Behold Your Mother By Matthew Russell S.J. Part 5. The Feast of the Annunciation.

"Hail, full of grace ! The Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women." These words, so blessedly familiar to our lips since our lips learned to utter articulate sounds, were first spoken by the Archangel Gabriel in that supreme crisis of the world's history, which we commemorate on the twenty-fifth of March. It is the Archangel's part of the first Hail Mary of all—first out of the countless millions of times that that angelical salutation has been and will be addressed to the Blessed Virgin Mary.

I have called the moment of the Annunciation the supreme crisis in the history of the human race. Books have been written about the "Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World," and certain events are sometimes singled out as turning-points in the fortunes of various countries. But the one real crisis, the central epoch in the history of fallen man, was that moment in which the Angel of the Annunciation stood waiting for the consent of the Blessed Virgin, "The consent of Mary to the Incarnation of the Son of God" says St. Thomas Aquinas, "was necessary in order that the Redemption of Mankind should spring from the consent of a woman to the proposition of an angel coming to salute her from God, as the ruin of mankind had arisen from the consent given by a woman to the suggestion of an evil angel."

The mystery, therefore, commemorated on the twenty-fifth of this month was very much more than merely the Annunciation, the announcement of the dignity conferred on Mary. It was in some sort almost a negotiation; it was a solemn embassy from the Most High God to His lowly Handmaid. The almighty and all-merciful God (as the great Pope, St. Leo, says finely, in the first lesson of the second nocturn of Matins for the Feast)— '' the almighty and all-merciful God, whose nature is goodness, whose will is power, and whose work is mercy," in His infinite power and wisdom knows how to reconcile the absolute supremacy of His own Divine Will with the perfect freedom of the service which He accepts from His poor human creatures; and here was the greatest act of service that any mere creature has ever performed, or could ever perform.

But we are not going to consider the Annunciation as another name for the Incarnation.
The feast, indeed, which commemorates that mystery, though it is no longer a feast of obligation except in Ireland, and perhaps a few other places, might well put forward solid claims to the highest rank in the hierarchy of the Church's festivals, with Christmas and Easter and Pentecost; (It would be pre-eminently entitled to an octave ; but as Ash Wednesday varies from February 4th to March 10th, March 25th, Lady Day, must fall between the second week of Lent at the earliest and Holy Week at the latest There are no octaves during; Lent.) for in the first instant that a Heart began to beat which was at once a human heart and the Heart of God, in that same instant the world was virtually redeemed. One sigh of that Heart, one tear shed by Jesus, would have been adequate atonement for the sins of a thousand fallen worlds. But let us only worship with silent awe this crowning mystery of God's love and power, while we dwell for a little, not on God's part in it, but on the Archangel's part and that of the Blessed Virgin Mary herself* His part was to say, "Ave, gratia plena," and hers was to answer, "Fiat mihi."

Yes, the feast of the Annunciation is the feast of the Hail Mary. The "Hail Mary" is by itself a sufficient note of the true Church of God. If we could imagine the Archangel Gabriel sent back to this earth, so far ignorant as to require such marks and tokens to distinguish the Christian Church. from all pretenders, the "Hail Mary" would be proof enough, for him, it would be easy for him to discover those who use his words, who follow his example, who adopt his attitude towards the Blessed Mother of our Redeemer, and to pronounce that those who act thus are the true children of the Church which the Son of Mary established upon earth.

Nothing but ignorance, deception, and a terrible mistake could make any sincere, well-disposed Christian unwilling to say the "Hail Mary''; for, as the catechism taught us long ago, the Angel Gabriel and St. Elizabeth made the first part of it, and the Church made the last.

We began by repeating the Archangel's portion of this brief but mighty prayer, "Hail, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee, blessed are thou amongst women."There he paused. He did not add, "Blessed is the fruit of thy womb." It was too soon to say this. This was to be supplied soon after in the amiable mystery of the Visitation by the mother of the Precursor* When the Archangel contributed his quota to the "Hail Mary,'' the Incarnation was not yet accomplished. He who was to come had not yet come, but was waiting for the Fiat of the lowly Virgin, who in her turn waited till God's designs were sufficiently revealed to her, and she understood that the Divine Maternity would not destroy, but enhance and elevate, her immaculate virginity. Then, and not till then, did she see clearly what God wanted from her, and at once she bowed her head and said, "Be it done to me according to Thy word:" Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum.

By this Fiat a greater prodigy was accomplished than that which followed the original fiat of creation- In the beginning God said, ''Fiat lux '' : " 'Let light be made,' and light was made." And again, " He spoke, and all things were made," says the Royal Psalmist. But if we may dare to compare the infinite works of God,, one with another, the Redemption was a greater exercise of His power than the Creation. The Church makes this assertion every day in the Mass. Just after the Offertory the priest reminds God that He founded the human race in a marvellous manner, but that He has redeemed it in a manner vet more marvellous. Mirabiliter condidisti, et mirabilius reformasti. That more marvellous reformation, that " copious redemption,'' began to be accomplished when the Blessed Virgin by her Fiat fixed the moment of the coming of Him who was to come, the moment when "the Word was made Flesh and dwelt amongst us."

