Benedictus XVI Super Missus Est

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The Holy Father gave this sermon Super Missus Est today at the General Audience in the Paul VI Hall. Preaching Super Missus Est, that is, on the Gospel of the Annunciation on the Ember Wednesday of Advent is a Benedictine tradition, still held in honour in many monasteries. Saint Bernard's sermons Super Missus Est are among the best known and best loved. The subtitles below are my own.

Reflecting on this, text after a day here at Silverstream Priory that was rich in encounters of all sorts, I must conclude that it is hugely important that the Holy Father's weekly teachings reach the ordinary Catholic faithful the world over. There has been, not only here in Ireland, but everywhere, a dearth of authentic catechesis.

Behold the days come, saith the Lord, and I will send forth a famine into the land: not a famine of bread, nor a thirst of water, but of hearing the word of the Lord. And they shall move from sea to sea, and from the north to the east: they shall go about seeking the word of the Lord, and shall not find it. In that day the fair virgins, and the young men shall faint for thirst. (Amos 8:11-13)

Indeed, there is a famine in the land -- a famine of hearing the word of the Lord; for this reason do the fair virgins and the young men faint for thirst. Pray God to send preachers and teachers to His people, not of the sort that tickle the ears of their hearers with novelties, and trade in the false coin of compromises with the truth, but, rather, of the sort capable of bringing divine fire and light to those who languish in a world that, almost by the day, grows colder and more hostile to the truth.

Dear brothers and sisters,

In the journey of Advent, the Virgin Mary has a special place as the one who in a unique way waited for the fulfillment of the promises of God, accepting Jesus in faith and in the flesh, the Son of God, in full obedience to the divine will. Today I would like to reflect with you briefly on Mary's faith, beginning from the great mystery of the Annunciation.

An Invitation to Joy

"Chaire kecharitomene, ho Kyrios meta sou", "Rejoice, full of grace, the Lord is with you" (Lk 1:28). These are the words - recounted by the Evangelist Luke - with which the Archangel Gabriel greets Mary. At first glance, the term chaîre, "rejoice", looks like a normal greeting, common in the Greek world, but this word, when read against the background of the biblical tradition, takes on a much deeper meaning. This same term is present four times in the Greek version of the Old Testament, and always as a proclamation of joy at 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 thus an invitation to joy, a deep joy, it announces the end of the sadness that there is in the world in front of the limits of life, suffering, death, wickedness, the darkness of evil that seems to obscure the light of the divine goodness. It is a greeting that marks the beginning of the Gospel, the Good News.

The Lord is With You

But why is Mary invited to rejoice in this way? The answer lies in the second part of the greeting: "The Lord is with you." Here, too, in order to understand the meaning of the expression we must turn to the Old Testament. In the Book of Zephaniah, we find this expression "Rejoice, O daughter of Zion, ... the King of Israel, the Lord is in your midst ... The Lord, your God, in your midst is a mighty savior" (3:14-17). In these words there is a double promise made to Israel, to the daughter of Zion: God will come as a savior and will dwell in the midst of his people, in the womb - as they say - of the daughter of Zion. In the dialogue between the angel and Mary, this promise is fulfilled to the letter: Mary is identified with the people espoused to God, she is truly the daughter of Zion in person; in her is fulfilled the expectancy for the final coming of God, in her the Living God makes his dwelling.

In His Hands, Without Reserve

In the angel's greeting, Mary is called "full of grace"; in Greek the word "grace," charis, has the same linguistic root as the word "joy." In this expression, it also clarifies further the source of Mary's delight: the joy comes from grace, it comes, that is, from communion with God, from having a so vital a connection with Him, from being the dwelling of the Holy Spirit, totally shaped by the action of God. Mary is the creature who in a unique way has opened the door to her Creator, she has placed herself in his hands, without reserve. She lives entirely from and in the relationship with the Lord; she is in an attitude of listening, attentive to recognize the signs of God in the journey of her people; she is inserted into a history of faith and of hope in the promises of God, which constitutes the fabric of her existence. And she submits freely to the word received, to the divine will in the obedience of faith.

Journey to a Land Unknown

The Evangelist Luke narrates the story of Mary through a fine parallel with the story of Abraham. As the great patriarch is the father of believers, who responded to God's call to leave the land in which he lived, his safety, to begin the journey to a land unknown and possessed only in the divine promise, so Mary relies with full trust in the word that the messenger of God announces and becomes a model and mother of all believers.

