With Dawn having hidden her lovely face; at any rate, the rain is stopped, so 42 degrees feels chilly not cold. The feast of the Annunciation of course, the Mass Vultum tuum (Introibo) and Holy Mass is streamed from Saint-Eugène at the usual hour, 1100. I'm headed to Saint Mary's 1215 Mass so will miss all but the first 45 minutes of that, although of course I might listen to the recording when I've returned from downtown.
Feast of the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Divine Incarnation
Such was the ancient title of this festival in the various medieval Sacramentaries and Martyrologies, from which we gather that, originally, it was considered as a feast of our Saviour, rather than of the Blessed Virgin. [As indeed is the case in the Pauline Rite, which returned to this conception.] The date of March 25 was not fixed arbitrarily, but arises from that of the Nativity, which occurs nine months later, and even as early as the seventh century the first date was supported by so venerable and universal a tradition that, when the Council of Trullo in 692 forbade the celebration of the feast of any martyr during Lent, it made a special exception for that of the Incarnation of our Lord on March 25. We know that, to this day, the Greeks suspend the daily celebration of the divine Sacrifice during the Lenten fast, except on Saturdays, Sundays, and March 25, unlike the ancient Spanish rite, which, in order to avoid this liturgical concession in favour of the feast of the Incarnation of our Lord, transfers it from the spring to the winter equinox about a week before Christmas. It cannot be denied that whilst the spirit of the Liturgy is already intent upon the contemplation of the mystical Lamb of God immolated upon Calvary on the eve of the Pasch, it appears a somewhat sudden and violent change to turn abruptly in the middle of Lent from the cross to the joyful mysteries of the House of Nazareth.But, of greater weight than all these considerations, which are largely of a subjective nature, is the solemn event and the historic date of March 25, which inaugurates the New Testament; so much so that, in the early Middle Ages, it was regarded among Christian nations as the true commencement of the civil year. It appears that, at Constantinople, the feast was already kept in the time of Proclus, who died in 446, but in the West it appears later, for it is not to be found in the Gallican Missal, and is included only in the Gelasian and Gregorian Sacramentaries of the early Carlovingian period. At Rome all indication of it is wanting in the Wurzburg List of Gospels, while from the Liber Pontificalis we only learn that it was Sergius I who ordered it to be celebrated with due solemnity-- that is to say, with a grand stational procession from the deaconry of St Adrian to St Mary Major. This custom was long maintained, and the Ordines Romani of the 12th century describe at length the majestic ceremony which took place on this day, in exact resemblance to that other festival on February 2, of which we have previously spoken-- namely, that of the Hypapante [the Purification of Our Lady, the Presentation of Our Lord] of the Byzantines. The capital of the Catholic world has dedicated to this consoling mystery of the Annunciation of our Redemption several churches, which are of importance on account of their venerable antiquity. Besides the Oratory of the Annunciation at Tor de’Specchi-- originally Sancta Maria de Curte-- we may mention the four churches now destroyed : Santa Maria Annunziata in Camilliano, Santa Maria Annunziata on the Esquiline, Santa Maria Annunziata 'alle Quattro Fontane', and Santa Maria Annunziata near the Aeilian bridge. On the other hand, there still exists on the Via Ardeatina the sanctuary of our Lady called by the inhabitants of Rome 'l’Annunziatella', under which was found an ancient Christian vault. It was there, in all probability, that St Felicola was interred after her martyrdom. The Libri Indulgentiarum of the late Middle Ages mention this rural oratory as one of the IX ecclesiae which the pilgrims were wont to visit, so that the road leading to it was called simply Via Oratoria in a brief of Urban V (1362-70). Even to this day the Roman populace flock on festivals to this sanctuary of our Lady on the Via Ardeatina, especially on the first Sunday in May.The Mass, although we are in the middle of Lent, carries us straight back to Advent. Yet this white winter blossom which recalls the snows of Christmas has its own deep significance, for it reminds us of Gideon’s fleece-- that gracious symbol of the spotless virginity of the Mother of God-- which was found by the Prophet newly wet with the dew of spring in the midst of a sun-baked plain in Palestine. The Introit is taken from the usual 'Canticle of Virginity', as St Jerome used to call Psalm 44. 'All the rich among the people shall entreat thy countenance; after her shall virgins be brought to the King: her neighbours shall be brought to thee in gladness and rejoicing. My heart hath uttered a good word: I speak my works to the King'.In the Collect the emphasis given to the words 'we who believe her to be truly the Mother of God' points to the period following the disputes of Nestorius, and his condemnation at the first sessions of the Council of Ephesus. The Collect: 'O God, who didst please that thy Word should take flesh at the message of an angel in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, grant to us thy suppliants, that we who believe her to be truly the Mother of God may be helped by her intercession with thee. Through the same Lord'.The Lesson from Isaias (7, 10-15) was read also on Ember Wednesday in Advent. In it is clearly foretold the miraculous conception of the Virgin, and also the divine nature of her offspring. Jews and rationalists deny that the Hebrew word Almah here used by the Prophet signifies exclusively 'virgin' and not rather 'young girl'. The orthodox interpreters, on the other hand, reply that, as a matter of fact, each time-- and it is not very often-- that this word is used in Holy Scripture it always refers to a virgin; moreover, it can be inferred from the circumstances of the case that the marvellous sign announced by the Prophet must be a miraculous birth, one, that is, outside all the laws of nature. The word Almah, taken in the sense which rationalists desire to give to it, makes the prophecy of Isaias altogether meaningless. The verses from Psalm 44 which form the Gradual must be understood primarily as referring to the Messias, but in their liturgical use, consequent on the intimate union of the divine Son and his Mother, they apply also to her who is 'blessed among women'. 