The Word Became Flesh and Dwells Among Us, Solemnity of the Annunciation, March 25, 2014

Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Solemnity of the Annunciation
March 25, 2014
Is 7:10-14.8:10, Ps 40, Heb 10:4-10, Lk 1:26-38

To listen to an audio recording of this homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • Today we mark the most important event in human history, the time when, out of love for us and to save us, God himself became one of us in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Everything Jesus would later do flows from this event, which should never cease to fill us with wonder. And this incarnation is not just a one-time event in the distant past, but a continual reality. God-with-us is still with us, most especially in the enduring incarnation of the Holy Eucharist. I’d like to break down our meditation on this event by pondering the three antiphons and collect of the prayer that we use each day to begin daily Mass, the devotion that the Church asks Catholics to pray to ponder the ongoing reality of today’s feast , called by the first word of the prayer, the Angelus.
  • I’d liked to begin with the third antiphon. “The Word became flesh … and dwelled among us.” The Eternal Word of God, who is (not was) with the Father and the Holy Spirit from the beginning, today took on our nature dwelling among us and within us. For God, Isaiah had asked Ahaz for a sign, but neither Ahaz nor any one else would have ever fathomed asking God for this, that he would himself become a human being in order to rescue us and lead us on the path to salvation. Jesus took on all of our human nature — not just human flesh but a human soul (or as St. Paul would have it, a human soul and spirit) as well — in order to give it for us. That’s what the Letter to the Hebrews and the Responsorial Psalm help us to ponder. “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me,” Hebrews tells us. Jesus did all of this, the Letter continues, in order to accomplish the Father’s will to redeem us and restore us to communion with him. “Behold, I come to do your will,” Jesus was saying with body language as he entered the human race he created, and “by this ‘will,’  we have been consecrated through the offering of the Body of Jesus Christ once for all.” The Psalm helps us to enter more deeply into that mystery of the Incarnation, which is fundamentally one of faithful loving obedience to right the wrong of the disobedience of sin. “Sacrifice or oblation you wished not, but ears open to obedience you gave me. Holocausts or sin-offerings you sought not; then said I, ‘Behold I come.'” Jesus had come to obey and to show us the way to obey. To enter into the mystery of the Incarnation, we need to enter morally through faithful adherence to God.
  • That brings us to the second antiphon of the Angelus. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. … Let it be done to me according to your word.” The great Solemnity of the Incarnation we mark today wasn’t exclusively God’s work. By God’s own design, it also was totally dependent on human cooperation. And we see and rejoice in that total cooperation by the Immaculate Virgin Mary, who because she had never known sin was able to get a totally free and full response to God’s will to redeem the human race. She was willing to allow her entire life to develop according to God’s plan. In the beautiful tapestry of the Incarnation in this chapel, we see the moment when Mary is startled by the Archangel Gabriel, but she’s depicted, as she often is, kneeling, meditating on the Word of God. She was already seeking to conform her life entirely to the Word of God. She was already a servant of God through his word. Her adhesion to God through his word was so strong that that Word would take on her own flesh, not only in her womb but in her entire life. In response to the Archangel Gabriel’s calling her kecharitomene, “You who have been filled with grace,” she humbly referred to herself as, “The handmaid of the Lord.” To be full of grace — full of God — means, like the Son whom she conceived, to be fully at God’s service. Her body, soul and spirit were likewise fully and freely at God’s disposal. Her response to God’s word, God’s will, God’s plans are obviously given to us each day by the Church as a model for our own.
  • We come now to the first antiphon, “The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary … and she conceived by the Holy Spirit,” which points to the absolute wonder we should have at this day. We mark an incredible miracle and truth of faith. Jesus wasn’t conceived in the order of natural human generation but by a miraculous intervention of God’s grace. This is what’s contained in Mary’s question in the Gospel for today’s Mass. After the Archangel tells her that she will conceive and bear a son, she asks, “How can this be for I do [or better in Hebrew, will] not know man?” Such a question would make no sense if Mary had been planning to consummate her marriage with St. Joseph, since then she well would have known how she would conceive in her womb and bear a son. Her question points to the fact that she had already consecrated herself as a virgin to God and that if she was to conceive a son, either she would need to break that commitment or God would have to intervene. God did intervene. The Holy Spirit overshadowed her and she conceived with his help Jesus, who on the one hand came from her flesh, but on the other came also by a new creation on the part of God (from which Jesus got his other 23 chromosomes, including his Y). We rejoice in that overshadowing today and ask the Lord to increase our wonder at his miraculous intervention.
  • That brings us finally to the way that this Mystery endures. The same Holy Spirit who overshadowed Mary in Nazareth and throughout her life comes now to overshadow this altar and all of us in a double epiclesis. First, he comes to work just as great a miracle as Jesus’ virginal conception, totally changing bread and wine into his body, blood, soul and divinity. Then he wants to overshadow all of us and through our communion with the Word-made-flesh transform us into one body, one spirit in Christ. This is the whole purpose of the incarnation. We pray at the end of the Angelus, “Pour forth we beseech you, O Lord, your grace into our hearts, that we to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son was made known by the message of an Angel, may by his Passion and Cross, be brought to the glory of the Resurrection.” That’s not a prayer just for the future, but for the present, as we enter into Jesus’ risen life through Communion. The Opening Prayer of the Mass ponders this reality: “O God, who willed that your Word should take on the reality of human flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, grant we pray, that we, who confess our Redeemer to be God and man, may merit to become partakers even in his divine nature.” And all of this happens through the miraculous exchange that happens at Mass, which is highlighted by the prayer the priest says when he mixes a drop of water symbolizing our humanity with the wine that points to Christ’s divinity. “Through the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Him who humbled himself to share our humanity.” The Solemnity of the Annunciation is meant to divinize us, to unite us with the Word made flesh so that, like Mary, our entire life may develop in accordance with Christ’s word, so that in our own body, we might say to the Lord, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me” and “Behold, I come to do your will.” May we, through our living in this ongoing greatest event in human mystery, become in turn an Angelus for the world, bringing others, like the Archangel Gabriel brought Mary, to enter into this great mystery of the depth of God’s love!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
IS 7:10-14; 8:10

