POPE BENEDICT XVI ON THE ANNUNCIATION OF THE LORD (March 25)
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS BENEDICT XVI
Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord
Saint Peter’s Square
Saturday, 25 March 2006
Dear Cardinals and Patriarchs,
Venerable Brothers in the Episcopate and in the Priesthood,
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
For me it is a source of great joy to preside at this concelebration with the new Cardinals after yesterday’s Consistory, and I consider it providential that it should take place on the liturgical Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord and under the sunshine that the Lord gives us. In the Incarnation of the Son of God, in fact, we recognize the origins of the Church. Everything began from there.
Every historical realization of the Church and every one of her institutions must be shaped by that primordial wellspring. They must be shaped by Christ, the incarnate Word of God. It is he that we are constantly celebrating: Emmanuel, God-with-us, through whom the saving will of God the Father has been accomplished.
And yet – today of all days we contemplate this aspect of the Mystery – the divine wellspring flows through a privileged channel: the Virgin Mary.
St Bernard speaks of this using the eloquent image of aquaeductus (cf. Sermo in Nativitate B.V. Mariae: PL 183, 437-448). In celebrating the Incarnation of the Son, therefore, we cannot fail to honour his Mother. The Angel’s proclamation was addressed to her; she accepted it, and when she responded from the depths of her heart: “Here I am… let it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1: 38), at that moment the eternal Word began to exist as a human being in time.
From generation to generation, the wonder evoked by this ineffable mystery never ceases. St Augustine imagines a dialogue between himself and the Angel of the Annunciation, in which he asks: “Tell me, O Angel, why did this happen in Mary?“. The answer, says the Messenger, is contained in the very words of the greeting: “Hail, full of grace“ (cf. Sermo 291: 6).
In fact, the Angel, “appearing to her”, does not call her by her earthly name, Mary, but by her divine name, as she has always been seen and characterized by God: “Full of grace – gratia plena“, which in the original Greek is 6,P”D4JTµXv0, “full of grace”, and the grace is none other than the love of God; thus, in the end, we can translate this word: “beloved” of God (cf. Lk 1: 28). Origen observes that no such title had ever been given to a human being, and that it is unparalleled in all of Sacred Scripture (cf. In Lucam 6: 7).
It is a title expressed in passive form, but this “passivity” of Mary, who has always been and is for ever “loved” by the Lord, implies her free consent, her personal and original response: in being loved, in receiving the gift of God, Mary is fully active, because she accepts with personal generosity the wave of God’s love poured out upon her. In this too, she is the perfect disciple of her Son, who realizes the fullness of his freedom and thus exercises the freedom through obedience to the Father.
In the Second Reading, we heard the wonderful passage in which the author of the Letter to the Hebrews interprets Psalm 39 in the light of Christ’s Incarnation: “When Christ came into the world, he said: …”Here I am, I have come to do your will, O God'” (Heb 10: 5-7). Before the mystery of these two “Here I am” statements, the “Here I am” of the Son and the “Here I am” of the Mother, each of which is reflected in the other, forming a single Amen to God’s loving will, we are filled with wonder and thanksgiving, and we bow down in adoration.
What a great gift, dear Brothers, to be able to conduct this evocative celebration on the Solemnity of the Lord’s Annunciation! What an abundance of light we can draw from this mystery for our lives as ministers of the Church!
You above all, dear new Cardinals, what great sustenance you can receive for your mission as the eminent “Senate” of Peter’s Successor! This providential circumstance helps us to consider today’s event, which emphasizes the Petrine principle of the Church, in the light of the other principle, the Marian one, which is even more fundamental. The importance of the Marian principle in the Church was particularly highlighted, after the Council, by my beloved Predecessor Pope John Paul II in harmony with his motto Totus tuus.
In his spirituality and in his tireless ministry, the presence of Mary as Mother and Queen of the Church was made manifest to the eyes of all. More than ever he adverted to her maternal presence in the assassination attempt of 13 May 1981 here in St Peter’s Square. In memory of that tragic event, he had a mosaic of the Virgin placed high up in the Apostolic Palace looking down over St Peter’s Square, so as to accompany the key moments and the daily unfolding of his long reign. It is just one year since his Pontificate entered its final phase, full of suffering and yet triumphant and truly paschal.
