Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Annunciation

Stained Glass Window
Assumption Church
Fairfield, CT*
Feast of the Annunciation: March 25

St. Luke is the only evangelist to give an account of the Annunciation.  Obviously, he was not present when the angel appeared to Mary, but Luke was a good historian. Where did he get his information? It’s possible that he was merely relating an account of what the early Church believed, but I like to think that Luke talked to the Blessed Mother herself after the death and resurrection of her Son.

St. Luke is very careful with words and he especially likes to use proper names. We see Gabriel, Galilee, Nazareth, Joseph, David, and Mary. These names are all very important. In particular, scholars tell us that Mary or the Hebrew Miriam means “the exalted one.” The angel confirms Mary’s elevated status when he calls her “full of grace.” Scholars have pointed out that the angel’s greeting implies in its recipient “the attitude of being so open to God that all of His love can stream unhindered into one’s life.”

Indeed, no one else in the Bible receives such a stream of beautiful salutations as does Mary. “The angel’s praise, in fact, echoed St. John’s words about Christ: ‘full of grace and the abode of God’s glory.’” So we see that the Lord is not going to dwell in a tent or house or a temple. The Church had always regarded Mary as the dwelling place of the Lord, the true Ark of the Covenant. Gabriel says to her,

            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 the Son of the Most High,
            And the Lord God will give him the throne of David…

What is the significance of the name, Jesus? We know that throughout their history the Jews have been reluctant to use the name of God. Whether this was due to reverence, awe, or fear is hard to say. Instead of naming God, they chose to refer to His activity in the world. Thus the word, "Jesus" literally means, as Matthew tells us, God saves. Similarly, the name, Emmanuel, means God is with us. The birth of the Child will mean that God has entered our world in a special way. He will become one of us and from that day forward we will be able to call Him by his real Name, and even call Him brother. He can no longer be viewed as distant or unapproachable. We cannot imagine Him as some angry old man in the skies waiting to throw lightning bolts at us when we step out of line. God is Love, and Love came into our world at the Annunciation.

No event in the gospels has ever been portrayed more than the Annunciation. Practically every great artist has depicted the appearance of the angel Gabriel to Mary. Depending on the artist the scene is more or less elaborate. Usually the Angel, the messenger of God, stands and Mary kneels. Sometimes, Mary stands and the Angel kneels as if he is a suitor proposing. Sometimes, they both kneel or stand. In most depictions there will be a flower between them. Scholars have disagreed about the flower but I believe that the flower is the symbol of Jesus. ###

Ghirlandio and Leonardo da Vinci: Annunciation

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