'Grace is poured abroad in thy lips; therefore hath God blessed thee for ever. Because of truth, and meekness, and justice; and thy right hand shall conduct thee wonderfully'. The Tract (Psalm 44): 'Hearken, O daughter, and see, and incline thy ear: for the King hath greatly desired thy beauty. All the rich among the people shall entreat thy countenance: the daughters of kings in thy honour. After her shall virgins be brought to the King: her neighbours shall be brought to thee. They shall be brought with gladness and rejoicing; they shall be brought into the temple of the King.' At Eastertide the preceding verses are omitted, and the following alleluiatic verses are recited in their stead: 'Alleluia, alleluia. (Luke 1, 28) Hail, Mary, full of grace: the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women. Alleluia. The rod of Jesse hath blossomed: a virgin hath brought forth God and man: God hath given peace, reconciling the lowest with the highest in himself. Alleluia'.The Gospel is that of Ember Wednesday in Advent (Luke 1, 26-38), which, in the Middle Ages, was recited with special solemnity in chapters and monasteries, as if to announce to the religious the near approach of Christmas. St Bernard, following a monastic custom which still exists, was in the habit of commentating fully upon it to his monks (of Clairvaux) assembled in chapter. Hence we possess the splendid collection of his homilies Super Missus est, the most beautiful passages of which are included in the Roman Breviary. Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum: that is the most complete and most perfect act of consecration which has ever been made. The Angel had announced to Mary the sublime dignity to which it was God’s intention to raise her, and she on her part, in the supernatural light which filled her, realized the ineffable blending of love and suffering which was consequent on that position. Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum: by these words she who was so greatly blessed signified that she consented, not only to give life and human flesh to the Word of God, but also to share with him poverty and persecutions; the insults and even the sorrows of Calvary. For this reason Mary in heaven is nearest to the throne of God, just as on earth her heart most closely resembled the Sacred Heart of her divine Son. On this solemn festival we cannot refrain from calling to mind once more the praises of Mary contained in the verses which were formerly to be read in Saint Mary Major under the mosaics of Sixtus III representing the life of the Blessed Virgin : Virgo Maria, tibi Xystus nova tecta dicavi Digna salutifero munera ventre tuo. Te Genitrix, ignara viri, te denique foeta Visceribus salvis, edita nostra salus.The Offertory (Luke 1, 28, 42) is identical with that appointed for the 4th Sunday in Advent. It is important in regard to the history of the Angelic Salutation which appears here for the first time in its most ancient form, which form was preserved intact in its euchological use down to the 14th century. 'Hail, Mary, full of grace: the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb'.The Secret retains the thoroughly classical form of the Leonine period: 'Strengthen, O Lord, in our minds, we beseech thee, the mysteries of the true faith; that we who confess him that was conceived of the Virgin to be true God and man may, by the power of his saving resurrection, deserve to arrive at eternal gladness. Through the same'. The Preface is that usually recited on the feasts of the Blessed Virgin as on December 8. The Communion, which comes from Isaias 7, 14, 'Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son; and his name shall be called Emmanuel', is that of the 4th Sunday in Advent. It contains not only the prediction of the Virgin Birth, but also announces explicitly the definite and enduring character of the new Messianic Era. God will no longer enter into a temporary pact with Israel, nor will he appear henceforth merely for a brief moment to a few privileged prophets, but he will dwell perpetually in the midst of the redeemed and sanctified human race. This is the signification of the new divine title of Emmanuel: 'God with us'.The Post-Communion is the same as that of the First Sunday in Advent. This shows still further the fortuitous character of this Mass, which was inserted in the Sacramentary long after the time of St Gregory. Posthumous additions to the work of the holy Doctor were avoided as far as possible; thus the new feasts which arose in the 7th century derived their Masses from those which were more ancient. 'Pour forth, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy grace into our hearts, that we to whom the incarnation of Christ thy Son was made known by the message of an angel, may by his passion and cross be brought to the glory of his resurrection'. As Jesus Christ in order to begin his life of suffering took flesh in the womb of the most Blessed Virgin in fulfilment of her trusting Fiat, so in order to commence his mystical life in our hearts by means of his grace, he desires that we too shall proclaim our own Fiat, and dedicate ourselves entirely to him. On this assent, complete, perpetual, intimate, and active, all our holiness and perfection must depend.
