Super Missus Est
It is an ancient monastic custom, as evidenced by Saint Bernard’s incomparable sermon Super Missus Est (On the Gospel of the Annunciation), to read this same Gospel in Chapter and to listen to the abbot’s sermon on it. So it was that we, at Silverstream, did this morning what monks have done through the ages: we assembled in Chapter to hear the Missus Est and, in the first faint glimmers of the dawning day, pondered both the mystery of the Annunciation and the grace it contains.
From the Bosom of the Father to the Womb of the Virgin
Consider the infinite distance bridged by the mystery of the Incarnation; the Word descends from the bosom of the Father wherein He is eternally begotten — “God from God, Light from Light, very God from very God” — into the womb of the humble Virgin of Nazareth, into a real, physical womb of flesh. From the bosom of the Father to the womb of the Virgin! Only God can span the infinite distance separating His creature from Himself and this he does by making Himself the bridge. Non horruisti Virginis uterum! Thou, Eternal Word, didst not disdain the Virgin’s womb. This indeed is the sign surpassing the abyssal depths below and the vastness of the firmament above (cf. Isaias 7:11). This is the sign defying all human imagining. This is, at once, the sign and the design of God, “the mystery which hath been hidden from ages and generations, but now is manifested to his saints” (Colossians 1:26) and manifested, first of all, to the Virgin Mary by the word of the Angel:
Behold thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and shalt bring forth a son; and thou shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the most High; and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of David his father; and he shall reign in the house of Jacob for ever. And of his kingdom there shall be no end. (Luke 1:31–33)
The Word Waiting
How astonishing it is that the Word was kept waiting. The Word who was in the beginning; the Word who was with God; the Word who was God; the same Word who was in the beginning with God; the very Word by whom all things were made, and without whom was made nothing that was made (cf. John 1:1–3), this is the all–powerful Word who, before leaping down from his royal throne “as a fierce conqueror into the midst of the land of destruction”, waited humbly and “in quiet silence” for the consent of the humble maid of Nazareth.
For while all things were in quiet silence, and the night was in the midst of her course, Thy almighty word leapt down from heaven from thy royal throne, as a fierce conqueror into the midst of the land of destruction. (Wisdom 18:15)
Such is the humility of the Word who waits in silence for the Virgin to give her consent: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38). Such is the humility of the Word who, even now, waits in silence for souls to give Him but a token of their acceptance, of their willingness to open themselves to Him. “Behold he standeth behind our wall, looking through the windows, looking through the lattices” (Canticle 2:9). “Behold, I stand at the gate, and knock. If any man shall hear my voice, and open to me the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me” (Apocalypse 3:20).
True Mother of God
In opening her virginal womb to the Word, Mary becomes not merely the “Mother of Jesus” but true Mother of God. That God should descend from God to lodge Himself in a creature’s womb, that the Son eternally begotten of the Father should hide Himself for nine months beneath the Virgin’s Immaculate Heart, this a wonder that leaves angels and men in astonishment, infuriating and shocking the powers of darkness who, in their damning pride, cannot bear to hear a creature acclaimed as Mother of God.
It is truly right to bless thee, O Theotokos,
ever blessed, and most pure, and the Mother of our God.
More honorable than the cherubim,
and beyond compare more glorious than the seraphim.
Without corruption thou gavest birth to God the Word.
True Theotokos, we magnify thee.
God for Whom No Utterance Is Impossible
The Archangel Gabriel amazes the Virgin by revealing to her that Elizabeth her kinswoman, well known to be sterile and who, it was assumed, would die childless, is already heavy with child and in her sixth month. Quia non erit impossibile apud Deum omne verbum — For no human utterance shall be impossible for God (Luke 1:37). Man utters with his lips what he conceives in his mind. Nothing that the human mind can conceive, nothing that human lips can utter, is impossible to God. The Virgin Mary, having consented to the omnipotence of God becomes, by grace, omnipotent in her supplication.
As it is written: That eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love him. But to us God hath revealed them, by this Spirit. For the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. (1 Corinthians 2:9–10)
The Virgin Mother’s All–Powerful Intercession
Thus is the Mother of God rightly called Omnipotens supplex, the all–powerful suppliant, the intercessor to whom nothing is impossible, the Mediatrix through whose hands God freely dispenses even things that men judge beyond God’s giving. This was Elizabeth’s wonderful intuition upon welcoming the Mother of God: “Blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord” (Luke 1:45). She who believed that God would, according to His promise, accomplish impossible things, has become the Advocate through whose intercession impossible things are granted still, the Queen of Mercy into whose power the King has entrusted all giving. One who believes this will never fall into despair.
