Greetings, my fellow port swillers and happy Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary! Over in one of my little FB groups, a friend posted a rendition of this which I can’t recall having seen before, but which I really like:
“The Annunciation” – Henry Ossawa Tanner (1898)
The reason I like it is because it comports with my idea of what encounters between angels and humans must be like (one very heavily influenced, I must admit, by the writings of C.S. Lewis).
Although I can appreciate the more classical renditions as art for art’s sake, when it comes to the Real Deal I don’t go much for the anthropomorphized portrayals of the Heavenly Host, neither the Adonis-like fellahs kitted out with a pair of wings nor the twee adowawable babies. Angels are of a completely different order of existence from humans and it should be noted that in just about every encounter between them in Scripture, the appearance of the former scares the willies out of the latter, so that the first words out of the angel’s mouths are, “Be not afraid.”
Lewis develops this idea of the terrifying alieness of angels a great deal in his Ransom Trilogy and elsewhere, and I think there is much to it.
Anyhoo, let’s go to today’s gospel, Luke 1: 26-38 (KJV because my old
Palie English Major prejudices die hard):
26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,
27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.
28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.
29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.
30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.
31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS.
32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:
33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?
35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.
36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.
37 For with God nothing shall be impossible.
38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.
I may say that in all my former experience, so far as I can remember, the Blessed Virgin got almost no mention outside references in the formulaic prayers such as the Nicene Creed and elsewhere in the Liturgy. Back in those days, most of the substantive discussion of wymminz in the Gospels seemed to focus on Mary Magdalene in her role as some kind of proro-femininist. So it’s only since my swim across the Tiber that I’ve really begun to understand the perilous awesomeness of this moment and to ponder the true glory of it: Mary could have said “No!” She could have been not “the New Eve” but another Eve. But she wasn’t. Amidst all the terror and confusion and incomprehensibility, She trusted God. And, in a way I can’t begin to explain, I think God trusted her.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
Awe inspiring, when you start to ponder it. And whenever I think of her crushing the snake under her heal, I get the shivers.
Frankly, I’m a bit mystified why the Annunciation is not, at least in my Diocese, a Holy Day of Obligation, requiring attendance at Mass. (I went, anyway.) After all, it’s a key waypoint in the journey of the second part of the Trinity in his human manifestation. Surely, it’s at least as important as teh celebration of the Assumption of The Virgin, which is a HDoO.
But what do I know.
Update: Oh, speaking of what I don’t know, it was only in the past couple years that I suddenly understood why J.R.R. Tolkien (a devout Catholic), in his Lord of teh Rings trilogy, chose March 25 as the date of the downfall of Sauron and the end of the Third Age. Snake? Meet crushing heel!
Update Deux: Okay, I think I managed to delete all the repetitions. My apologies. Me no likey Apple…..