The icon of the Annunciation, more than any other, helps us to see clearly how everything in the Church goes back to that mystery of Mary’s acceptance of the divine Word, by which, through the action of the Holy Spirit, the Covenant between God and humanity was perfectly sealed. Everything in the Church, every institution and ministry, including that of Peter and his Successors, is “included” under the Virgin’s mantle, within the grace-filled horizon of her “yes” to God’s will. This link with Mary naturally evokes a strong affective resonance in all of us, but first of all it has an objective value.
Between Mary and the Church there is indeed a connatural relationship that was strongly emphasized by the Second Vatican Council in its felicitous decision to place the treatment of the Blessed Virgin at the conclusion of the Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium.
The theme of the relationship between the Petrine principle and the Marian principle is also found in the symbol of the ring which I am about to consign to you. The ring is always a nuptial sign. Almost all of you have already received one, on the day of your episcopal ordination, as an expression of your fidelity and your commitment to watch over the holy Church, the bride of Christ (cf. Rite of Ordination of Bishops).
The ring which I confer upon you today, proper to the cardinalatial dignity, is intended to confirm and strengthen that commitment, arising once more from a nuptial gift, a reminder to you that first and foremost you are intimately united with Christ so as to accomplish your mission as bridegrooms of the Church. May your acceptance of the ring be for you a renewal of your “yes”, your “here I am”, addressed both to the Lord Jesus who chose you and constituted you, and to his holy Church, which you are called to serve with the love of a spouse.
So the two dimensions of the Church, Marian and Petrine, come together in the supreme value of charity, which constitutes the fulfilment of each. As St Paul says, charity is the “greatest” charism, the “most excellent way” (I Cor 12: 31; 13: 13).
Everything in this world will pass away. In eternity only Love will remain. For this reason, my Brothers, taking the opportunity offered by this favourable time of Lent, let us commit ourselves to ensure that everything in our personal lives and in the ecclesial activity in which we are engaged is inspired by charity and leads to charity. In this respect too, we are enlightened by the mystery that we are celebrating today.
Indeed, the first thing that Mary did after receiving the Angel’s message was to go “in haste” to the house of her cousin Elizabeth in order to be of service to her (cf. Lk 1: 39). The Virgin’s initiative was one of genuine charity; it was humble and courageous, motivated by faith in God’s Word and the inner promptings of the Holy Spirit. Those who love forget about themselves and place themselves at the service of their neighbour. Here we have the image and model of the Church!
Every Ecclesial Community, like the Mother of Christ, is called to accept with total generosity the mystery of God who comes to dwell within her and guides her steps in the ways of love. This is the path along which I chose to launch my Pontificate, inviting everyone, with my first Encyclical, to build up the Church in charity as a “community of love” (cf. Deus Caritas Est, Part II).
In pursuing this objective, venerable Brother Cardinals, your spiritual closeness and active assistance is a great support and comfort to me. For this I thank you, and at the same time I invite all of you, priests, deacons, Religious and lay faithful, to join together in invoking the Holy Spirit, praying that the College of Cardinals may be ever more ardent in pastoral charity, so as to help the whole Church to radiate Christ’s love in the world, to the praise and glory of the Most Holy Trinity. Amen!
© Copyright 2006 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana
St Peter’s Square
25 March 2007
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
The 25th of March is the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin. This year it coincides with a Sunday in Lent and will therefore be celebrated tomorrow. I would now like, however, to reflect on this amazing mystery of faith which we contemplate every day in the recitation of the Angelus.
The Annunciation, recounted at the beginning of St Luke’s Gospel, is a humble, hidden event – no one saw it, no one except Mary knew of it -, but at the same time it was crucial to the history of humanity. When the Virgin said her “yes” to the Angel’s announcement, Jesus was conceived and with him began the new era of history that was to be ratified in Easter as the “new and eternal Covenant”.
In fact, Mary’s “yes” perfectly mirrors that of Christ himself when he entered the world, as the Letter to the Hebrews says, interpreting Psalm 40: “As is written of me in the book, I have come to do your will, O God” (Heb 10: 7). The Son’s obedience was reflected in that of the Mother and thus, through the encounter of these two “yeses”, God was able to take on a human face.