Οn the occasion of the feast of the Annunciation we may recall here one of the most celebrated compositions in the Byzantine Liturgy, that of the Acathistic hymn, which treats of this mystery at some length. Sergius of Constantinople, the father of the Monothelite heresy, would seem to have been its author. It was composed as a hymn of thanksgiving to the Blessed Virgin, who in 626 had delivered the Imperial city from the hordes of the Avars. It is called 'Acathistic' because, unlike the other καθισματα, it was sung standing on the Saturday after the 4th Sunday in Lent by the clergy and people who spent the whole of the night in this way in vigil. The following is one of the strophes containing the Angelic Salutation:
The Archangel Gabriel was sent by God to say to the Virgin 'Hail'. And he, contemplating, O Lord, thine Incarnation, was frightened, and with angelic voice said to Mary 'Hail, for through thee joy shall return to the world; Hail, thou resurrection of fallen humanity; Hail, thou who dost wipe away the tears of Eve; Hail, thou who art so sublime that the human mind cannot reach thee; Hail, O depth inscrutable even to the angels themselves; Hail, O Throne of the King; Hail, thou who dost bear him who sustains the universe. Hail, O star that reflects the Sun; Hail, O Seat of God Incarnate'.
... There of the Byzantine Exarchs, that its archbishops [I.S. is talking about Ravenna, when it enjoyed the dignity of a capital of the Empire], copying the oecumenical patriarchs of Constantinople, began to arrogate to themselves papal honours. It was therefore necessary to treat these prelates with great consideration, and it was during their ascendancy-- at the time when even Gregory the Great assigned a place of distinction to the apocrisarius of the metropolitans of Ravenna at the papal functions in Rome-- that many churches and chapels were built in honour of St Apollinaris. There was one at the Vatican, another at the Lateran, a third-- at which to-day’s station is held-- near the Baths of Severus, and another on the Via Appia. Rome, whilst showing this special veneration for St Apollinaris, was careful to point out (and for this she had excellent reasons) that the saint had been a disciple of Peter, from whom he had received a mission to evangelize the Romagna; but there were certain patriarchs of Ravenna who tried to emancipate themselves entirely from papal jurisdiction, so much so that the Roman Missal does not fail to inculcate in its lessons on the Feast of St Apollinaris the necessity of humility and of avoiding that spirit of domineering arrogance which characterizes secular authority. Under the high altar of the Basilica of St Apollinaris in archipresbyteratu repose the relics of the Armenian martyrs Eustacius, Mardarius, Eugenius, Orestes, and Eusentius, who were greatly renowned among the Greeks.The Introit is derived from Daniel (3,31); Azarias being cast into the furnace at Babylon, confesses that the evils which oppress the people are the just retribution of their misdeeds, since they refused to obey the commandments of God and therefore deserved to be abandoned by him. Yet, as the divine justice is ever tempered by compassion, the martyr implores God not to regard the sins of Israel, but rather to give glory to his name by pardoning those who have rightly merited chastisement, and by dealing with them according to the multitude of his mercies. The choice of this Introit by Gregory II is a vivid comment on the pitiable condition of Rome during the first half of the 8th century.In the Collect we humbly confess that it was through the sin of intemperance and greed that human nature fell from its original dignity of grace, and as this malady can be cured only by its opposite remedy, we pray that our fast may serve both as an expiation and an antidote. In the Lesson from Daniel (3,25, 34-45) is read the lament of Azarias over the sad fate of his nation, who were without a leader, without a priesthood, and without a temple. But the martyr does not lose his confidence in God, for a contrite heart and a humble spirit will avail more than the sacrifice of bullocks in the sight of the Lord, who regards the sincerity of those who call upon him for help in their adversity, rather than the outward ceremonies of the law. These words of Holy Scripture should be meditated upon carefully, especially by religious. It is not the habit which makes us saints and renders us pleasing to God; the inner dispositions must be in harmony with the outward appearance, which is too liable to become a mere formality. For this reason, St Bernard, in rebuking the arrogant bearing of some of his monks of Clairvaux towards those of Cluny, said to them: 'We wear a cowl and are proud, despising those who wear a tippet, as though humility concealed under a tippet were not more worthy than pride under a cowl'.The Gradual is taken from Psalms 90 and 28, and instructs us in the dispositions with which we should enter today