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 whom 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; [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, a promise was 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 Noe; 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 has thereby 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 second century, Saint Irenaeus, 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 addressed 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, '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 receives 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, 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 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 twofold 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 power of the Most High shall overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born 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 honour 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. Irenaeus 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 hitherto seemed to have prevailed against the divine plan.
Never was there a more entire or humiliating defeat than that which this day befell 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 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, solemnize 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 rested 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.]
When the Annunciation falls on any other day than Monday, the first Vespers of this feast are sung before midday, according to the rule prescribed for fast-days of Lent: but when it falls on a Monday, this Office is celebrated at the ordinary time of Vespers, and only a commemoration is made of the Sunday by the Magnificat antiphon and the prayer.
The Office of first Vespers is always the commencement of a feast. The antiphons of the Vespers, at which we are going to assist, are taken from the Gospel of St. Luke, where the evangelist reveals to us the sublime interview between the angel and the Virgin. The psalms are those which tradition has consecrated to the celebration of Mary's glories. We have elsewhere [see our volume for Advent, in the Vespers of December 8.] shown how each of the five refers to the Mother of God.
|Ant. Missus est Gabriel angelus ad Mariam Virginem desponsatam Joseph.||Ant. The angel Gabriel was sent to Mary, a Virgin espoused to Joseph.|
Dixit Dominus Domino meo: * Sede a dextris meis.
Donec ponam inimicos tuos: * scabellum pedum tuorum.
Virgam virtutis tuae emittet Dominus ex Sion: * dominare in medio inimicorum tuorum.
Tecum principium in die virtutis tuae in splendoribus sanctorum: * ex utero ante luciferum genui te.
Juravit Dominus, et non poenitebit eum: * Tu es Sacerdos in aeternum secundum ordinem Melchisedech.
Dominus a dextris tuis: * confregit in die irae suae reges.
Judicabit in nationibus, implebit ruinas: * conquassabit capita in terra multorum.
De torrente in via bibet: * propterea exaltabit caput.
The Lord said to my Lord, his Son: Sit thou at my right hand, and reign with
Until, on the day of thy last coming, I make thy enemies thy footstool.
O Christ! the Lord thy Father, will send forth the sceptre of thy power out of Sion: from thence rule thou in the midst of thy enemies.
With thee is the principality in the day of thy strength, in the brightness of the Saints: For the Father hath said to thee: From the womb, before the day-star, I begot thee.
The Lord hath sworn, and he will not repent: he hath said, speaking of thee, the God-Man: Thou art a Priest for ever, according to the order of Melchisedech.
Therefore, O Father, the Lord, thy Son, is at thy right hand: he hath broken kings in the day of his wrath.
He shall also judge among nations: he shall fill the ruins of the world: he shall crush the heads in the land of many.
He cometh now in humility: he shall drink, in the way, of the torrent of sufferings: therefore, shall he lift up the head.
Ant. Missus est Gabriel angelus, ad Mariam Virginem desponsatam Joseph.
Ant. Ave, Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum: benedicta tu in mulieribus.
Ant. The angel Gabriel was sent to Mary, a Virgin, espoused to Joseph.
Ant. Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.
Laudate, pueri, Dominum: * laudate nomen Domini.
Sit nomen Domini benedictum: * ex hoc nunc et usque in saeculum.
A solis ortu usque ad occasum: * laudabile nomen Domini.
Excelsus super omnes gentes Dominus: * et super coelos gloria ejus.
Quis sicut Dominus Deus noster qui in altis habitat:* et humilia respicit in coelo et in terra?
Suscitans a terra inopem: * et de stercore erigens pauperem.
Ut collocet eum cum principibus: * cum principibus populi sui.
Qui habitare facit sterilem in domo: * matrem filiorum laetantem.
Praise the Lord, ye children: praise ye the name of the Lord.
Blessed be the name of the Lord: from henceforth, now and for ever.
From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same, the name of the Lord is worthy of praise.
The Lord is high Above all nations: and his glory above the heavens.
Who is as the Lord our God, who dwelleth on high: and looketh down on the low things in heaven and in earth, nay, who cometh down amidst us?
Raising up the needy from the earth: and lifting up the poor out of the dunghill.
That he may place him with princes: with the princes of his people.
Who maketh a barren woman to dwell in a house, the joyful mother of children.
|Ant. Ave, Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum:
benedicta tu in mulieribus.
Ant. Ne timeas, Maria; invenisti gratiam apud Dominum: ecce concipies, et paries filium.
Ant. Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among
Ant. Fear not, Mary; thou hast found grace with God: behold thou shalt conceive, and shalt bring forth a Son.
Laetatus sum in his quae dicta sunt mihi: * In domum Domini ibimus.
Stantes erant pedes nostri: * in atriis tuis Jerusalem.
Jerusalem quae aedificatur ut civitas: * cujus participatio ejus in idipsum.
Illuc enim ascenderunt tribus, tribus Domini: * testimonium Israel ad confitendum Nomini Domini.
