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March 25, 2012

March 25: Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Ave Maria by Bishop Leo Michael.jpg

Imagine the life of a young unwed mother, two thousand years ago--a different culture and society from today's accommodation of teenage pregnancy. Those days, the consequence for such an outcome was death by stoning.

It was against this background that a young teenage girl of Nazareth is told she will be the mother of the Savior of the world. What would one do with such an announcement from a total stranger?  Was it a dream, a brush with the extra-terrestrial, or for real? Would she be confused and reject it, rejoice and embrace it, or borrow some time and think about it?

She said YES and in the words of her cousin Elizabeth who addresses Mary as the "Mother of My Lord": "And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord." (Lk1:45)

St. Leo the Great comments: "this event is the Feast of Annunciation: In Mary's Womb, God Becomes Man. Lowliness is assumed by majesty, weakness by power, mortality by eternity. To pay the debt of our sinful state, a nature that was incapable of suffering was joined to one that could suffer. Thus, in keeping with the healing that we needed, one and the same mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, was able to die in one nature, and unable to die in the other." (Epist. 28 ad Flavianum, 3-4)

Mary was visited by an Angel of the Lord:

26And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,

27To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary.

28And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.  

29And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.

30And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.

31And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.

32He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:

33And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

34Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?

35And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

36And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.

37For with God nothing shall be impossible.

38And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

That first fiat of the young virgin of Nazareth meant so much for the life of the world: she was indeed full of grace and the Lord was with her.

Several years ago, as a priest, I ran into a situation where a parishioner questioned the place of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Anglican Tradition. I was told, "Mary has no place in Anglicanism period." I turned to the 1928 Book of Common Prayer to the Feast of the Annunciation and said, "then why is this here?" Unable to embrace Mary's role in Anglicanism, that member left the church.

Anglicanism, while embracing the high and low and broad churchmanship, has also been impacted by the evangelical repudiation of the Roman Catholic excesses. In the process, during reformation, the reformers threw out the baby with the bath water. Of course the message of the Great commission is centered on the Redemptive Gospel of Christ - Christocentric.

But how does the Blessed Virgin feature in this Christ-centered Incarnation? Scripture shows that she has her place and role in the unfolding of the salvific events. She is the first one to say yes to the Plan of Salvation - that the Savior of the World be born through her. She treasured all these things and pondered these things in her heart, we are told by St. Luke.

A premonition was given to her by Simon the Prophet: "A sword shall pierce your heart." And at Cana, she intercedes on behalf of the wedding party: "son they have no wine."  When our Lord was complimented by people: "Blessed is the womb that bore thee; and blessed is the breasts that suckled thee." Jesus responds: "Nay blessed are those that hear the word of God and keep it." That is the best compliment given to his mother who was also his disciple.

At the Cross, Jesus says: "Woman behold thy son: Son behold your mother."

Yet still, the place of the Blessed Virgin Mary has been sidelined or reduced, either because of ignorance or because of partial truths which have been repeated time and again. The Angel appeared to Mary and greeted her: "Hail Mary full of Grace, The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women." Some commentators discounted this greeting as nothing exceptional and that Moses and David alike received such a salutation.

Let us pause for a moment. We agree that both were great men who were greeted in the same way. One was asked by God to lead the people out of bondage and the other to lead the nation, but neither was asked to be the Mother of our Savior. And therefore, the greeting was unique and exceptional with Mary who found favor with God and hence was chosen to be the theotokos (God bearer).

John Henry Blunt (1884) said it succinctly: "This sanctity of the Blessed Virgin Mary through her association with her Divine Son has always been kept vividly in view by the Church: but, while excess of sentiment on the one hand has led to an irreverent dishonor of her name by associating it with attributes of Deity, so want of faith in the principle of the Incarnation has led, on the other hand, to an irreverent depreciation of her sanctity. Our two principal and three minor festivals in honour of the Virgin and her work in the Incarnation point out the true course; to esteem her very highly above all other saints; but yet so that her honor may be to the glory of God."

If we believe in Heaven, and we do, we will be greeted by the Blessed Virgin Mary at its portal - where else would the Mother of Jesus be?  In all likelihood we will meet her. You won't go wrong to follow her words of advice to those servants standing by the empty jars at the wedding feast - "Do whatever He (Jesus) tells you."

We get carried away with televangelists, following them, asking them to pray for us. Much more can be accomplished by those who are before the throne of The Almighty, when we seek their intercession. They have lived and died as best Disciples of Christ. I can assure you that Mary is better than most evangelist people pin their hopes on. If they tell you to ignore her, then consider the source.

The Feast of the Annunciation reminds us of Mary's place in the unfolding of the divine redemptive plan, when she accepted to be the mother of our Blessed Lord. Her life as a mother and disciple of Christ surpasses any human being that ever walked this earth. May our "Yes" to God be also like hers and that surely will lead us to our eternal destination - Heaven. She has a place in all of Christendom, especially in Anglicanism.

Posted by bpleo at March 25, 2012 11:40 PM

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