Dearly beloved Brothers and Sisters in Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
Liturgically and humanly speaking we are celebrating one of the most beautiful and joyful seasons of the year. Even though we have the season of Advent to prepare us all for the great Christmas event, its spirit is so different from the season of Lent. Lent is more of a time of sacrifice, penance and prayer. According to canon 1250: “The days and times of penance for the universal Church are each Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent”. The season of Advent is not included. I do not know how you all have kept the season of Advent. What is passed we remember with gratitude and purified memories. Let us live the present with joy and enthusiasm.
For our reflection this morning, I would like to take one of the simplest and yet commonest prayers we are so familiar with: the prayer of the Angelus, which we pray three times a day in our communities and which some practicing Catholics in some parts of the world still pray at least once a day.
The recitation of the Angelus is accompanied by the ringing of the bells in churches and religious communities. Although the prayer is simple and frequent, the reality that expresses it is very much mystery-bound. Each time we hear the Angelus bell, we are called to reflect on the inscrutable mystery of God becoming man to live among us.
The prayer of the Angelus directly deals with the divine intervention in human history; it directly deals with the event of the Incarnation.
The first verse of the Angelus deals with the historical fact: how the incarnation took place: “The Angel of the Lord announced unto Mary, and she conceived by the Holy Spirit”.
Here I would like to go back to the book of Wisdom, Chapter 18, verses 14-19, more particularly verses 14 and 15. I would like to quote two verses from the book of Wisdom, so that every time we recite the prayer of the Angelus we may not simply say it just as a formal prayer, but pray it with much respect, with more and more reverential fear and an attitude of adoration. The more we understand why the Church is asking us to remember three times a day this mystery, and why the Church and convent and monastery bells are rung three times a day, and finally why the bells each time are rung twenty-four times, the more we are able to live the great mystery in our lives. We also become more grateful to God for his incredible condescension.
“When peaceful silence lay over all and night had run half of her swift course, down from heavens, from the royal throne, leapt your all-powerful Word like a pitiless warrior into the heart of a land doomed to destruction…” (Wis 18: 14-15).
This passage is very dramatic and invites us to the town of Nazareth, invites us to the house of Mary, the handmaid of the Lord, who not only opened her arms, not only opened her heart, but opened her womb. In a word, the Virgin of Nazareth betrothed to Joseph welcomed the Eternal Word with all her heart, mind, soul, body and strength. She was chosen, blessed, predestined, and preserved and prepared even before the foundation of the world to be the Mother of God. Here we have the mystery of all mysteries, the truth of all truths, the event of all events.
No wonder, then, that the Church wants all believers to remind themselves of the great event of the Incarnation not as a past event but as part and parcel of our every day life. To recite the Angelus means, then, to immerse ourselves into the “Emmanuel story” and to have the attitude and openness of Mary and Joseph, to be ready to accept and to do the divine will.
Three times a day we are saying with our lips “be it done unto me according to your word”. And then when he asks us something difficult through the “angel of our superior or In-charge”, often times we are upset, at least inwardly, forgetting what we had said or perhaps our lips had uttered more than once on the same day: “Be it done unto me according to your word”. Is it possible, then, for us to begin again from today to pay more attention to what we pray, and especially to the prayer of the Angelus?
There is also another important aspect to consider when we recite the Angelus. Do you know that there is a very close connection between the Angelus – the mystery of the Incarnation – and the mystery of the Eucharist? At Mary’s unconditional response to the Angel in utter faith, the Eternal logos took his dwelling in the virginal womb of Mary. No longer the Word becomes flesh in that fashion. It was a once and for all event – Hapax. It could happen only once.
But every time the priest celebrate the holy Mass, during the consecration he pronounces the words: “This is my body, this is my blood” both the bread and the wine are no longer the same, but become the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Every time we celebrate the Eucharist, “the Emmanuel story” is not only repeated, but being renewed, being relived. The work of redemption then is no longer a past event, but becomes a present reality, as new Christmas.
The substance of the bread and the substance of the wine are no longer the same, but Jesus’ body and Jesus’ blood. This is called transubstantiation. St. Thomas Aquinas, the great doctor of the Church, says that in the Incarnation God hid his divinity. In the Eucharist he hides both his divinity and humanity. “Senses cannot grasp this marvel, faith must come to compensate”.
Let us pray that our Lady may help us to have her faith, her readiness to do the will of God, her charity to go in haste to the highways and street corners of our great metropolis to take care of our needy neighbour, to be good Samaritans. Our Lady did not go to Elizabeth with her big title of the Mother of God, but as the humble handmaid of the Lord. She did not take her time to rest and relax first, but she went in haste. She might have run as fast as she could, even though the roads were rough and dark. The fire of love within her made her run without counting the cost and without seeking rest or reward.
Don’t we pray every day: “Kindle in our hearts the fire of your divine love…kindle with fire brought from above each sense, and fill our hearts with love…”? Let us pray that as we grow old and the days pass by we may not become any less fervent and slothful, but more fervent, ardent and zealous. The Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI calls it “the holy restlessness”.
“The Angel of the Lord announced unto Mary, and she conceived by the Holy Spirit.
Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to your word.
And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us”
In conclusion, I would like to express my heart-felt gratitude to God for you, dearly beloved brothers and sisters, for your help and co-operation in the work of God throughout the year 2014.
In return for all you have been for us and for our poor people, and all you did we offer our humble but unceasing prayers for your intentions. May the good Lord reward you in abundance. “The measure with which to love God and our neighbour is to love him and our neighbour without measure”.
To one and all a very peace-filled New Year 2015. Love and prayers.
God bless you.
Fr. Sebastian Vazhakala M.C.