Quia illic sederunt sedes in judicio: * sedes super domum David.
Rogate quae ad pacem sunt Jerusalem: * et abundantia diligentibus te.
Fiat pax in virtute tua: * et abundantia in turribus tuis.
Propter fratres meos et proximos meos: * loquebar pacem de te.
Propter domum Domini Dei nostri: * quaesivi bona tibi.
I rejoiced at the things that were said to me: We shall go into the house of
Our feet were standing in thy courts, O Jerusalem! Our heart loves and confides in thee, O Mary.
Mary is like to Jerusalem, that is built as a city; which is compact together.
For thither did the tribes go up, the tribes of the Lord: the testimony of Israel, to praise the name of the Lord.
Because seats sat there in judgment; seats upon the house of David, and Mary is of a kingly race.
Pray ye, through Mary, for the things that are for the peace of Jerusalem: and may abundance be on them that love thee, O Church of our God!
The voice of Mary: Let peace be in thy strength, O thou new Sion! and abundance in thy towers.
I, a daughter of Israel, for the sake of my brethren and of my neighbours, spoke peace of thee.
Because of the house of the Lord our God, I have sought good things for thee.
Ant. Ne timeas, Maria: invenisti gratiam apud Dominum; ecce concipies et paries filium.
Ant. Dabit ei Dominus sedem David patris ejus, et regnabit in aeternum.
Ant. Fear not, Mary, for thou hast found grace with God: behold thou shalt conceive, and shalt bring forth a Son.
Ant. And the Lord shall give unto him the throne of David his father, and he shall reign for ever.
Nisi Dominus aedificaverit domum: * in vanum laboraverunt qui aedificant eam.
Nisi Dominus custodierit civitatem: * frustra vigilat qui custodit eam.
Vanum est vobis ante lucem surgere: * surgite post quam sederitis, qui manducatis panem doloris.
Cum dederit dilectis suis somnum; * ecce haereditas Domini, filii: merces, fructus ventris.
Sicut sagittae in manu potentis: * ita filii excussorum.
Beatus vir, qui implevit desiderium suum ex ipsis: * non confundetur cum loquetur inimicis suis in porta.
Unless the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it.
Unless the Lord keep the city, he watcheth in vain that keepeth' it.
It is vain for you to rise before light; rise ye after you have sitten, you that eat of the bread of sorrow.
When he shall give sleep to his beloved: behold the inheritance of the Lord are children; the reward, the fruit of the womb.
As arrows in the hand of the mighty, so the children of them that have been shaken.
Blessed is the man that hath filled his desire with them; he shall not be confounded when he shall speak to his enemies in the gate.
|Ant. Dabit ei Dominus sedem David patris ejus, et regnabit in
Ant. Ecce ancilla Domini: fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum.
|Ant. And the Lord shall give unto him the throne of David his father, and he
shall reign for ever.
Ant. Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it done to me according to thy word.
|Lauda, Jerusalem, Dominum: * lauda Deum tuum,
Quoniam confortavit seras portarum tuarum: * benedixit filiis tuis in te.
Qui posuit fines tuos pacem, * et adipe frumenti satiat te.
Qui emittit eloquium suum terrae: * velociter currit sermo ejus.
Qui dat nivem sicut lanam: * nebulam sicut cinerem spargit.
Mittit crystallum suam sicut buccellas: * ante faciem frigoris ejus quis sustinebit?
Emittet verbum suum, et liquefaciet ea: * flabit spiritus ejus, et fluent aquae.
Qui annuntiat verbum suum Jacob: * justitias, et judicia sua Israel.
Non fecit taliter omni nationi: * et judicia sua non manifestavit eis.
Praise the Lord, O Mary, thou true Jerusalem: O Mary, O Sion ever holy,
Because he hath strengthened against sin the bolts of thy gates: he hath blessed thy children within thee.
Who hath placed peace in thy borders, and filleth thee with the fat of corn, with Jesus, who is the Bread of life.
Who sendeth forth, by thee, his Word to the earth: his word runneth swiftly.
Who giveth snow like wool; scattereth mists like ashes.
He sendeth his crystal like morsels; who shall stand before the face of his cold?
He shall send forth his Word by Mary, and shall melt them: his Spirit shall breathe, and the waters shall run.
Who declareth his word to Jacob: his justices and his judgments to Israel.
He hath not done in like manner to every nation: and his judgments he hath not made manifest to them.
|Ant. Ecce ancilla Domini: fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum.||Ant. Behold the handmaid of the Lord: be it done to me according to thy word.|
|Ecce virgo concipiet et pariet filium, et vocabitur nomen ejus Emmanuel. Butyrum et mel comedet, ut sciat reprobare malum, et eligere bonum.||Behold a Virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel. He shall eat butter and honey, that he may know to refuse the evil, and to choose the good.|
Ave, maris stella!
Dei Mater alma,
Atque semper Virgo,
Felix coeli porta.