This is why the Annunciation is a Christological feast as well, because it celebrates a central mystery of Christ: the Incarnation.
“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your Word”. Mary’s reply to the Angel is extended in the Church, which is called to make Christ present in history, offering her own availability so that God may continue to visit humanity with his mercy. The “yes” of Jesus and Mary is thus renewed in the “yes” of the saints, especially martyrs who are killed because of the Gospel.
I stress this because yesterday, 24 March, the anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, we celebrated the Day of Prayer and Fasting for Missionary Martyrs: Bishops, priests, Religious and lay people struck down while carrying out their mission of evangelization and human promotion.
These missionary martyrs, as this year’s theme says, are the “hope of the world”, because they bear witness that Christ’s love is stronger than violence and hatred. They did not seek martyrdom, but they were ready to give their lives in order to remain faithful to the Gospel. Christian martyrdom is only justified when it is a supreme act of love for God and our brethren.
In this Lenten Season we often contemplate Our Lady, who on Calvary sealed the “yes” she pronounced at Nazareth. United to Christ, Witness of the Father’s love, Mary lived martyrdom of the soul. Let us call on her intercession with confidence, so that the Church, faithful to her mission, may offer to the whole world a courageous witness of God’s love.
© Copyright 2006 – Libreria Editrice Vaticana
Wednesday, 19 December 2012
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today, I wish to ponder briefly with you on Mary’s faith, starting from the great mystery of the Annunciation.
“Chaîre kecharitomene, ho Kyrios meta sou”, “Hail, [rejoice] full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Lk 1:28). These are the words — recorded by Luke the Evangelist — with which the Archangel Gabriel addresses Mary. At first sight the term chaire “rejoice”, seems an ordinary greeting, typical in the Greek world, but if this word is interpreted against the background of the biblical tradition it acquires a far deeper meaning. The same term occurs four times in the Greek version of the Old Testament and always as a proclamation of joy in the coming of the Messiah (cf. Zeph 3:14, Joel 2:21; Zech 9:9; Lam 4:21).
The Angel’s greeting to Mary is therefore an invitation to joy, deep joy. It announces an end to the sadness that exists in the world because of life’s limitations, suffering, death, wickedness, in all that seems to block out the light of the divine goodness. It is a greeting that marks the beginning of the Gospel, the Good News.
But why is Mary invited to rejoice in this way? The answer is to be found in the second part of the greeting: “The Lord is with you”. Here too, if we are to understand correctly the meaning of these words we must turn to the Old Testament. In the Book of Zephaniah, we find these words “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion…. The King of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst…. The Lord, your God, in your midst, a warrior who gives victory” (3:14-17).
In these words a twofold promise is made to Israel, to the daughter of Zion: God will come as a saviour and will pitch his tent in his people’s midst, in the womb of the daughter of Zion. This promise is fulfilled to the letter in the dialogue between the Angel and Mary. Mary is identified with the people espoused by God, she is truly the daughter of Zion in person; in her the expectation of the definitive coming of God is fulfilled, in her the Living God makes his dwelling place.
In the greeting of the Angel Mary is called “full of grace”. In Greek, the term “grace”, charis, has the same linguistic root as the word “joy”. In this term too the source of Mary’s exultation is further clarified: her joy comes from grace, that is, from being in communion with God, from having such a vital connection with him, from being the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit, totally fashioned by God’s action. Mary is the creature who opened the door to her Creator in a special way, placing herself in his hands without reserve. She lived entirely from and in her relationship with the Lord; she was disposed to listen, alert to recognizing the signs of God in the journey of his people; she was integrated into a history of faith and hope in God’s promises with which the fabric of her life was woven. And she submitted freely to the word received, to the divine will in the obedience of faith.
The Evangelist Luke tells Mary’s story by aligning it closely to the history of Abraham. Just as the great Patriarch is the father of believers who responded to God’s call to leave the land in which he lived, to leave behind all that guaranteed his security in order to start out on the journey to an unknown land, assured only in the divine promise, so Mary trusts implicitly in the word that the messenger of God has announced to her, and becomes the model and Mother of all believers.
