The First Joyful Mystery
Fr Jeremy Driscoll, OSB*
For the solemmnity of the Annunciation on 25 March
The Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Annunciation on 25 March, exactly nine months before Christmas; for Annunciation is the day on which Mary conceived the eternal Son in her womb; and nine months are needed for the time of the child's birth to come to term. The logic of this placement of the Feast trumps somehow for that day the Season of Lent, during which this feast almost always falls. It is an explosion of joy and hope in the midst of our Lenten penitential mood. The reading of the account of the Annunciation from Luke's Gospel is the highpoint of the Liturgy of the Word on that day. But that same account is heard again in the liturgy at other times: on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, on 20 December, and on the Fourth Sunday of Advent in year B. Different Old Testament and New Testament readings accompany the same Gospel account on those days, giving us a range of perspectives from which to meditate on the Annunciation story. The following is a homily that meditates on the Annunciation from the perspective of the readings that accompany it on the Fourth Sunday of Advent in year B; namely, 2 Samuel 7: 1-5, 8-12, 14-16 and Rom 16: 25-27. In Luke's Gospel the account is taken from 1: 26-38.
Magnificent this scene which the Gospel recounts! The power and force of that hour never fade. You can feel it pervading this place now, shaping this moment, defining our time together and what we are doing here, pulling us into itself like some huge magnet that draws to itself the deepest desires of all mankind. We become absorbed in its mystery. We ourselves are somehow present within the scene. We see an angel standing before the Virgin Mary of Nazareth in Galilee — and the Church is assisting at the scene, following with wonder the drama of their encounter, their exchange of words. Divine message, human response. But as we watch, from within the scene, we become aware that we are not allowed this vision as mere passive observers. What is offered to Mary — that she should bear the Son of God in her very body — is also somehow offered to us. It is as Jesus once said: "Anyone who loves me will be true to my word, and my Father will love him; we will come to him and make our dwelling place with him" (Jn 14: 23).
Stepping back from this scene even while keeping our gaze fixed on it, on the angel and on Mary, stepping back in time we can see, as part of the larger set of the drama, the history of the dynasty of David. And we are meant to peer through the centuries of this history, seeing at the end of them the angel standing before Mary. It is useful, then, to view the whole set of the drama. We see a generous David inspired by a noble thought; namely, to build a house for the Lord (2 Sam 7: 1-5, 8-12, 14-16). Why, David reasons, now that he is settled and given rest from his enemies on every side, why should the Lord continue to live in the portable shrine of the ark? Why not a house, a temple for the presence of the Lord? But as before and once again, the Lord comes at David from the most unexpected of angles. To David's generous offer he responds with his own divine generosity and thus exceeds utterly what David offered or could even imagine. Turning David's offer on its head, the Lord says in effect, "You won't build a house for me; I'll build the house for you". And by this he meant a dynasty for David that would "endure until the sun fades away and the moon is no more" (Ps 72: 5).
Now, in the central scene of this drama, we see that this promise made to David is fulfilled in a
definitive way and once again from an unexpected angle in the exchange between the angel and
Mary, Mary who is "betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David" (Lk 1: 26). Of the child whom the angel offers that Mary shall bear, it is said, "The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father" (Lk 1: 32). So Mary is the house the Lord builds for David. But there is more, for in some unforeseen way in Mary's exchange with the angel, David's desire of building a house for the Lord is also fulfilled. With her "Let it be done unto me according to your word" the Daughter of Zion constructs in a flash a temple worthy of the Son of the Most High God.
In a way similar to how we have stepped back in time from the vision of the angel standing before the Virgin, the central scene of our drama, and viewed it through the past that prepared it, we can from another position peer beyond the central scene, though always keeping it in view, into something else that is also part of the set; namely, all the centuries that unfold subsequent to this, all the centuries down to the present, where, in the end, we find ourselves also intimately drawn into the destiny promised to David and his descendants forever. Our share in what unfolds between Mary and the angel is what Paul identifies with the word "mystery" in the second reading (Rom 16: 25-27). The Gospel which Paul preaches, he says, "reveals the mystery hidden for many ages but now manifest... and at God s command made known to all the Gentiles". Hidden but now manifest — this is what Paul calls "mystery". Made known to the Gentiles — this too Paul calls "mystery". Or elsewhere, as he says, "The mystery is this: Christ in you, your hope of glory" (Col 1: 27). For the same reason the liturgy of the Church is referred to as a mystery or the mysteries; that is, because something is hidden there and now manifest to the eyes of faith. When our gifts of bread and wine are transformed into the body and blood of Christ, we are invited precisely then to proclaim the mystery of faith. Something is hidden in the appearances of bread and wine but now manifest to the eyes of faith, and we are invited to proclaim it. The death of the Lord of glory (1 Cor 2: 7-8) is hidden in consecrated elements, as is our own participation in that glorious death.
The Annunciation is a mystery, named such also in the tradition of the rosary, the first joyful mystery. This means that the whole Gospel is hidden in that one scene but can be unveiled before the eyes of faith. And the Scriptures and the whole Tradition insist: what is hidden in each of the mysteries concerns also us. We are in this very moment celebrating the mysteries, the sacred liturgy. That is, the Son of God whom Mary conceives in her very flesh, is meant somehow to be carried in our flesh today as well. Again, as the Apostle Paul explains, "Christ will give a new form to this lowly body of ours and remake it according to the pattern of his glorified body" (Phil 3: 21). In the Annunciation to Mary the Spirit fashioned a vessel into which the Son poured his entire being. His entire divine being was poured into the mould of a human life whose ultimate form is death, then resurrection-ascension-Spirit. This same Son's being is now likewise poured into the mould of the Eucharist, echoing in its finitude the finitude of the earthly life of Jesus and reaching in its proportions the infinity that the earthly life of Jesus, raised in the Spirit, reaches.
For the incomparable generosity of God towards us in his mysteries, let us now lift up our hearts and give thanks. "To him, the God alone who is wise, may glory be given through Jesus Christ unto endless ages. Amen".
*Priest, monk of Mount Angel Abbey, Oregon, USA; teaches theology at Mount Angel Seminary and the Pontifical University of St Anselm, Rome
Weekly Edition in English
23 March 2011, page 15
L'Osservatore Romano is the newspaper of the Holy See.
The Weekly Edition in English is published for the US by:
The Cathedral Foundation
L'Osservatore Romano English Edition
880 Park Avenue
P.O. Box 777
Baltimore, MD 21203
Phone: (443) 263-0248
Fax: (443) 524-3155