The Annunciation

AnnunciationIn this last week of Advent at Mass we read the account of the Annunciation from Luke’s gospel as the evangelist wants us to read it– as part of a larger infancy narrative involving the birth of John as well as the birth of Jesus. Mary receives the angel so differently than the priest Zechariah does in yesterday’s reading. (Luke 1, 5-25, December 19th)

The angel approaches Zechariah in the temple, where you would expect a great religious mystery to be announced, but the priest won’t believe he and his wife can conceive a child. They’re too old. He doubts.

The angel approaches Mary in the small town of Nazareth, an unlikely place for a major revelation, with a message far more difficult to comprehend: “ 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.”

Mary believes and does not doubt, and so she conceives a Son by God’s power, who will be born to in Bethlehem. “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word,”

Most medieval artists assumed that Mary was at home in prayer when the angel came and in the prayer books of the time they placed this scene at the beginning of an hour of prayer. Only prayer enables Mary to believe and accept what would come.

The Annunciation scene pictured above stands at the beginning of a medieval prayer book with the words beneath it in latin: “Lord, open my lips and my mouth shall declare your praise.”

Prayer helps us discern and say yes to what God wills, so we ask God to open our lips and give him praise by doing his will. That was Mary’s response when the angel greeted her.

My community, the Passionists, still begins the prayers of the liturgy of the hours by reciting the Angelus, a prayer that repeats this gospel story. “The angel of the Lord declared to Mary, and she conceived by the Holy Spirit….”

Prayer opens the way to mysteries far beyond us. Mary knew that as a woman of faith. Prayer helps us to understand and to do God’s will.

At Mass today we pray:  “O God, grant that by Mary’s example, we may in humility hold fast to your will.” Open our eyes to see and our lips to say yes.


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