I would like to emphasize another important point: the opening of the soul to God and to his action in faith also includes an element of obscurity. The relationship of human beings with God does not delete the distance between Creator and creature, it does not eliminate what the Apostle Paul said before the depth of God’s wisdom: “How unsearchable are his judgements and how inscrutable his ways!” (Rom 11:33).
Yet those who — like Mary — open themselves totally to God, come to accept the divine will, even though it is mysterious, although it often does not correspond with their own wishes, and is a sword that pierces their soul, as the elderly Simeon would say prophetically to Mary when Jesus was presented in the Temple (cf. Lk 2:35). Abraham’s journey of faith included the moment of joy in the gift of his son Isaac, but also the period of darkness, when he had to climb Mount Moriah to execute a paradoxical order: God was asking him to sacrifice the son he had just given him. On the mountain, the Angel told him: “Do not lay your hand on the lad or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, seeing you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me” (Gen 22:12). Abraham’s full trust in the God who is faithful to his promises did not fail, even when his word was mysterious and difficult, almost impossible to accept. So it is with Mary. Her faith experienced the joy of the Annunciation, but also passed through the gloom of the crucifixion of the Son to be able to reach the light of the Resurrection.
It is exactly the same on the journey of faith of each one of us: we encounter patches of light, but we also encounter stretches in which God seems absent, when his silence weighs on our hearts and his will does not correspond with ours, with our inclination to do as we like. However, the more we open ourselves to God, welcome the gift of faith and put our whole trust in him — like Abraham, like Mary — the more capable he will make us, with his presence, of living every situation of life in peace and assured of his faithfulness and his love. However, this means coming out of ourselves and our own projects so that the word of God may be the lamp that guides our thoughts and actions.
I would like once again to ponder on an aspect that surfaces in the infancy narratives of Jesus recounted by St Luke. Mary and Joseph take their Son to Jerusalem, to the Temple, to present him to the Lord and to consecrate him as required by Mosaic Law: “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord” (cf. Lk 2:22-24). The Holy Family’s action acquires an even more profound meaning if we interpret it in the light of the evangelical knowledge of the 12-year-old Jesus. After three days of searching he was found in the Temple in conversation with the teachers. The deeply anxious words of Mary and Joseph: “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously”, are in conformity with Jesus’ mysterious answer: “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Lk 2:48-49). The significance lies in the Father’s property, “in my Father’s house”, as a son is.
Mary is obliged to renew the profound faith with which she said “yes” at the Annunciation; she must accept that it is the true and proper Father of Jesus who has precedence; she must be able to leave the Son she has brought forth free to follow his mission. And Mary’s “yes” to God’s will, in the obedience of faith, is repeated throughout her life, until the most difficult moment, that of the Cross.
Confronting all this, we may ask ourselves: how was Mary able to journey on beside her Son with such a strong faith, even in darkness, without losing her full trust in the action of God? Mary assumes a fundamental approach in facing what happens in her life. At the Annunciation, on hearing the Angel’s words she is distressed — it is the fear a person feels when moved by God’s closeness — but it is not the attitude of someone who is afraid of what God might ask. Mary reflects, she ponders on the meaning of this greeting (cf. Lk 1:29). The Greek word used in the Gospel to define this “reflection”, “dielogizeto”, calls to mind the etymology of the word “dialogue”.
This means that Mary enters into a deep conversation with the Word of God that has been announced to her, she does not consider it superficially but meditates on it, lets it sink into her mind and her heart so as to understand what the Lord wants of her, the meaning of the announcement.
We find another hint of Mary’s inner attitude to God’s action — again in the Gospel according to St Luke — at the time of Jesus’ birth, after the adoration of the shepherds. Luke affirms that Mary “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Lk 2:19). In Greek the term is symballon, we could say that she “kept together”, “pieced together” in her heart all the events that were happening to her; she placed every individual element, every word, every event, within the whole and confronted it, cherished it, recognizing that it all came from the will of God.
Mary does not stop at a first superficial understanding of what is happening in her life, but can look in depth, she lets herself be called into question by events, digests them, discerns them, and attains the understanding that only faith can provide. It is the profound humility of the obedient faith of Mary, who welcomes within her even what she does not understand in God’s action, leaving it to God to open her mind and heart. “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her from the Lord” (Lk 1:45), her kinswoman Elizabeth exclaims. It is exactly because of this faith that all generations will call her blessed.
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