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Friday, February 18, 2005

The Angelus and the Incarnation

The Angelus is one of those old Catholic devotions that would send chills down the spine of the very Evangelical Protestant. The foremost objection (of course) would be the fact that it involves three Hail Mary's. This prayer has a Scriptural basis, and the special veneration of Mary makes sense to many -- even to Martin Luther. However, this post is about what the Angelus means to me -- and to you, if you'll permit me to explain. The Angelus has three main parts that slowly unfold the mystery of the Incarnation in us (who pray the Angelus). The three main parts each consists of Scripture-based texts followed each by a Hail Mary. The three texts are: "The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.. and she conceived by the Holy Spirit" "Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word" "and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us." The first two texts are from the annunciation narrative when the angel Gabriel informed our Mother about her impending motherhood to the Son of God, the Word Incarnate. The last text is from the Gospel of St. John. These three are, to me, the three stages of the Incarnation of Christ within each Christian. First, the angel's news is God's invitation to us to bear Christ in ourselves. Second, we hopefully say with our Mother: behold, I am a handmaid or servant of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word. Last, we can be sure that the Lord's words do not depart from him in vain: the Word will be made flesh, in our flesh, for as long as we cooperate with Grace to become Christ to our neighbors. So those who pray the Angelus everyday are blessed indeed, because each time they prayerfully do so, they relive the mystery of the Incarnation and remind themselves of what being Christian mean: God's invitation, our generous response and the Word made flesh! The first two are what comprise a relationship with God (he calls, we respond), while the last completes a divine relationship because it is so real: it is the Incarnation recalled and vows to be Christian renewed. So why do Catholics bother to pray the Hail Mary after such a beautiful, personal Scriptural journey through the mystery of the Incarnation? To me the answer is simple: it happened to her FIRST! She was the first to be told that Christ would be incarnate within her. She was the very first to say yes! She was the very first to bear Christ in herself. It is no trivial matter to say that she was the first Christian, the very first to experience Christ personally. In this and in other instances (I guess I'll write about those some other time), our Mother was a commentary and a role model. In this instance, she is a commentary on how Christ can truly be Incarnate. She is also a role model in Christian humilty and obedience to the will of God, and the continuing mystery of God's salvation that follows. By the last bit I mean that our actions, born from Grace and inspired by the Holy Spirit, continue to advance the kingdom of God to "the nations" who must hear the gospel. Of course, there are those who would say that our Mother had no choice, that she was created for no other answer here except "yes". No wonder so many people think that Christians are mindless slaves (eyes rolling here). No, she was not "programmed" to say "yes" -- no more than Adam and Eve were programmed to disobey. The Angelus ends with these prayers, which is a summary of our ultimate hope in the risen Lord, and I hope you won't protest too much about them, even if they're Catholic prayers: Pour forth, we beseech thee, O Lord, your grace into our hearts; that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ, your son, was made known by the message of an angel, may, by his passion and death on the cross, be brought to the glory of his resurrection, through the same Christ, our Lord. Amen! Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen! (I usually end this with the following, which would be significant to some: St. John Baptist de La Salle, pray for us! Live Jesus in our hearts forever!)

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