words can express. Each Person of the Holy Trinity claimed her for His Own by a special relationship. She was the eternally elected daughter of the Father.  There was no other relationship in which she could stand to Him, and it was a reflection of the eternal filiation of His uncreated Son. She was the Mother of the Son; for it was to the amazing realities of that office that He had summoned her out of nothing. She was the Spouse of the Holy Ghost; for He it was Who was wedded to her soul by the most transcendent unions which the kingdom of grace can boast, and it was He who out of her spotless Blood made that undefiled Flesh which the Word was to assume and to animate with His human Soul. Thus she was marked with an indelible character by Each of the Three Divine Persons. She was Their eternal idea, nearest to that Idea which was the cause of all creation, the Idea of Jesus; she was necessary, as They had willed it, to the realization of that Idea; and she came before it in priority of time and in seeming authority of office. Such is the bare statement of the place which Mary occupies in the decrees of God. All we could add would be weak compared with this. Words cannot magnify her whom thought can hardly reach; and panegyric is almost presumption,—as if what lies so close to God could be honored by our approval. Our praise of Mary, in this one respect like our praise of God, of which it is in truth a part, is best embodied in our wonder and our love.

Was it as if God lost something, when He realized His beautiful ideas, and so creatures came in some way to share with Him in the enjoyment of their beauty? Was it as if, when His idea thus escaped Him in act, He was bereaved of His treasures, and was less rich a God than He was before? Surely not; for what was all creation, but the immensity of His communicative love finding undreamed-of outlets into unnumbered worlds? Yet the Divine Persons seem—again it is seeming of which we must speak, we whose tenses and moods are always dishonoring the inexplicable present of eternity—to brood, and wait, and ponder, and feed upon the wisdom and loveliness which lay hid in Their idea of the Word’s created home. To create was to unveil the sanctuary, and They appeared to pause. At length, after an eternity which could have no Afterward, actual creation began. Angels, and matter, created together that spirit might be humble in its precedence, and then men, were as three enchanting preludes to Jesus and Mary, preludes of surpassing sweetness, full of types and symbols and shadows cast forward from what was yet to be in act, though it was prior and supreme in the Divine decrees. The Fall has come, and still God waits. The sun has set on the now tenantless Eden, but the decrees make no haste. They quicken not their pace. Four thousand years are truly as nothing, even in the age of the planet; yet they are long when souls are sinning, and hearts are pining, and the footsteps of generations fainting, because of the delay of the Messias. God still lingers. His glory seems to stoop and feed on the desires of the nations and the ages, while the shadows of doubt and the sickness of deferred hope gather round them so disconsolately. As the Sacred Humanity is the head of creation and the fountain of grace both to Angels and to men, and perhaps to other species of rational creations still unborn, so was it meet, in the Divine dispensations, that the Precious Blood of Jesus should merit all the graces necessary to ornament the Word’s created home. Now that the Incarnate Word was to come as a Redeemer, His Mother must be redeemed by Him with a singular and unshared redemption. Beautiful as she was in herself, and incalculable as were her merits, her greatest graces were not merited by herself, but by that Precious Blood which was to be taken from her own. The first white lily that ever grew on that ruddy stem was the Immaculate Conception; and when the time for Mary’s advent came, that was the first grace with which the Divine Persons began Their magnificent work of adorning. It was a new creation, though it was older in the mind of God, as men would speak, than the first-born Angels, or the material planet, which, if we are to credit the tales of science, so many secular epochs and millenniums had at last matured for the Incarnation.

The Annunciation

Meditation from Fr. Prosper Gueranger:

This is a great day, not only to man, but even to God Himself; for it is the anniversary of the most solemn event that time has ever witnessed. On this day, the Divine Word, by which the Father created the world, was made flesh in the womb of a Virgin, and dwelt among us (St. John. i. 14). We must spend it in joy. Whilst we adore the Son of God who humbled himself by thus becoming Man, let us give thanks to the Father, who so loved the world, as to give his Only Begotten Son (3 Ibid. iii. 16.); let us give thanks to the Holy Ghost, Whose almighty power achieves the great mystery. We are in the very midst of Lent, and yet the ineffable joys of Christmas are upon us: our Emmanuel is conceived on this day, and, nine months hence, will be born in Bethlehem, and the Angels will invite us to come and honour the sweet Babe.