Mysterious and Difficult, Almost Impossible to Accept

I would like to emphasize another important point: the opening of the soul to God and to his action in faith also includes the element of darkness. The relationship between human beings and God does not erase the distance between Creator and creature, it does not eliminate what the Apostle Paul said before the depth of the wisdom of God, "How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!" (Rom 11:33). But the one who - like Mary - is totally open to God, comes to accept the will of God, even if it is mysterious, even if it often does not correspond to our own will and is a sword that pierces the soul, as the old man Simeon will say prophetically to Mary, when Jesus is presented in the Temple (cf. Lk 2:35). Abraham's journey of faith includes the moment of joy for the gift of his son Isaac, but also the time of darkness, when he has to go up to Mount Moriah to carry out a paradoxical act: God asks him to sacrifice the son he had just given him. On the mountain, the angel tells him: "Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since 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 exists even when his word is mysterious and difficult, almost impossible to accept. So it is with Mary, her faith lives the joy of the Annunciation, but also passes through the darkness of the crucifixion of the Son, to reach the light of the Resurrection.

Moments Where God Seems Absent

It is no different for the journey of faith of each one of us: it encounters moments of light, but also meets with moments where God seems absent, his silence weighs on our hearts and his will does not correspond to our own, to what we would like. But the more we open ourselves to God, welcome the gift of faith, put our trust in Him completely - like Abraham and like Mary - the more He makes us able, us with his presence, to live every situation of life in peace and in the assurance of his faithfulness and of his love. But this means going out of oneself and one's projects, because the Word of God is a lamp to guide our thoughts and our actions.

I Must Be in My Father's House

I would like to pause once more to dwell on one aspect that emerges in the infancy narratives of Jesus narrated by St. Luke. Mary and Joseph bring their son to Jerusalem, to the Temple to present him to the Lord and consecrate him as required by the law of Moses, "Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord" (Lk 2:22-24). This gesture of the Holy Family acquires a more profound sense if you read it in the light of the evangelical knowledge of Jesus when he is twelve, who, after three days of searching, is found in the Temple discussing scripture with the teachers. To the words full of Mary and Joseph's concern: "Son, why have you treated us like this? Look, your father and I have been searching for you in great anxiety", corresponds the mystery of Jesus' answer: "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?"(Lk 2:48-49). That is, in the property of the Father, in the Father's house, like a son is. Mary must renew the deep faith with which she said "yes" at the Annunciation; she must accept that precedence that the true Father of Jesus has; she must leave that Son whom she generated free to follows his mission. And Mary's "yes" to the will of God, in the obedience of faith, is repeated throughout her life, until the most difficult moment, that of the Cross.

The Understanding that Only Faith Can Provide

Faced with all this, we can ask ourselves: how was Mary able to live this path beside her Son with such a strong faith, even in the moments of darkness, without losing full trust in the action of God? There is an underlying attitude that Mary assumes in the face of what happens in her life. At the Annunciation she is disturbed by hearing the angel's words - it is the fear a person feels when touched by the closeness of God - but it is not the attitude of those who are afraid in front of what God may ask. Mary reflects, she ponders the meaning of this greeting (cf. Lk 1:29). The Greek word used in the Gospel to define this "reflection", "dielogizeto", evokes the root of the word "dialogue." This means that Mary comes into intimate dialogue with the Word of God that has been announced, she does not consider it superficially, but pauses, she lets it her penetrate her mind and her heart to understand what the Lord wants from her, the announcement's meaning. We find another hint of Mary's interior attitude in front of the action of God, again in the Gospel of St. Luke, at the time of the birth of Jesus, after the adoration of the shepherds. Luke affirms that Mary "treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart" (Lk 2:19), in Greek the term is symballon, we could say that She "held together", "put together" in her heart all the events that were happening; she placed each single element, every word, every fact within the whole and compared it, guarded it, recognizing that everything comes from the will of God. Mary does not stop at a first superficial understanding of what happens in her life, but is able to look deeper, she allows herself to be questioned by the events, processes them, discerns them, and gains that understanding that only faith can provide. It is the profound humility of the obedient faith of Mary, who welcomes into herself even what she does not understand of the action of God, leaving it to God to open her mind and heart. "Blessed is she who believed in the word of the Lord"(Lk 1:45), exclaims her relative Elizabeth. It is precisely because of this faith that all generations will call her blessed.

The Glory of God Dwells in the Womb of a Virgin

Dear friends; the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord which we will soon celebrate, invites us to live this same humility and obedience of faith. The glory of God is not manifested in the triumph and power of a king, it does not shine in a famous city, in a sumptuous palace, but dwells in the womb of a virgin, it reveals itself in the poverty of a child. The omnipotence of God, also in our lives, acts with the force, often silent, of the truth and of love. Faith tells us, then, that the defenseless power of that Child in the end overcomes the noise of the powers of the world. Thank you!


Thank you, Father. We are dying for lack of sustenance. My heart is too pained to say anymore at this time. Go raibh mile maith agat agus Nollaig Shona dhuit agus do do bhraithre. A Dhia, dean trocaire ar muintir na hEireann.

Was this a veiled reference to Embertide by His Holiness?

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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