Sumens illud Ave
Hail, star of the sea! blessed Mother of God, yet ever a Virgin! O happy gate of heaven!
Thou that didst receive the Ave from Gabriel's lips, confirm us in peace, and so let Eva be changed into an Ave of blessing for us.
V. Ave, Maria, gratia plena.
|V. Hail, Mary, full of grace.
R. The Lord is with thee.
In monastic churches it is preceded by this responsory:
R. breve. Angelus Domini * Nuntiavit Mariae. Angelus. V. Et concepit de Spiritu Sancto. * Nuntiavit. Gloria Patri. Angelus.
ANTIPHON OF THE MAGNIFICAT.
|Spiritus Sanctus in te descendet, Maria, et virtus Altissimi obumbrabit tibi.||The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, O Mary, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee.|
Deus, qui de beatae Mariae Virginis utero, Verbum tuum, angelo nuntiante, carnem suscipere voluisti: praesta supplicibus tuis: ut qui vere eam Genitricem Dei credimus, ejus apud te intercessionibus adjuvemur. Per eumdem.
|Let us pray.
O God, who wast pleased that thy Word, when the angel delivered his message, should take flesh in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary, give ear to our humble petitions, and grant that we, who believe her to be truly the Mother of God, may be helped by her prayers. Through the same, &c.
The Church has taken most of the chants of today's Mass from the forty-fourth Psalm, wherein the royal prophet celebrates the mystery of the Incarnation. In the Introit, she greets Mary as the Queen of the human race, to whom every creature should pay respectful homage. It is her virginity that fitted Mary to become the Mother of God. This virtue will be imitated in the Church, and each generation will produce thousands of holy virgins, who will walk in the footsteps of her who is their Mother and their model.
Vultum tuum deprecabuntur omnea divites plebis: adducentur Regi virgines post
eam: proximae ejus adducentur tibi in laetitia et exsultatione.
Ps. Eructavit cor meum verbum bonum: dico ego opera mea Regi.
V. Gloria Patri. Vultum tuum.
All the rich among the people shall entreat thy countenance: after her shall
virgins be brought to the King; her neighbours shall be brought to thee in joy
Ps. My heart hath uttered a good word: I speak my works to the King.
V. Glory, &c. All the rich.
In the Collect, the Church glories in her faith in the divine maternity; she
puts it forward as a claim to Mary's interceding for her with God, who is her
Son. This dogma of Mary's being the Mother of God is founded on the mystery of
the Incarnation, which is the basis of our faith, and which was accomplished on
this twenty-fifth of March.
|Deus, qui de beatae Mariae Virginis utero, Verbum tuum, angelo nuntiante, carnem suscipere voluisti: praesta supplicibus tuis: ut qui vere eam Genitricem Dei credimus, ejus apud te intercessionibus adjuvemur. Per eumdem.||O God, who wast pleased that thy Word, when the angel delivered his message, should take flesh in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary, give ear to our humble petitions, and grant that we, who believe her to be truly the Mother of God, may be helped by her prayers. Through the same, &c.|
To this is added the Collect for the feria of Lent.
Lectio Isaiae Prophetae.
Lesson from the Prophet Isaias.
The prophet is speaking to a wicked king, who refused to accept a miraculous proof of God's merciful protection over Jerusalem; and he makes this an opportunity for announcing to Juda the great portent which we are celebrating to-day: A Virgin shall conceive, and bear a Son. And when was it, that God fulfilled the prophecy? It was in an age, when mankind seemed to have reached the highest pitch of wickedness, and when idolatry and immorality reigned throughout the whole world. The fulness of time came, and the tradition, which had found its way into every country, that a Virgin should bring forth a Son, was exciting much interest. This is the day on which the mystery was accomplished; let us adore the power of God, and the fidelity wherewith He fulfils His promises. The Author of the laws of nature suspends them; He acts independently of them: virginity and maternity are united in one and the same creature, for the Child that is to be born is God. A Virgin could not bring forth other than God Himself: the Son of Mary is therefore called Emmanuel, that is, God with us.
Let us adore this God, the Creator of all things visible and invisible, who thus humbles Himself. Henceforth, He will have every tongue confess, not only His Divinity, but also His human Nature, which He has assumed in order that He might redeem us. From this day forward He is truly the Son of Man. He will remain nine months in His Mother's womb, as other children. Like them, He will, after His birth, be fed on milk and honey. He will sanctify all stages of human life, from infancy to perfect manhood, for He is the New Man, who has come down from heaven that He might restore the old. Without losing aught of His Divinity, He shares in our weak finite being, that He may make us partakers of the divine nature. [2 St. Peter i. 4.]
In the Gradual, the Church unites with David in praising the beauty of the Emmanuel, His kingdom and His strength; for He comes in humility, that He may rise again in glory; He comes to give battle that He may conquer and triumph.
Diffusa est gratia in labiis tuis; propterea benedixit te Deus in aeternum.
V. Propter veritatem, et mansuetudinem, et justitiam; et deducet te mirabiliter dextera tua.
Grace is spread on thy lips; therefore hath the Lord blessed thee for ever.