During Septuagesima Week, we meditated upon the fall of our First Parents, and the triple sentence pronounced by God against the serpent, the woman, and Adam. Our hearts were filled with fear as we reflected on the divine malediction, the effects of which are to be felt by all generations, even to the end of the world. But, in the midst of the anathemas then pronounced against us, there was a promise made us by our God; it was a promise of salvation, and it enkindled hope within us. In pronouncing sentence against the serpent, God said, that His head should one day be crushed, and that, too, by a Woman.

The time has come for the fulfilment of this promise. The world has been in expectation for four thousand years; and the hope of its deliverance has been kept up, in spite of all its crimes. During this time, God has made use of miracles, prophecies, and types, as a renewal of the engagement He has entered into with mankind. The blood of the Messias has passed from Adam to Noah; from Sem to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; from David and Solomon to Joachim; and now it flows in the veins of Mary, Joachim’s Daughter. Mary is the Woman, by whom is to be taken from our race the curse that lies upon it. God has decreed that she should be Immaculate; and, thereby, has set an irreconcilable enmity between her and the serpent. She, a daughter of Eve, is to repair all the injury done by her Mother’s fall; she is to raise up her sex from the degradation into which it has been cast; she is to co-operate, directly and really, in the victory which the Son of God is about to gain over his and our enemy.

A tradition, which has come down from the Apostolic Ages, tells us, that the great Mystery of the Incarnation was achieved on the twenty-fifth day of March (St. Augustine, De Trinitate, Lib. iv. cap. v.). It was at the hour of midnight, when the most Holy Virgin was alone and absorbed in prayer, that the Archangel Gabriel appeared before her, and asked her, in the name of the Blessed Trinity, to consent to become the Mother of God. Let us assist, in spirit, at this wonderful interview between the Angel and the Virgin; and, at the same time, let us think of that other interview, which took place between Eve and the serpent. A holy Bishop and Martyr of the 2nd century, Saint Ireneus, who had received the tradition from the very disciples of the Apostles, shows us that Nazareth is the counterpart of Eden (Adv. Haereses. Lib. v. cap. xix).

In the garden of delights, there is a virgin and an angel; and a conversation takes place between them. At Nazareth, a virgin is also spoken to by an angel, and she answers him; but the angel of the earthly Paradise is a spirit of darkness, and he of Nazareth is a spirit of light. In both instances, it is the Angel that has the first word. Why, said the serpent to Eve, why hath God commanded you, that you should not eat of every tree of Paradise? His question implies impatience and a solicitation to evil; he has contempt for the frail creature to whom he addresses it, but he hates the image of God which is upon her.

See, on the other hand, the Angel of light; see with what composure and peacefulness he approaches the Virgin of Nazareth, the new Eve; and how respectfully he bows himself down before her: Hail full of grace! The Lord is with thee! Blessed art thou among women! Such language is evidently of heaven: none but an  Angel could speak thus to Mary.

Eve imprudently listens to the tempter’s words; she answers him; she enters into conversation with one that dares to ask her to question the justice of God’s commands. Her curiosity urges her on. She has no mistrust in the serpent; this leads her to mistrust her Creator.

Mary hears what Gabriel has spoken to her; but this Most Prudent Virgin is silent. She is surprised at the praise given her by the Angel. The purest and humblest of Virgins has a dread of flattery; and the heavenly Messenger can get no reply from her, until he has fully explained his mission by these words: Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God. Behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a Son: and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of David His father: and He shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever, and of His kingdom there shall be no end.

What magnificent promises are these, which are made to her in the name of God! What higher glory could she, a daughter of Juda, desire? knowing, too, as she does, that the fortunate Mother of the Messias is to be the object of the greatest veneration! And yet, it tempts her not. She has for ever consecrated her virginity to God, in order that she may be the more closely united to Him by love. The grandest possible privilege, if it is to be on the condition of her violating this sacred vow, would be less than nothing in her estimation. She thus answers the Angel: How shall this be done? because I know not man.

The first Eve evinces no such prudence or disinterestedness. No sooner has the wicked spirit assured her, that she may break the commandment of her divine benefactor, and not die; that the fruit of her disobedience will be a wonderful knowledge, which will put her on an equality with God Himself; than she immediately yields; she is conquered. Her self-love has made her at once forget both duty and gratitude: she is delighted at the thought of being freed from the two-fold tie, which binds her to her Creator.

