The Annunciation

YOU DID NOT DESIRE SACRIFICE AND OBLATION; BUT YOU HAVE FITTED A BODY FOR ME.... I COME TO DO YOUR WILL The Gospel we have just heard focuses on the role of Mary in the mystery of the Incarnation. Here we learn that, soon as she understood what was asked of her, she gave her consent to the will of God as revealed in the message brought to her by the angel Gabriel. To be sure, the burden of that revelation draws our attention to the child who is conceived once her consent is given and it is in view of his becoming man among us that the event is announced at all. Still, the predominant role in the scene is that of the Virgin Mary whom God chooses to be the mother of Jesus, who comes to save the people from their sins.

For centuries this feast was celebrated in the Liturgy from this angle of vision and it was considered to be a celebration in honor of Mary, commemorating The Annunciation made to her. Perhaps the most eloquent, and surely the most dramatic of the sermons on this Gospel, those of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, are preserved in a series of four homilies entitled De Laudibus Virginis Matris, On the Praises of the Virgin Mother" (cf PL 183:55- 88). Without intending to diminish the honor due to Mary or to deny her pre-eminent role in the mystery of salvation, the Church after Vatican II has considered it preferable to give greater prominence to the Savior himself in the celebration of this event which marks the occasion when "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us", as St. John refers to it in his Prologue. The announcement of the Incarnation, the enfleshment of Jesus the redeemer is now to be considered the proper subject of this liturgical Feast.

The choice of the second reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews is an apt expression of this emphasis on the theological import of the Annunciation. Its significance is summed up in the words cited at the head of this homily: "YOU DID NOT DESIRE SACRIFICE AND OBLATION; YOU HAVE FITTED A BODY FOR ME.... I COME TO DO YOUR WILL." The work of redemption derives its deepest inner signification from its being an act of loving, sacrificial obedience of the Word of God made flesh. Why, however, was it necessary for a sacrificial death, of which the Son of God himself was the victim, for man to be reconciled and made acceptable to God? Indeed, why would the Son of God become man at all? This question has been put from the time of the Lord himself. No less a personage that Simon Peter objected to the cross as central to the plan of redemption. "Far be such a fate from you, Lord" was his reaction to Jesus' disclosure that he would be handed over, mocked, crucified and put to death. Some have asked this question out of resistance to accepting such a belief. But even fervent believers, and saints among them such as Augustine and Anselm asked it because they wished to understand as fully as they might God's ways and thus attain to more true understanding of his nature and of our relation to him.

Christ and St. Anselm

St. Anselm considered these matters important enough that, toward this end of his life when his thought was at its most mature, he wrote a book on the subject and entitled it: "Why God Became Man." His conclusions provide a more satisfactory explanation than those advanced by his predecessors, which assumed that a price for man had to be paid to the devil because man had voluntarily submitted himself to the spirit of evil. True that man owes a huge debt because of sin, but he owes it to God; the devil has no rights in the matter. But man cannot himself pay what he owes since the offence, being against God, surpasses human capacity for reparation. Only someone possessing a dignity commensurable with the offence could restore the previous good relations. By taking flesh and becoming fully man while remaining God, the divine Word became the one representative of our race who possessed the dignity and worth requisite for this effecting redemption. The willing death of the man-God, by acknowledging God's absolute claim to obedience from his creatures, re-establishes the order proper to man's relation to God and so restores beauty to the universe. The Incarnation then, even while being an act of loving mercy, is the condition for maintaining the justice that is intrinsic to God and his relations with the world he created. This union of justice and mercy re-establishes the harmony and the beauty lost by sin, and assures the reality of the dignity of the human person. The grace of God does not merely declare man to be worthy of fellowship with God, it truly makes us worthy by a new creation.

These considerations demonstrate that this celebration of the mysteries commemorated in today's feast of the Annunciation of the Lord, far from distracting from the Lenten observance, , contributes directly to preparation for the Paschal Mystery. May the grace of the Incarnation, announced to us at this liturgy strengthen our faith and deepen our gratitude for the gifts of mercy and justice that are extended to us by our sharing in this Eucharist.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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