V. For thy truth, meekness and righteousness, shall thy right hand lead thee on wonderfully.
The Church continues the same canticle in the Tract, but it is in praise of Mary, the Virgin and Mother. The Holy Ghost loves her for her incomparable beauty; it is on this day that He overshadows her and she conceives the Word. Where is there a glory like that of Mary, who is an object of complacency to the three Persons of the Trinity? God could create nothing more exalted than the Mother of God. David foretells how this, his daughter, was to receive homage from the great ones of the earth, and how she was to be surrounded by holy virgins, who would follow her as their Queen and model. This day is also the triumph of her virginity, for it is raised to the dignity of divine maternity! Her triumph frees her sex from slavery, and renders it capable of everything that is honourable and great.
Audi, filia, et vide, et inclina aurem tuam: quia concupivit Rex speciem tuam.
V. Vultum tuum deprecabuntur omnes divites plebis: filiae regum in honore tuo.
V. Adducentur Regi virgines post eam: proximae ejus afferentur tibi.
V. Adducentur in laetitia et exsultatione: adducentur in templum Regis.
Hearken, O daughter, and see, and incline thy ear: for the King is taken with
V. All the rich among the people shall entreat thy countenance: the daughters of kings shall honour thee.
V. Virgins shall be brought in her retinue to the King: the virgins, her companions, shall be presented to thee.
V. They shall be brought with gladness and rejoicing: they shall be brought into the temple of the King.
Sequentia sancti Evangelii secundum Lucam.
Sequel of the holy Gospel according to Luke.
By these last words of thine, O Mary! our happiness is secured. Thou consentest to the desire of heaven, and thy consent brings us our Saviour. O Virgin-Mother! Blessed among women! we unite our thanks with the homage that is paid thee by the angels. By thee is our ruin repaired; in thee is our nature restored; for thou hast wrought the victory of man over Satan! St. Bernard, in one of his homilies on this Gospel, thus speaks: ' Rejoice, O thou our father Adam! but thou, O mother Eve, still more rejoice! You were our parents, but you were also our destroyers; and, what is worse, you had wrought our destruction before you gave us birth. Both of you must be consoled in such a daughter as this: but thou, O Eve, who wast the first cause of our misfortune, and whose humiliation has descended upon all women, thou hast a special reason to rejoice in Mary. For the time has now come, when the humiliation is taken away; neither can man any longer complain against the woman, as of old, when he foolishly sought to excuse himself, and cruelly put all the blame on her, saying: "The woman, whom Thou gavest me, gave me of the tree, and I did eat." Go, Eve, to Mary; go, mother, to thy daughter; let thy daughter take thy part, and free thee from thy disgrace, and reconcile thee to her father: for, if man fell by a woman, he is raised up by a woman.
'What is this thou sayest, Adam? "The woman, whom Thou gavest me, gave me of the tree, and I did eat."' These are wicked words; far from effacing thy fault, they aggravate it. But divine Wisdom conquered thy wickedness, by finding in the treasury of His own inexhaustible mercy a motive for pardon, which He had in vain sought to elicit by questioning thee. In place of the woman, of whom thou com-plainest, He gives thee another: Eve was foolish, Mary is wise; Eve was proud, Mary is humble; Eve gave thee of the tree of death, Mary will give thee of the Tree of life; Eve offered thee a bitter and poisoned fruit, Mary will give thee the sweet Fruit she herself is to bring forth, the Fruit of everlasting life. Change, then, thy wicked excuse into an act of thanksgiving, and say: " The Woman, whom Thou hast given me, O Lord, hath given me of the Tree of life, and I have eaten thereof; and it is sweeter than honey to my mouth, for by it Thou hast given me life."' [St. Bernard. Homil. II. super Missus est.]
In the Offertory, the Church addresses Mary in the words spoken to her by the Archangel, to which she also adds those used by Elizabeth, when she saluted the Mother of her God.
|Ave, Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum: benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui.||Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.|
In the Secret, the Church renews her profession of faith in the mystery of the Incarnation; she confesses the reality of the two Natures, divine and human, in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and Son of Mary.
|In mentibus nostris, quaesumus, Domine, verae fidei sacramenta confirma: ut, qui conceptum de Virgine Deum verum et hominem confitemur, per ejus salutiferae resurrectionis potentiam, ad aeternam mereamur pervenire laetitiam. Per eumdem.||Strengthen, we beseech thee, O Lord, in our soul, the mysteries of the true faith: that we who confess him, that was conceived of a Virgin, to be true God and true Man, may, by the power of his saving resurrection, deserve to come to eternal joys. Through the same, &c.|
To this is added the Secret for the feria of Lent. The greatness of the solemnity obliges the Church to substitute, for the Lenten Preface, the one she uses on our Lady's feasts.