The LORD spoke to Ahaz, saying:
Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God;
let it be deep as the nether world, or high as the sky!
But Ahaz answered,
“I will not ask! I will not tempt the LORD!”
Then Isaiah said:
Listen, O house of David!
Is it not enough for you to weary people,
must you also weary my God?
Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign:
the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son,
and shall name him Emmanuel,
which means “God is with us!”

Responsorial Psalm
PS 40:7-8A, 8B-9, 10, 11

R. (8a and 9a) Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.
Sacrifice or oblation you wished not,
but ears open to obedience you gave me.
Holocausts or sin-offerings you sought not;
then said I, “Behold I come.”
R. Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.
“In the written scroll it is prescribed for me,
To do your will, O my God, is my delight,
and your law is within my heart!”
R. Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.
I announced your justice in the vast assembly;
I did not restrain my lips, as you, O LORD, know.
R. Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.
Your justice I kept not hid within my heart;
your faithfulness and your salvation I have spoken of;
I have made no secret of your kindness and your truth
in the vast assembly.
R. Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.

Reading 2
HEB 10:4-10

Brothers and sisters:
It is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats
take away sins.
For this reason, when Christ came into the world, he said:“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but a body you prepared for me;
in holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight.
Then I said, ‘As is written of me in the scroll,
behold, I come to do your will, O God.’”First he says, “Sacrifices and offerings,
holocausts and sin offerings,
you neither desired nor delighted in.”
These are offered according to the law.
Then he says, “Behold, I come to do your will.”
He takes away the first to establish the second.
By this “will,” we have been consecrated
through the offering of the Body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Gospel
LK 1:26-38

The angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David,
and the virgin’s name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said,
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her,
“Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.
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 Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”
But Mary said to the angel,
“How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?”
And the angel said to her in reply,
“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.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God.”
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”
Then the angel departed from her.