The Finger of God
By a wonderful and mysterious disposition of Divine Providence, Catherine–Mectilde de Bar received permission for the first solemn exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament of her Institute on the feast of the Annunciation, 25 March 1653. This was no mere coincidence; the Finger of God was in it. By yet another disposition of God’s liturgical providence, today is Lady–Day–in–Paschaltide, that is, the transferred feast of the Annunciation which, this year, fell, as you will recall, on Good Friday. Tomorrow will be the transferred feast of the Transitus of our blessed father Saint Benedict, and Wednesday will be the 318th anniversary of the death of Mother Mectilde. We are thus given a kind of mystic triduum, for the three days, as we shall see, are intimately bound together. The first solemn exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament that marked the birth of the Benedictines of Perpetual Adoration on 25 March 1653 was more than a mere historical happening; it belongs, rather, to those mysterious events that contain within themselves the seed and the grace of every future development. The first solemn exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament could have happened on another day. There is no shortage of feasts in the liturgical year that would have been suitable but, of all of them, God chose this one: the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Incarnation of the Word.
In sacred art, the Virgin of the Annunciation, the Virgo Audiens, is depicted either seated, with the book of the prophets or of the psalms lying open in her lap, or holding a spindle and engaged in weaving a scarlet cloth of great beauty. Both representations are symbolic.
In the first we see Our Lady reading the Word of God. She listens to the Word of God; she repeats it and, by repetition, takes it into herself; she allows the Word addressed to her to become in the sanctuary of her heart the Word she addresses to God; and, then, by the action of the Holy Ghost, she so gives herself to the Word, that the heart of the Word begins its eternal rhythm beneath her heart, pulsating within her virginal womb as the heart of the Host pulsates on the pure white linen of the corporal in the Holy Sacrifice.
Vesture for the High Priest
In the second image we see Our Lady weaving; in her immaculate hands, all the threads of Israel’s history, and of her own, enter into the fulfillment of God’s perfect design. Mary of Nazareth is not weaving a veil of wool and silk and linen for use in the temple in Jerusalem; she is weaving the most sacred liturgical vesture of all — a human body — for the Eternal High Priest who is about to offer Himself as the pure victim, the holy victim, the spotless victim in the sanctuary of her womb.
Into the Holy of Holies
It is precisely at this moment — however we may choose to understand it — that the Archangel makes his entrance. He enters, he speaks, he receives the long–awaited answer from the lips of the Virgin only to make possible another entrance: the solemn entrance of Christ into space and time; the arrival of the High Priest, the Lamb of Sacrifice, the Victim prepared from the beginning of the world (Apocalypse 13:8).
Mary of Nazareth was, in spite of her youth, in perfect readiness for this moment. She felt a trembling in her womb, the blazing up of a fire, the movement, as it were, of priestly steps hastening to ascend the altar. Overshadowed by the Holy Ghost, she understood in an instant of incandescent light that her body had become a temple more spacious than the temple in Jerusalem, that her womb had become an altar, and her heart the Holy of Holies.
She remembered David’s mystic utterance in Psalm 39 and, was astonished to hear it repeated within herself by a voice that, without being hers, was perfectly attuned to her own.
No sacrifice, no offering was thy demand; enough that thou hast given me an ear ready to listen. Thou hast not found any pleasure in burnt-sacrifices, in sacrifices for sin. See then, I said, I am coming to fulfil what is written of me, where the book lies unrolled; to do thy will, O my God, is all my desire, to carry out that law of thine which is written in my heart. (Psalm 39:7–9)
“My body”, she whispered, “has become a temple; my womb has become an altar. My fiat has opened heaven. The Holy Ghost has seized flesh of my flesh and blood of my blood so that, at last God may find on earth the one priest and one victim worthy of Himself”.
Thou Hast Endowed Me with a Body
Saint Luke, of course, relates none of this explicitly in his account of the Annunciation. He writes of the Angel Gabriel sent from God, of the Virgin named Mary, who was betrothed to Joseph, and of the dialogue on which hung the salvation of the world. He writes of the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost, of the sign of old Elizabeth found with child and already in her sixth month, and of a sign greater and more wonderful still, for to God nothing is impossible.
Saint Luke gives us the Virgin’s response, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; let it be unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38), and then, telling us of the Angel’s quick return to heaven, he covers all the rest in a veil of silence. To understand the mystery in its fulness, we are obliged to go to the Letter to the Hebrews.
As Christ comes into the world, he says, No sacrifice, no offering was thy demand; thou hast endowed me, instead, with a body. Thou hast not found any pleasure in burnt-sacrifices, in sacrifices for sin. See then, I said, I am coming to fulfil what is written of me, where the book lies unrolled; to do thy will, O my God. (Hebrews 10:5–7)
The Beginning of the Solemn Entrance Procession
The Annunciation is the great and solemn festival of the Victimhood of the Son of God. It is the beginning of the solemn entrance procession of the Eternal High Priest. It sets in motion the immense movement of return to the Father by which the Word, having espoused our humanity, prepares to ascend to the altar where He will be immolated.
Today Mary receives into the sanctuary of her womb, and upon the altar of her heart, the one Victim necessary, the only Victim worthy of God, the Victim whose coming the world desired, the prophets announced, the psalmists sang, and the children of Israel awaited in hope.
First he says, Thou didst not demand victim or offering, the burnt-sacrifice, the sacrifice for sin, nor hast thou found any pleasure in them; in anything, that is, which the law has to offer, and then:—I said, See, my God, I am coming to do thy will. He must clear the ground first, so as to build up afterwards. In accordance with this divine will we have been sanctified by an offering made once for all, the body of Jesus Christ. (Hebrews 10:8–10)
A Charism Comes to Light
This is the mystery of the Annunciation in all its mystic fulfilment. The Annunciation cannot be celebrated, nor can it be meditated, nor can it be understood, apart from this, the Great Entrance of Christ the Victim, the beginning of the one Holy Sacrifice shown forth in the Cenacle, consummated on Calvary, ceaselessly offered in the sanctuary of heaven, and perpetuated until the end of time of earth in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. This is why the Providence of God ordained that Benedictines dedicated to perpetual adoration should first emerge from the shadows and become radiant in the light of the Sacred Host on the feast of the Annunciation, a day that, this year, precedes the Transitus of our father Saint Benedict.
Let Him Find You Ready
Receive today the Divine Victim into yourselves, even as the Virgin of Nazareth received Him into herself. Let Him find within you a sanctuary for the offering of His Sacrifice, an altar for His immolation, and an adoring silence worthy of His divine liturgy. Even more, let Him find you ready for His immolation, not as spectators looking on in awe, but as souls wholly abandoned to the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost. One cannot receive the Flesh and Blood of the Lamb immolated from before the foundation of the world without becoming a victim soul with Him.
Lord Jesus Christ,
Divine Victim hid in the sanctuary of Mary’s womb
and immolated upon the altar of her heart,
unite us to Thyself:
our bodies to Thy Body,
our blood to Thy Blood,
our souls to Thy Soul,
our hearts to Thy Heart,
so as to make us with Thyself
one Priest and one Victim
offered to the glory of the Father,
out of love for Thy Spouse, the Church,
and in reparation for the sins by which
Thy Sacrifice is scorned,
Thy presence dishonoured,
and the brightness of Thy glory dimmed
in the sight of men
who, even without knowing it,
yearn to gaze upon the beauty of Thy Face.