|Vere dignum et justum est, aequum et salutare, nos tibi semper et ubique gratias agere: Domine sancte, Pater omnipotens, aeterne Deus: Et te in Annuntiatione beatae Mariae semper Virginis collaudare, benedice re, et praedicare. Quae et Unigenitum tuum sancti Spiritus obumbratione concepit, et virginitatis gloria permanente, lumen aeternum mundo effudit Jesum Christum Dominum nostrum. Per quem majestatem tuam laudant Angeli, adorant Dominationes, tremunt Potestates. Coeli coelorumque Virtutes, ac beata Seraphim, socia exsultatione concelebrant. Cum quibus et nostras voces ut admitti jubeas deprecamur, supplici confessione dicentes: Sanctus, Sanctus, Sanctus.||It is truly meet and just, right and available to salvation, that we should always and in all places, give thanks to thee, O holy Lord, Father almighty, eternal God: and that we should praise, bless, and glorify thee, on the Annunciation of the blessed Mary, ever a Virgin, who by the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost, conceived thy only-begotten Son, and the glory of her virginity still remaining, brought forth to the world the eternal Light, Jesus Christ our Lord. By whom the Angels praise thy majesty, the Dominations adore it, the Powers tremble before it; the Heavens and the heavenly Virtues, and the blessed Seraphim, with common jubilee, glorify it. Together with whom, we beseech thee that we may be admitted to join our humble voices, saying: Holy! Holy! Holy!|
The Communion-anthem repeats the prophetic words of the Epistle. It is a Virgin that has conceived and brought forth Him, who, being God and Man, is also the living Bread that came down from heaven, whereby God is with us, and in us.
|Ecce Virgo concipiet, et pariet filium: et vocabitur nomen ejus Emmanuel.||Behold a Virgin shall conceive and bring forth a Son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel.|
In the Postcommunion, the Church gratefully recalls to mind all the mysteries which God has achieved for our salvation, and which are the consequences of the one we honour to-day. After the Incarnation, which unites the Son of God to our human nature, we have had the Passion of this our divine Redeemer; and His Passion was followed by His Resurrection, whereby He triumphed over our enemy death.
|Gratiam tuam, quaesumus, Domine, mentibus nostris infunde: ut, qui angelo nuntiante, Christi Filii tui Incarnationem cognovimus; per Passionem ejus et crucem, ad Resurrectionis gloriam perducamur. Per eumdem.||Pour forth, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy grace into our hearts; that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ thy Son was made known by the message of an angel, may, by his Passion and cross, be brought to the glory of his Resurrection. Through the same, &c.|
To this is added the Postcommunion of the feria of Lent.
The antiphons, psalms, hymn, and versicle, are the same as in the first Vespers, above. The Magnificat antiphon alone is changed, and is as follows:
ANTIPHON OF THE MAGNIFICAT.
|Gabriel angelus locutus est Mariae dicens: Ave, gratia plena, Dominus tecum; benedicta tu in mulieribus.||The angel Gabriel spoke unto Mary, saying: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.|
Deus, qui de beatae Mariae Virginis utero, Verbum tuum, angelo nuntiante, carnem suscipere voluisti: praesta supplicibus tuis: ut qui vere eam Genitricem Dei credimus, ejus apud te intercessioni bus adjuvemur. Per eumdem.
|Let us pray.
O God, who wast pleased that thy Word, when the angel delivered his message, should take flesh in the womb of the blessed Virgin Mary, give ear to our humble petitions, and grant that we, who believe her to be truly the Mother of God, may be helped by her prayers. Through the same, &c.
Let us now bring together the different liturgies, and hear them celebrate the great mystery of this glad feast. First of all, let us listen to the Church of Rome, who, in her Office of Matins, thus proclaims the praises of Mary, the Mother of God:
|Quem terra, pontus, sidera
Colunt, adorant, praedicant,
Trinam regentem machinam,
Claustrum Mariae bajulat.
Cui luna, sol et omnia
Beata Mater munere,
Beata coeli nuntio,
Jesu, tibi sit gloria,
He, whom earth, and sea, and the firmament, worship, adore, and praise; he, the
King of the triple kingdom, is carried in Mary's womb.
The womb of a Virgin, who has been filled with heavenly grace, bears him, whom the moon, and sun, and all creatures serve in the order marked for them.
O Mother, blessed in her great office! He, the sovereign Creator, who holds the world in the palm of his hand, is en closed in the tabernacle of her womb.
The angelic messenger proclaims her blessed; the holy Spirit makes her fruitful; and the Desired of nations is born of her.
Glory be to thee, O Jesus, that wast born of the Virgin! and to the Father, and to the Spirit of love, for everlasting ages. Amen.
Many of the Latin Churches, in the middle ages, used to recite, in the Mass of the Annunciation, the following sequence, which is thought to have been composed by Peter Abelard.
Mittit ad Virginem
Non quemvis Angelum,
Exi qui mitteris,
Audit et suscipit
Sed dator veniae
Qui nobis tribuat
God, the lover of man, sends to the Virgin no less an angel than him who is
called God's Strength, the Archangel Gabriel.