into the church of the great martyr of Ravenna. We should never come before God empty-handed, but should bring him gifts and sacrifices, not indeed of brute beasts, but of ourselves and of our own will. The power of the Lord is over all: 'He will discover the thick woods and in his temple all shall speak his glory'. This acclamation of praise is now begun by the Church militant in the Liturgy, but it will continue throughout all eternity in the heavenly liturgy, for in the Apocalypse St John tells us that he heard the Blessed in Paradise ever singing Amen, Alleluia.The Gospel (Luke 7,36-50) narrates the conversion of Mary of Magdala, whom widespread tradition, as early as the time of Tertullian, identifies with the sister of Martha and Lazarus. God does not heed the past sins of the penitent, and in the Magdalen he wishes to give us an example of the way in which he will receive a sinner who returns to him with true contrition. The fire of the Holy Ghost, says St Chrysostom, envelops the poor penitent, sanctifies her and raises her up, even above the virgins. Vides hanc mulierem? Jesus desires that all humanity should behold this woman and follow her example. Much is forgiven her because she loves much. We are not all able to fast, nor can we all be apostles, but everyone of us has a heart to consecrate to the love of God alone. The Offertory is from Psalm 136, in which the soul mourns, being wearied with its exile, but refuses to join in the worldly pleasures of the children of Babylon.The Secret bears the mark of great antiquity: 'O Lord our God, who from these creatures which thou hast created for the support of our weakness, hast likewise commanded gifts to be set apart and dedicated to thy name: grant, we beseech thee, that they may procure for us aids in this present life, and be to us also an eternal sacrament'. Jesus instituted the divine Sacrament under the species of bread and wine in order that we might understand that, as these creatures are the daily food of man, so the holy Eucharist is the heavenly food on which the soul maintains its supernatural life. Thus St Ambrose said:Christusque nobis sit cibus,Potusque nobis sit fides;Laeti bibamus sobriamEbrietatem spiritus.The Communion is taken from Psalm 118: 'Be thou mindful of thy word to thy servant, O Lord, in which thou hast given me hope: this hath comforted me in my humiliation'. What is this word of consolation and comfort? It is Jesus, in whose name is contained all grace and hope and love. The Post-Communion is ancient, and was chosen in the Middle Ages as a prayer of private devotion, which the priest used to recite immediately after having participated in the sacred mysteries. In this way it came to form part of the Ordinarium Missae in the present Roman Missal. 'Grant, O Lord, that what we have taken with our mouth, we may receive with a clean mind, and that from a temporal gift it may become for us an everlasting remedy'. We must not deceive ourselves: it is one thing to receive the Blessed Sacrament, and quite another thing to receive the rem et virtutem sacramenti, as St Thomas says. The first may be received by sinners, or even by those no better than brute beasts, as alas! has sometimes happened; but in order to partake of the divine efficacy of the Body and Blood of Christ, a fitting preparation is required, as well as a fervent love and a lively desire, which will unite our souls with the life and death of Christ.In the Oratio super populum, we beg that God will give us grace to scorn the vain allurements of the senses-- such as that concerning which St Agatha prayed before her martyrdom, Gratias tibi ago, Domine, quia exstinxisti a me amorem saeculi-- and that he will fill us with the joy of the Holy Ghost, that interior unction which accompanies obedience to God’s commands, which upheld Stephen in his stoning and sweetened the sufferings of all those who were martyred for the Faith. Rome replied to the usurpations of the Patriarchs of Ravenna in the Middle Ages with lessons on humility drawn from the Gospels. She multiplied temples and altars in honour of St Apollinaris, in order that those in the capital of Emilia who were inclined towards schism might learn that the true greatness of their episcopal see consisted in its having been founded and sanctified by a disciple of Peter, by an emissary from Rome. [At times, Blessed I. writes the history that ought to have been, I think, rather the one that was.] This is the law ordained by God: the papal blessing consolidates and gives increase to the position of her sons, but if one of these rises up against the See of Peter, he will infallibly be crushed by the majesty of Rome. [I am awaiting some further crushing amongst the wild Teutons.]
It is also the feast of Saint Lucia (18th century), of Saint Mariam Sultaneh (20th century), and of Saint Margaret (16th century).
V. Et álibi aliórum plurimórum sanctórum Mártyrum et Confessórum, atque sanctárum Vírginum. R. Deo grátias.