Annunciation of the Lord
Homily preached by Fr Terence Richardson, Prior of Ampleforth Abbey, at Conventual Mass on the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord. The Annunciation is a 'Prior's Day', when the Prior traditionally presides at the Office and Mass. The Annunciation this year is transferred from the usual date of 25th March, which occurred during Holy Week.
This year we celebrate the feast of the Annunciation after we celebrate Easter. We may be tempted to think this is the wrong way round. But in a strange way it is not. Easter is the celebration of Christ’s victory over the powers of evil, and it is because of their Easter faith that the disciples were impelled to go and preach the Good News without fear to everyone they encountered. It is strengthened by this faith, and in the light of the Holy Spirit that the Church re-examined Isaiah, and particularly the passage from Isaiah 7 that we just heard, and in the same spirit that the authors wrote the letter to the Hebrews and the Gospel of Luke. So, in a sense the Easter experience comes first and the understanding of the Annunciation of the Lord comes second.
Even some of the phrases the writers use seem to have Paschal echoes. In Luke, the angel tells Mary not to be afraid; Matthew tells us that the angel at the tomb tells the women, “there is no need to be afraid”(Mt 28:5) – the same message. Even the instruction to Thomas that we heard yesterday: “doubt no longer, but believe” (John 20) could have been addressed to Mary as she questioned the angel, “but how can this be, since I am a virgin?” Yesterday we heard Jesus go on to praise later generations, “Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe” an echo to me, at least of Jesus’ response to the woman in the crowd who called out to him (Luke 11:27-28) “Happy the womb that bore you and the breasts that fed you!” You will recall that Jesus asserted “More blessed still are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.” That is a sort of Easter message – go back over the scriptures – hear them anew – and live by them.
One could even argue that the Gospels present Mary in the infancy narratives as an Easter figure long before the time, as herself an example of true post-resurrection faith. The Church has been reflecting on the Word of God, mentally ruminating and physically celebrating the mysteries of our salvation for two thousand years; we are part of that process. And to us monks the command of the angel to listen is special: it is the same word with which St Benedict begins his Rule for monks. So, as we commemorate once again the “yes” of Mary to the angel, we do so as people ourselves who strain to hear the word of God and who try to keep it. We imitate the faith of Thomas and the other apostles and also we try to respond with the openness and trust of Mary herself.