May this strong messenger be speedily at his work; may he stay the rights and laws of nature in the Virgin's delivery.
May the King of glory, when born, triumph over nature; may he reign and command; may he take away from the midst of men all leaven and rust.
May he humble proud heads; may this God, mighty in war, trample in his power on the necks of the haughty.
May he cast forth the prince of this world; and make his Mother share with him the empire which his Father has given him.
Go forth, messenger of God, announce these gifts: lift up, by the virtue of thy Annunciation, the veil of the ancient Scripture.
Approach, tell thy announcement: say, when thou art in her presence, 'Hail!' Say: 'O full of grace!' Say: 'The Lord is with thee!' And then: 'Fear not!'
Receive, O Virgin! the divine deposit; by him fulfil thy chaste purpose, and keep thy vow.
The Maid hears and accepts the announcement; she believes and conceives, and brings forth a Son, but he is the Admirable.
The Counsellor of mankind, God and Man, Father of the world to come, the Prince of peace.
May his firmness render us firm, lest human frailty should make us stumble into the abyss.
But may the giver of pardon, granting us pardon and grace, obtained by the Mother of grace, dwell within us.
May he that grants us pardon of our sins, wipe away all our guilt, and give us the country in the starry heaven. Amen.
The Ambrosian liturgy gives us this fine Preface, which is used in its celebration of to-day's mystery.
|Vere dignum et justum est, aequum et salutare: nos tibi, Domine Deus omnipotens, gratias agere, et cum tuae invocatione virtutis, beatae Mariae Virginis festa celebrare: de cujus ventre fructus effloruit, qui panis angelici munere nos replevit. Quod Eva voravit in crimine, Maria restituit in salute. Distat opus serpentis et virginis: inde fusa sunt venena discriminis; hinc egressa mysteria Salvatoris. Inde se praebuit tentantis iniquitas; hinc Redemptoris est opitulata majestas. Inde partus occubuit; hinc Conditor resurrexit, a quo humana natura, non jam captiva, sed libera restituitur; quod Adam perdidit in parente, Christo recepit auctore.||
It is truly meet and just, right and available to salvation, that we should give thanks to thee, O Lord God almighty: and that we should, whilst invoking thy power, celebrate the feasts of the blessed Virgin Mary; from whose womb came the Fruit, which has filled us with the Bread of angels. That Fruit, which Eve took from us, when she sinned, Mary hath restored to us, and it hath saved us. Not as the work of the serpent, is the work of Mary. From the one, came the poison of our destruction; from the other, the mysteries of salvation. In the one, we see the malice of the tempter; in the other, the help of the divine Majesty. By the one, came death to the creature; by the other the resurrection of the Creator, by whom human nature, now not captive but free, is restored: and what it lost by its parent Adam, it regained by its Maker, Christ.
The Mozarabic liturgy (which, as we have already observed, keeps the feast of the Annunciation on December 18) has several admirable prayers touching this mystery: we select the following:
|Gratiam plenam habere te credimus, o Virgo Christi genitrix, et humani generis reparatrix, gloriosa Maria, quae tanta nobis gaudia pariendo contulisti, ut fructus ventris tui, qui est Christus Filius Dei, a dominio in nos saevientis eriperet inimici, et in regno aeterno consortia faceret sibimetipsi. Proinde, quaesumus, te rogamus, ut adsis patrona nobis, ut et merito tuo nos filius tuus a delicto exsules reddat, et post in regno suo perenniter habitaturos introducat. Praesta nobis, ut qui te concupiscens sibi advocavit in Matrem, nobis concupiscentiae suae opulentam largiatur dulcedinem. Amen.||We believe thee to be full of grace, O glorious Mary, Virgin Mother of Christ, and reparatrix of mankind! Great indeed are the blessings thou hast conferred on us by giving him birth: for the Fruit of thy womb, Christ the Son of God, hath delivered us from the tyranny of our cruel enemy, and hath made us his companions in the eternal kingdom. Be thou, therefore, we beseech thee, our advocate; that, through thy merits, thy Son may set us free from our sins, and, after this life, give us to reign for ever in his kingdom. Grant that he, who out of love for thee called thee to be his Mother, may grant unto us the rich sweetness of his love. Amen.|
The Greek liturgy, with its wonted abundance, celebrates the glory of Mary in the Incarnation of the Word. We give the following hymn, which comes in the Office of the vigil of the Annunciation. In our opinion, it is finer than the one on the feast itself.
(Die XXIV. Martii)
Terra, quae magno hactenus dolore spinas germinasti, jam nunc age choreas et
salta: ecce enim immortalis agricola, qui te a spinis maledictionis
Sed et tu intaminata, o Virgo, tamquam vellus plane divinum, te praepara excipiendo Numini, quod in te velut imber descendat, ut torrentes transgressionis praeceptorum exsiccet.
Esto paratus, o divinae munditiae liber; quippe tibi sancti Spiritus digito inscribetur Sapientia divina sed incarnata, quae insipientiae mete praevaricationem e medio tollat.
