March 25, 2020

Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord

(Wednesday of the Fourth Week of Lent)


First Reading: Isaiah 7:10-14; 8:10

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

Second Reading: Hebrews 10:4-10

Tract: John 1:14AB

Gospel: Luke 1:26-38


            “May it be done to me according to your word.” This is what Christians refer to as Mary’s fiat. Meaning, her choice to be utterly obedient to the Lord even in consenting to his plan for a virginal conception of our Lord. In a sense, we could say that fiat is the goal of the Christian life, at least in its earthly stage. Because it is by following the will of the Lord that we obtain the blessed life of heaven.


            In the second reading, the author of Hebrews says of God, “Sacrifices and offerings, holocausts and sin offerings, you neither desired nor delighted in … These are offered according to the law.” Now, that’s a bit of literary hyperbole. The Temple sacrifices of the Old Covenant were in accord with God’s desires, as he directed them by his own law. But these sacrifices were only a prefigurement of what would be accomplished once and for all by Christ on the Cross. The Temple sacrifices could not remit sin, but only forestall God’s judgment for sin.


            Rather, the Book of Hebrews tells us, what God desires is the believer who says, “Behold, I come to do your will, O Lord.” And, in truth, this was the point of the ceremonial law of the Old Covenant, as difficult and cumbersome as it was to follow. The law’s purpose, in large measure, was to condition Israel to obedience to God word, while also serving as a shadow of the New Covenant that was to come. 


            When we get down to it, obedience to God is at the very heart of the Incarnation. That the Son of God, the second person of the Most Holy Trinity, would willingly suffer the condescension of becoming part of the lowly estate in being born man. And that he would continue that obedience perfectly even unto the worst death imaginable – death on the Cross.


            This act of obedience – the work of Christ’s divinity and humanity acting in tandem – is what makes possible the restoration of harmony between God and man that was lost in the Fall. When Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command in the Garden, they cast humanity down into the reign of sin. Just as they themselves were cast from Eden. Christ’s surmounting obedience on the Cross overcomes this and establishes the New Covenant by which a heavenly (not merely earthly) Paradise is open to all.


            This is where Mary’s fiat comes in. To be one with us, the Son of Man needed to enter into the world in a human way through a mother, even if the mother did herself did not partake of the natural mode of human conception. Christ needed to be like us in every fundamental way, except for sin. (Sin, of course, is extrinsic to humanity to begin with, which is why it is called sin; the original Hebrew means to stray from the path.)    


            God’s plan of redemption for humanity was already laid in the Garden when he told the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman.” The woman is Mary, whom we note our Lord refers to his mother as “woman” (e.g. “Woman, behold your son,” and “Woman, how does your concern affect me?”). So in one sense we can say that God plan to redeem the humanity by sending his only begotten Son into the world to suffer and die for our sins is the story arc of the entire Old Testament. We see this in the fact that the Evangelists Matthew and Luke are keen to recount the lineage of Jesus going back to earliest times.


But, in another more fundamental sense, we can say that the Annunciation where Mary consents to be the Ark of the New Covenant is the immediate activation of God’s plan of redemption. It is the true opening of the floodgate of grace which will come to fruition on the Cross and be made available to us as members of the mystical Body of Christ, the Church.


            What we should take away from our celebration of the Annunciation is that Christ’s work was made possible by Mary’s fiat. Of course, Mary’s fiat was made possible by the prior infusion of God’s grace. But, ultimately, Mary simply gave her will over to God. This is the same as we are all called to do. Despite our sinfulness, we are always capable of saying yes to God. Of saying, “Let it be done to me according to your Word.” When we do that, we can hardly predict the wonders that God will allow to flow from that act of odedience, just as Christ’s redemptive mission flowed from Mary’s “yes” in ways that perhaps even she could not envision. In these troubled and trying times, try being that “yes” to God’s will.