It is the custom at Silverstream, as it is in many Benedictine monasteries, to gather in Chapter on the Ember Wednesday of Advent to hear the solemn proclamation of the Gospel of the Annunciation, the Missus Est, so called from the first words of the text: Missus est angelus Gabriel, “The Angel Gabriel was sent from God”. Following the Gospel, the abbot (or prior) delivers a sermon Super Missus Est, on the Gospel of the Annunciation. Here then is the sermon preached in Chapter at Silverstream Priory on Ember Wednesday, December 14, 2016.
In images of the Annunciation, Our Lady is often depicted seated and leaning forward in readiness for the advent of the Word. The Angel finds the Virgin in silence, absorbed by her meditation of the prophecy of Isaias:
Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign. Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and his name shall be called Emmanuel. (Isaias 7:14)
The Heart of the Virgin has already been opened by her hearing of the Word. Our Lady holds the book of the Scriptures open in her lap, as one would hold a child; she holds the sacred book of the Scriptures in the very place where nine months later she will hold the sacred flesh of the Word.
Already, the Virgin is radiant with the reflected splendour of the Word. Her womb becomes the bridal–chamber in which the Divinity of the Bridegroom espouses a bridal Humanity.
He hath set his tabernacle in the sun: and he, as a bridegroom coming out of his bride chamber, hath rejoiced as a giant to run the way (Psalm 18:6)
The Virgin is the spotless temple made ready for the great entrance of the Eternal High Priest.
And presently the Lord, whom you seek, and the angel of the testament, whom you desire, shall come to his temple. Behold he cometh, saith the Lord of hosts. (Malachi 3:1)
The womb of the Virgin becomes the sanctuary of the Sacrifice of the New Covenant. There is the Altar, there the Victim, there the Priest.
Wherefore when he cometh into the world, he saith: sacrifice and oblation thou wouldest not: but a body thou hast fitted to me: holocausts for sin did not please thee. Then said I: Behold I come: in the head of the book it is written of me: that I should do thy will, O God. In saying before, sacrifices, and oblations, and holocausts for sin thou wouldest not, neither are they pleasing to thee, which are offered according to the law. Then said I: Behold, I come to do thy will, O God. (Hebrews 10:5–9)
The Victim–Priest descends from the Father to begin the liturgy of His Sacrifice in the sanctuary of the Virgin’s womb and, in the same moment, begins the ascent of His return to the Father. He is clothed in white and in crimson, the priestly vesture of our flesh and blood, for how else could He represent us and plead our cause before the Father?
All that we see in Our Lady today is the pattern of what God waits to do in each of us. Our fathers used to say, Maria Regula Monachorum, that is, if you want to know what a monk is, look at Mary. Our Lady is the pattern and form of monastic life. The Marian character of monastic life finds expression in chapters V, VI, and VII of the Holy Rule: obedience, silence, and humility. From the first words of the Holy Rule—Ausculta, fili, Hearken, O my son—to the last—Deo protegente, pervenies, “Under God’s protection, thou shalt arrive”—Saint Benedict guides us into the grace and mystery of Mary: from the Annunciation (Prologue) to the Cross (Chapter VII) and Resurrection (Chapters VIII–XX), and from the Cross and Resurrection to the Assumption (Chapter LXXII). Just as Dr Peter Kwasniewski showed us the spirit of the liturgy in the words and actions of Our Lady, so too can we find the spirit of the Holy Rule in the words and actions of Our Lady. There is a sense in which Mary (i.e. the mystery of the Church and the economy of the sacraments) is the measure of our participation in the life of Christ. All those things in which Mary is found—quæ Deo placent, the things that are pleasing to God (Baruch 4:4)—belong to the Church; and all those things in which the Church is found belong to Mary.
Whatsoever things are true, whatsoever modest, whatsoever just, whatsoever holy, whatsoever lovely, whatsoever of good fame, if there be any virtue, if any praise of discipline, think on these things. (Philippians 4:8)
Be, then, like an empty, yearning space made ready for the advent of God. Be silent. Expect the advent of God. Receive the Word that strikes your ears. Hold fast to the Word that, in choir and in lectio divina, comes out of your mouth. Say with Our Lady, “I found him whom my soul loveth: I held him: and I will not let him go” (Canticle 3:4).
Receive the Word that rests upon your tongue and descends—the Flesh of God!—into your flesh. Enclose the hidden God within the temple of your heart. Let the light of the Word dispel your inner darkness. Let the sweetness of the Word be in you the antidote to every trace of bitterness. Let the love of the Word disarm in you every resistance to the triumph of grace. Let the radiant countenance of the Word exorcise all your fears. Let the love of the Word embrace you and hold you fast: “His left hand is under my head, and his right hand shall embrace me” (Canticle 2:6).
And, then, let the Word who descends into you rise from you in His movement of return to the Father: “I ascend to my Father and to your Father, to my God and your God” (John 20:17). He is the Priest; offer Him your heart as His altar. He is the Victim; make Him your one offering and, in offering Him who unites Himself to you, offer yourself by uniting yourself to Him. Know that the Word who descends into your heart, and who rises from your heart to the Father, will return one day to take you to Himself that you may be where He is, where Our Lady is—the Queen arrayed in gold (Psalm 44:10)— and where He would have you be.
Father, I will that where I am, they also whom thou hast given me may be with me; that they may see my glory which thou hast given me, because thou hast loved me before the creation of the world. (John 17:24)
Today’s grace—the particular grace of the Missus Est—is one of a new beginning. Today is the day of Advent in which everything starts afresh. A new beginning in the world—through Mary. A new beginning in the Church—through Mary. A new beginning in you and in me—through Mary. And in this beginning lies hidden, like the grain of wheat buried in the earth (John 12:24), the promise and the secret of our end, for “no word shall be impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).