O aureum item candelabrum, ignem recipe divinitatis; ut per te illuceat mundo, unaque nequitiarum nostrarum tenebras dissipet.
O magni Regis palatium, Virgo, aurium tuarum divina vestibula pande: jamjam enim ingredietur ad te ipsa Veritas Christus, ut habitet in medio tui.
O Agna incontaminata, Agnus Dei nostri, qui tollit peccata nostra, uterum tuum festinat intrare. Mystica etiam virga brevi germinabit florem divinum, de radice Jesse palam exortum, ut loquitur Scriptura.
O vitis quoque Maria, compara te, ut per angelicam vocem foecundata, botrum quoque maturum, neque corruptioni obnoxium procrees.
O denique mons salve, uem Daniel praevidit in Spiritu, ex quo lapis ille spiritalis abscindetur, qui inanimata daemonum sculptilia conteret.
O ratione praedita Arca, quam verus legislator amore singulari prosecutus inhabitare nunc ceu incola statuit, impleat te jucunditas mentis: per te enim innovabit destructos.
Quin et vatum chorus divina dare praesagia doctus, tanquam pacatum in te Redemptoris ingressum praesentiret exclamat: Cunctorum salve Redemptio, salve unica hominum salus.
O aerea divini luminia nubes, orituro mox soli te para. Nam ecce sol inaccessus de sedibus tibi coelestibus explendescet, ut in te aliquantum absconditus, illuceat mundo, et improbitatis tenebras dissipet.
Ille qui a dextera Patris nunquam digressus, substantiam omnem transcendit, in te sibi diversorium delecturus adventat: ut te a dextris constituat suis, tamquam reginam dignitate sibi propinquam, et excellenti pulchritudine praditam, utque te velut dexteram suam omnibus lapsis ad surgendum extendat.
Inter angelos autem primarius Dei minister, vocem ad te laetabundam emittit, ut ex te corporandum significet magni consilii Angelum.
O Verbum divinum, coelos inclina, et nunc jam ad nos descende. Modo enim uterus Virginis praeparatus est tibi ceu thronus, in quo tamquam rex splendidissimus sedeas, opus dexterae tuae a ruina sustollens.
Tu quoque, o Virgo, ceu terra numquam seminata, accingere nunc ad recipiendum sub angeli verbo Verbum coeleste, frumento per quem frugifero simile, quod ex te germinans semina enutriet in panem intelligentiae.
|O Earth! that heretofore hast, with much sorrow, brought forth thorns, now
dance and leap with joy; for lo! the immortal Husbandman, who will cleanse thee
from the thorns of the curse, is at hand.
And thou, too, O spotless Virgin! as a divine fleece, prepare thyself to receive thy God, who is about to come down upon thee as the Dew, that he may dry up the torrent of iniquity.
Hold thyself in readiness, O book of heavenly purity! for, by the finger of the Holy Ghost, there shall be written in thee the divine Wisdom made Incarnate, who is to take away the foolishness of my sin.
Receive, O golden candlestick! the flame of the Godhead; that by thee he may enlighten the world, and scatter the darkness of our sins.
O Virgin! Palace of the great King, throw open the holy portals of thine ears; for Christ, the very Truth, is about to enter into thee, that he may dwell in thy midst.
O spotless sheep, the Lamb of our God, who taketh away the sins of the world, longs to enter thy womb. The mystic branch, as the Scripture saith, shall soon bud forth the Flower divine, which is to spring from Jesse's root.
O Mary, thou vine, prepare thyself to receive, by the angel's words, the ripe Grape-Bunch, that knoweth not corruption.
Hail, O mountain! that wast foreseen in the Spirit by Daniel, and from whence shall be hewn that living Stone, which is to destroy the dead idols of the demons.
O intellectual Ark! dear above all to the true Lawgiver, and which he has chosen for the place of his abode! Rejoice exceedingly, for, by thee, he will restore what hath been destroyed.
The choir of the prophets, skilled in announcing divine mysteries, foresaw the peaceful entrance of the Redeemer within thee, and they exclaimed: Hail, Redemption of the world! Hail, thou the only salvation of mankind!
O cloud of the divine Light, prepare thyself for the Sun that is about to rise. For lo! the inaccessible Sun shall shine on thee from his heavenly throne, that, after he has been for a while hid in thee, he may shed his light upon the world, and scatter the darkness of iniquity.
He that hath never left the right hand of the Father, and is above all, has chosen thee as his dwelling-place, and is coming unto thee: he will set thee on his right hand, as a Queen whose throne is near his own, and whose beauty surpasses that of all creatures: he will use thee, as his own right hand, to help the fallen to rise.
He that is the chief among the angels to minister unto God, addresses his joyous words to thee, telling thee, that the Angel of the great Counsel is to take flesh from thee.
O divine Word, bow down the heavens, and now descend unto us; for the Virgin's womb ia prepared for thee as a throne, whereon thou the all-glorious King mayst sit, and raise up from ruin the work of thy right hand.