Her Maternal Heart
The Father sent His Word to lodge enfleshed in Mary’s virginal womb and, to this end, the Father endowed Mary with a maternal Heart, an immaculate Heart of surpassing perfection, a Heart capable of loving, nurturing, and comforting not only His Only–Begotten Son, but also all those “whom he foreknew, he also predestinated to be made conformable to the image of his Son; that he might be the firstborn amongst many brethren” (Romans 8:29). Though the hearts of our natural mothers may be kind, gentle, merciful, and generous, they are not, for all of that, immaculate. Even the best of mothers remains a daughter of Eve, tainted by sin and beset with infirmity. Is this not one of a developing child’s great disillusionments, the discovery that his mother is imperfect? There is, in this valley of tears, no mother whose heart is not crossed by shadows, embittered by suffering and, to some degree, hardened by sin. There is but one woman whose maternal Heart is immaculate and to this woman God has entrusted the Church, the Mystical Body of His Son, and each of His members. From the Cross, Jesus spoke as the Father commanded Him when He said:
When Jesus therefore had seen his mother and the disciple standing whom he loved, he saith to his mother: Woman, behold thy son. After that, he saith to the disciple: Behold thy mother. (John 19:26–27)
To the utterance of this testament from the Cross we can apply in a singular and most compelling way the very words of the Word, “I have not spoken of myself; but the Father who sent me, he gave me commandment what I should say, and what I should speak” (John 12:49) and again, “The things therefore that I speak, even as the Father said unto me, so do I speak” (John 12:50). It was by the Father’s will and design, and by the operation of the Holy Ghost, that the Virgin Mary was given an immaculate maternal Heart with which to love all the children of the Church, “sons in the Son” both to the Father and to her.
Living in Mary’s Presence
One who, in faith, takes to heart the role of the Virgin Mary in the Father’s great design of salvation, will want, like Saint John, to live in her presence. “And from that hour, the disciple took her to his own” (John 19:27). The Mother of God is present to all who call upon her. The invocation of the Mother can be as simple as the repetition of the Angelic Salutation (the Ave Maria) in moments throughout the day. Such a repetition can, over time, become so habitual as to become ceaseless. Mary ceaselessly invoked is Mary ceaselessly present. The Holy Rosary is the most condensed form of this ceaseless invocation of the Mother of God. Accompanied by meditation on the mysteries of Christ’s Incarnation, Passion, and Glory, the Rosary is a fragrant offering, always pleasing to Our Lady’s maternal Heart.
There are, however, seasons and hours in life, notably those marked by infirmity, when it is difficult to string together the Hail Marys that constitute the Rosary without falling into mental fatigue, distractions, or even sleep. In such circumstances it is enough to say as many Hail Marys as one can in whatever moments are available by day or by night. Our Lady, being the best of mothers, gathers them up like so many roses and herself arranges them in a bouquet that delights her Heart.
The humble repetition of the Hail Mary, like the repetition of the Jesus Prayer so cherished by monks of the Eastern Churches, becomes, over time, a prayer that irrigates the “garden enclosed” of the heart; it disposes one to a continuous influx of grace and causes the fruits of the Holy Ghost to abound where formerly grew nought but the briars of sin. One who has experienced this can say, in all truth that, through Mary full of grace, “where sin abounded, grace did more abound” (Romans 5:20). The prophet Isaias gives an apt description of the soul irrigated by the Angelic Salutation:
The land that was desolate and impassable shall be glad, and the wilderness shall rejoice, and shall flourish like the lily. It shall bud forth and blossom, and shall rejoice with joy and praise: the glory of Libanus is given to it: the beauty of Carmel, and Saron, they shall see the glory of the Lord, and the beauty of our God. Strengthen ye the feeble hands, and confirm the weak knees. Say to the fainthearted: Take courage, and fear not. (Isaias 35:1–4)
Never to Despair of the Mercy of God
Rightly does the sacred liturgy place these consoling words on the lips of the Mother of God:
I am the mother of fair love, and of fear, and of knowledge, and of holy hope. In me is all grace of the way and of the truth, in me is all hope of life and of virtue. Come over to me, all ye that desire me, and be filled with my fruits. (Ecclesiasticus 24:24–26)
One who confesses the Virgin Mary “true Mother of God”; one who relies on her all–powerful supplication; one consecrated to her maternal Heart; one who lives in her presence by means of ceaseless prayer will never despair of the mercy of God. Jeremias laments: “The heart is perverse above all things, and unsearchable, who can know it?” Mary knows the perversity of the human heart as no other mother can. She stood at the Cross of her Son on Golgotha; there iniquity was unmasked before her eyes in all its horror. Iniquity holds no secrets for the Immaculate Virgin and, indomitable and terrible in the face of iniquity, she remains the Mother of Holy Hope. There is no sinner so entrenched in vice that Mary cannot deliver him out of it. There is no soul so plunged into darkness that Mary cannot shine in it. There is no heart so perverse that the Mother of God cannot restore it to innocence.
The Mother of God is the immaculate and safe place wherein God the Father hid His Word; she is the mother who nurtured the Word with the milk of her breast; she is the New Eve whose virginal foot crushes the head of the ancient serpent; she is the woman clothed with the sun and crowned with twelve stars. She remains, for all who call upon her maternal Heart, the safest refuge, the most powerful advocate, the most glorious Mediatrix. And all of this because, one day in Nazareth, she pronounced words long awaited in the “quiet silence” of heaven: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38).
Deus qui de beatae Mariae Virginis utero Verbum Tuum, Angelo nuntiante, carnem suscipere voluisti: praesta supplicibus tuis; ut qui vere eam Genitricem Dei credimus, ejus apud te intercessionibus adjuvemur. Per eundem Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum, Filium tuum, qui tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti, Deus: per omnia saecula saeculorum. Amen.
O God, who didst will that Thy Word should take flesh, at the message of an Angel, in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, grant to Thy suppliant people, that we who believe her to be truly the Mother of God, may be helped by her intercession with Thee. Through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, who is God, living and reigning with Thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, for ever and ever. Amen.