But assuredly the greatest feast which falls during this period of the year is the feast that celebrates the Annunciation of her divine motherhood made by the Angel Gabriel to the Mother of God, the most holy Virgin Mary. One sentence from the chant at matins sums up the whole significance of this feast: ‘Today is revealed the mystery that is from all eternity. The Son of God becomes the Son of man . . . .’ The epistle to the Hebrews, read at the liturgy (2. 11-18), stresses that, because of the Incarnation, ‘he that sanctifieth and they who are sanctified are all of one: for which cause he is not ashamed to call them brethren’. The gospel (Luke 1. 26-38) tells of Gabriel’s revelation to Mary at Nazareth. Mary’s reaction ‘How shall this be?’ is not an expression of doubt, and in this it differs from the reaction of Zacharias, when the birth of John was foretold to him. Mary simply poses a respectful question: and, when the angel explains that the Holy Spirit shall come upon her and shall overshadow her, Mary answers, with the humility and obedience which characterise her whole nature:
“Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word”
There are really two sides to the feast of the Annunciation. One of them turns towards the most holy Mother of God and concerns her glory and our devotion to Mary. The declaration of this glory and the expression of this devotion find their perfect form in the first words of the angel’s message: ‘Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee’. We cannot address the holy Virgin better than by repeating these words, with veneration and tenderness. The other side of the mystery turns towards men. In the life of every Christian there will be divine annunciations, moments when God lets us know his will and his intention concerning us. But all these annunciations must unite to become the one essential Annunciation: the Annunciation that Jesus can be born in us, can be born through us — not in the same way that he was conceived and brought into the world by the Virgin Mary, for that is a unique miracle that cannot be equalled, – but in the sense that the Saviour takes spiritual and, at the same time, very real possession of our being. And then let us remember that every authentic Annunciation is immediately followed by a Visitation: the divine favour that has been granted to us must straightaway release an impulse in us to let it flow out to our brothers, which is expressed through some loving word or act. This is why the gospel reading at matins for the Annunciation is the account of Mary’s visit to Elisabeth. Immediately after her meeting with Gabriel, the Mother of God goes to her cousin, to share with Elisabeth and John the radiance of its grace.