Do thou, also, O Maiden, as a virgin soil, prepare thyself to receive, at the angel's word, the heavenly Word, which, like unto most fruitful wheat, shall bud forth its seed from thee, and produce the bread of the spirit.
O Emmanuel, God with us! who, as Thy Church says in her hymn, 'being to take upon Thee to deliver man, didst not disdain the Virgin's womb,' the whole human race gives thanks to Thee on this day, for Thy merciful coming. O eternal Word of the Father! it was not enough for Thee to have drawn man out of nothing by Thy power; Thine exhaustless love would follow him even to the abyss of misery into which he had fallen. By sin man had forfeited the dignity Thou hadst given him: that he might regain it, Thou didst come in person and assume his nature, so to raise him up again to Thyself. In Thee, from this day forward unto all eternity, God is made man, and man is made God. Thy Incarnation is the fulfilment of the promises made in the canticle; Thou unitest Thyself to human nature, and it is in the virginal womb of a daughter of David that Thou celebratest these ineffable espousals. O incomprehensible humiliation! O ineffable glory! The humiliation is for the Son of God, the glory is for the Son of man. Thus hast Thou loved us, O divine Word, thus hast Thou removed from us the degradation of our fall! The rebel angels fell, and Thou didst leave them in the abyss; we fell, and Thou hadst mercy on us. A single look of Thy pity would have sufficed to save us; but it would not satisfy Thy love: therefore didst Thou descend into this world of sin, take upon Thyself the form of a slave, [Phil. ii. 7.] and lead a life of humiliation and suffering. O Word made Flesh, who comest not to judge, but to save, [St. John xii. 47.] we adore Thee, we praise Thee, we love Thee. Make us worthy of all that Thy love has led Thee to do for us.
We salute thee, O Mary, full of grace, on this day whereon thou didst receive thy sublime dignity of Mother of God. Thy incomparable purity drew down upon thee the love of the great Creator, and thy humility drew Him into thy womb; His presence within thee increased the holiness of thy spirit and the purity of thy body. What must have been thy happiness in knowing that this Son of God was living by thy life, and was taking from thine own substance the new being, which His love for us induced Him to assume! Between thee and Him is formed that ineffable union which is granted to none else but to thee: He is thy Creator, and thou art His Mother; He is thy Son, and thou art His creature. Every knee bows down before Him, O Mary! for He is the great God of heaven and earth; but every creature reveres thee, also, for thou hast carried Him in thy womb, thou hast fed Him at thy breast; thou alone canst say to Him, as does His heavenly Father: 'Thou art my Son!' O Mother of Jesus! thou art the greatest of God's works: receive the humble homage of mankind, for thou art most dear to us, seeing that thou art of the same flesh and blood as ourselves.
Thou art a daughter of Eve, but without her sin. By thy obedience to the divine decrees, thou savest thy mother find her race; thou restorest Adam and his children to the innocence they had lost. Jesus, whom thou bearest in thy womb, is our pledge that all these blessings are to be ours; and it is by thee that He comes to us. Without Jesus, we should abide in death; without thee, we should not have had Him to redeem us. It is from thy virginal womb that He receives the precious Blood which is to be our ransom, that Blood whose purity He protected in thy Immaculate Conception, and which becomes the Blood of God by the union, that is consummated in thee, of the divine with the human Nature.
Today, O Mary! is fulfilled in thee the promise made by God after Adam's sin, that He would put enmity between the woman and the serpent. Up to this time, the human race had not the courage to resist the enemy; it was subservient to him, and everywhere were altars raised up in his honour; but, on this day, his head is crushed beneath thy foot. Thy humility, thy purity, thy obedience, have conquered him; his tyranny is checked. By thee we are delivered from his sway; and nothing but our own perversity and ingratitude could again give him the mastery. Let not this be, O Mary! Come to our assistance. During this season of repentance, we humbly acknowledge that we have abused the grace of God; we beseech thee, on this the feast of thy Annunciation, intercede for us with Him, who, on this day, became thy Son. Holy Mother of God! by the salutation addressed to thee by the angel Gabriel, by thy virginal fear, by thy fidelity to God, by thy prudent humility, by thy consent, obtain for us conversion of heart, and sincere repentance; prepare us for the great mysteries we are about to celebrate. These mysteries are so full of sorrow to thy maternal heart; and yet thou wouldst have us rejoice on this day, as we think on the ineffable happiness which filled thy soul at the solemn moment when the Holy Ghost overshadowed thee, and the Son of God became thine. Yes, blessed Mother of Jesus! we will spend the whole of this day near thee, in thy humble dwelling at Nazareth. Nine months hence, we will follow thee to Bethlehem, and there, in company with the shepherds and the angels, we will prostrate ourselves in adoration before the Infant-God, our Saviour: we will join our voices with those of the heavenly host, and we will thus express our gladness: ' Glory be to God in the highest, and peace on earth to men of good will!'