Such is the woman that caused our perdition! But how different is She that was to save us! The former cares not for her posterity; she looks but to her own interests: the latter forgets herself to think only of her God, and of the claims He has to her service. The Angel, charmed with this sublime fidelity, thus answers the question put to him by Mary, and reveals to her the designs of God: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the povier of the Most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be bom of thee, shall be called the Son of God. And behold thy cousin Elizabeth, she also hath conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her that is called barren; because no word shall be impossible with God. This said, he is silent, and reverently awaits the answer of the Virgin of Nazareth.

Let us look once more at the virgin of Eden. Scarcely has the wicked spirit finished speaking, than Eve casts a longing look at the forbidden fruit: she is impatient to enjoy the independence it is to bring her. She rashly stretches forth her hand; she plucks the fruit; she eats it, and death takes possession of her: death of the soul, for sin extinguishes the light of life; and death of the body, which, being separated from the source of immortality, becomes an object of shame and horror, and finally crumbles into dust.

But let us turn away our eyes from this sad spectacle, and fix them on Nazareth. Mary has heard the Angel’s explanation of the mystery; the will of heaven is made known to her, and how grand an honor it is to bring upon her! She, the humble maid of Nazareth, is to have the ineffable happiness of becoming the Mother of God, and yet the treasure of her Virginity is to be left to her! Mary bows down before this sovereign will, and says to the heavenly Messenger: Behold the Handmaid of the Lord: be it done to me according to thy word.

Thus, as the great St. Ireneus and so many of the Holy Fathers remark, the obedience of the second Eve repaired the disobedience of the first: for no sooner does the Virgin of Nazareth speak her FIAT, be it done, than the Eternal Son of God, (Who, according to the divine decree, awaited this word), is present, by the operation of the Holy Ghost, in the chaste womb of Mary, and there He begins His human life. A Virgin is a Mother, and Mother of God; and it is this Virgin’s consenting to the divine will that has made her conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost. This sublime Mystery puts between the Eternal Word and a mere woman the relations of Son and Mother; it gives to the Almighty God a means whereby he may, in a manner worthy of his Majesty, triumph over Satan, who had hitherto seemed to have prevailed against the divine plan.

Never was there a more entire or humiliating defeat, than that which was this day gained over Satan. The frail creature, over whom he had so easily triumphed at the beginning of the world, now rises and crushes his proud head. Eve conquers in Mary. God would not choose man for the instrument of His vengeance; the humiliation of Satan would not have been great enough; and therefore she who was the first prey of hell, the first victim of the tempter, is selected as the one that is to give battle to the enemy. The result of so glorious a triumph is, that Mary is to be superior not only to the rebel angels, but to the whole human race, yea, to all the Angels of heaven. Seated on her exalted throne, she, the Mother of God, is to be the Queen of all creation. Satan, in the depths of the abyss, will eternally bewail his having dared to direct his first attack against the woman, for God has now so gloriously avenged her; and in heaven, the very Cherubim and Seraphim reverently look up to Mary, and deem themselves honoured when she smiles upon them, or employs them in the execution of any of her wishes, for she is the Mother of their God.

Therefore is it, that we the children of Adam, who have been snatched by Mary’s obedience from the power of hell, solemnise this day of the Annunciation. Well may we say of Mary those words of Debbora, when she sang her song of victory over the enemies of God’s people: The valiant men ceased, and vested in Israel, until Debbora arose, a Mother arose in Israel. The Lord chose new wars, and He Himself overthrew the gates of the enemies (Judges, v. 7, 8.). Let us also refer to the holy Mother of Jesus these words of Judith, who, by her victory over the enemy, was another type of Mary: Praise ye the Lord our God, who hath not forsaken them that hope in him. And by me, his handmaid, he hath fulfilled his mercy, which He promised to the house of Israel; and He hath killed the enemy of his people by my hand this night. The Almighty Lord hath struck him, and hath delivered him into the hands of a woman, and hath slain him (Judith, xiii. 17, 18; xvi. 7.).


A Blessed Feast of the Annunciation to all my readers!

~Damsel of the Faith