We must not, however, imagine that the Blessed Virgin's Fiat was merely an acceptance of the unspeakable dignity of Mother of God. The Annunciation is called the first of the five Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary; but the joy was not unmingled with fear and pain. The Divine Son of that Immaculate Maiden was to be the Man of Sorrows, and she herself was to be the Mater Dolorosa. For her, too, all the sufferings of life lay between her then and her heavenly crown. The consent of the Blessed Virgin was not so much required for the Incarnation in itself as for the Incarnation as including Redemption. The Incarnation itself would have brought to the mother of the Incarnate Word dignity, greatness, exaltation, glory, and joy, and these not purchased by any sacrifice ; and there was no need that God should ask the consent of a creature to the reception of a favour which was to carry with it no pain or suffering. But it is far otherwise with Redemption, which was, indeed, to bring glory and honour to the Mother of the Redeemer, but glory and honour to be bought by an unspeakable painful sacrifice which was to change all her life into one long martyrdom and to make her the Queen of Martyrs. Queen of Martyrs indeed she is, not only because she is enthroned in dignity high above the martyrs, but also and chiefly because the pangs of her martyrdom far surpassed the pangs of all the martyrs combined. When life is over, and our crown is won, how little will seem all the cares and labours and sufferings that shall have helped to gain for us that crown ! But it is very different while those trials are still before us, or pressing heavily upon us. So for the glorious title of Mother of God—what was it to bring to the Blessed Virgin during all the years of her life but an inconceivably painful martyrdom, a crucifixion of heart multiplied as many times as there are souls to be redeemed or sins to be expiated by the Precious Blood of her Son ? Her Fiat— which drew the God of heaven to rest in the bosom of her nothingness, as the Fiat of God had drawn out of nothingness all things that are—that " Be it done to me " was as it were a permission to her Creator and Lord not to heap His favours upon her, but to lay upon her the heaviest cross ever borne, except by Him who died upon the cross. And this cross of her's she embraced not only at the foot of her Son's cross on Calvary by the consent which she then gave to His Passion and Death ; nor only when Simeon thirty years earlier had told her of the sword which was to pierce her soul and which she bore in her soul ever after ; but she had already embraced her cross beforehand from that solemn moment on which this meditation fixes our thoughts. " In that moment of the Incarnation," says Father Jeanjacquot, S J., " she understood all that Redemption was to cost the Redeemer, and consequently the Mother of the Redeemer ; for it befitted the infinite wisdom and goodness of God to give her that perfect knowledge from that very moment; in order that she might lose nothing of the merit of her self-immolation in this first moment of her consent." Thus the awful shadow of Calvary was upon her from the first; for from the first she knew that to be the Mother of Jesus was to have a mother's share in the lifelong sorrows of Jesus and in His most bitter death.

These are some of the thoughts that in one form or another, more or less consciously, are brought up before our minds, not only by the great feast of the Annunciation, but by the devout repetition, and especially now and then by the slower and more earnest repetition, of that little prayer which hails our Blessed Lady as full of grace—those first words which the God of truth and wisdom, who reads the heart, who knows all the hearts that He has made, bade His Archangel address to His meek and humble Handmaid- Full of grace, full of that which alone attracts the eye of God, which alone delights the heart of God, and to each degree of which a degree of everlasting glory corresponds. Full of grace already, even then ; and she had not yet yielded that consent which gave her a mother's share in the joys and sorrows of our Saviour; she had not yet borne in her womb the Giver of all graces had not yet brought Him forth and been a mother to Him, and guarded and cherished Him through all the holy years of Nazareth; and she had not yet stood beside the cross, and had not jet resigned her Son to the tomb first, and afterwards to Heaven, while she herself waited on through the long years of prayer and longing and resignation between His Ascension and her Assumption. If she was such at the beginning, what was she at the end when she had reached that fulness of grace which the heart of Jesus was content should be the portion of His Blessed Mother for ever in the kingdom of His glory ? What is she now in her place in heaven, such as St. Bernard and St. Alphonsus and many another have tried to describe for us, such as she was in the pious meditations of St. Stanislaus, St. Aloysius, St. John Berchmans, and all the saints and sinners that in the days of their pilgrimage have raised their hearts to her as their Queen and their Mother, even as we must try to do. Hail, full of grace ! Now, indeed, " the Lord is with thee," and thou art with Him in His Kingdom, close to Him for ever. Pray for us sinners, now, and at the hour of our death.