My longer term readers may recall that some years ago we acquired a blowform nativity set. Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, ox and donkey, a shepherd with sheep, Magi with camel move about our property from Thanksgiving until 12th Night in their annual display of the Birth of Jesus narrative. One figure that did not come with the set and which I could not find was an angel. This year we came upon one on eBay. Now, we can add the angel to make the announcement to the shepherd, but we can have Gabriel come to Mary for the Annunciation, which is observed 9 months before Jesus birth, March 25th.
26 Now in the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man whose name was Joseph, of David’s house. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 Having come in, the angel said to her, “Rejoice, you highly favored one! The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women!”
29 But when she saw him, she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered what kind of salutation this might be.
30 The angel said to her, “Don’t be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 Behold, you will conceive in your womb and give birth to a son, and shall name him ‘Jesus.’ 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever. There will be no end to his Kingdom.”
34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, seeing I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore also the holy one who is born from you will be called the Son of God. 36 Behold, Elizabeth your relative also has conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing spoken by God is impossible.”
38 Mary said, “Behold, the servant of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.”
Then the angel departed from her.
This is the traditional text from The Gospel of Luke from which we learn of the Annunciation. Some years ago, while viewing frescos and paintings about Mary’s life, I became interested in what sources the artists used to depict the scenes. Some I could trace to text in the canonical Gospels, but others I was not familiar with. In footnotes of art history books, I came up The Golden Legend, Readings on the Saints, a 13th century compilation of Christian stories and commentaries by Jacobus de Voragine.
Chapter 51, in volume 1 of William Granger Ryan’s 1993 translation gives an account of the Annunciation. De Voragine’s style is less narrative, on many saints, and more expository, drawing upon various early Christian writers, such as Agustine, Amborse, Chrysostom, et al. De Voragine begins is essay on the Annunciation:
The feast is so named because on this day the coming of the Son of God was announced by an angel. It was fitting that the Annunciations should precede the Incarnation, and this is for three reasons. The first is that the order of reparation should correspond to the order of transgression or deviation. Therefore since the devil tempted the woman to lead her to doubt, through the doubt to consent, and through consent to sinning, so the angel brought the message to the Virgin by the announcement to prompt her to believing, through believing to consent, and through consent to conceiving of the Son of God. The second reason has to do with the angel’s ministry. The angel is God’s minister and servant, and the Blessed Virgin was chosen to be God’s mother; and as it is right for the minister to be at the service of his mistress, so it was fitting the Annunciation be made to the Blessed Virgin by an angel. The Incarnation made reparation not only for human sin but for the ruin of the fallen angels. Therefore the angels were not to be excluded; and as womankind was not excluded from knowledge of the mysteries of the Incarnation and the Resurrection, neither was the angelic messenger excluded. God made both of these mysteries known through angels, the Incarnation to the Virgin Mary and the Resurrection to Mary Magdalene.
Okay, in order to comprehend that paragraph, you must erase 800 years of literature, science, and philosophical reasoning. Think as a medieval friar would have. In doing so, you might also find delight in some of the other passages, which the Protestant Reformation decried and tried to erase as extraneous to the early church writings. Later in the legend, de Voragine tells of a miracle related to the Annunciation:
A rich and noble knight renounced the world and entered the Cistercian order. He was unlettered, and the monks, not wishing to number so noble a person among the lay brothers, gave him a teacher to see if he might acquire enough learning to be received as a choir monk. He spent a long time with his teacher but could learn no more than the two words Ava Maria, which he cherished and repeated incessantly whenever he went and whatever he was doing. At length he died and was buried among the brothers, and behold! a beautiful lily grew up above his grave, and one leaf had the words Ave Maria inscribed on it in letters of gold. Running to see this great spectacle, the monks dug down into the grave and discovered that the root of the lily sprang from the dead man’s mouth. They then understood the depth of devotion with which he, whom God glorified with so prodigious and honor, had recited these two words.
Sometimes I think that mysteries, such as the Annunciation are more interesting than our world filled with facts and disputes about what are facts.
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