Thursday, March 24, 2022

The Expectant Orations of the Feast of the Annunciation

Leonardi da Vinci, Annunciation, ca. 1472
Lost in Translation #72

The Annunciation, one of the oldest and greatest Marian feasts that we have, is filled with meaning and expectation. First, it marks the beginning of the end of Satan’s rule over mankind. Just as the first Eve’s no to God led to our slavery under sin, the New Eve’s yes or fiat to God opens the way to our salvation. Pope Benedict XVI beautifully describes this fiat as saying Yes to a marriage proposal:

As Mary stood before the Lord, she represented the whole of humanity. In the angel’s message, it was as if God made a marriage proposal to the human race. And in our name, Mary said yes. [1]
And just as the Annunciation is a kind of wedding between God and man, it is also a kind of wedding between Mary and the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity. The Mother of God is hailed as the Spouse of the Holy Spirit because on this day the power of the Holy Ghost overshadowed her (see Luke 1, 35). As if that weren’t enough, the Annunciation is, along with Christmas, a great feast of the Incarnation. This is the day that that the Second Person of the Holy Trinity united Himself to our humanity by humbly becoming a zygote, a single eukaryotic cell, in Our Lady’s womb. Or to put it more plainly, this is the day that the Word first became flesh and dwelt among us (John 1, 14), and the place where He first chose to dwell—or to translate the original Greek more literally, to pitch His tent—was within this maiden of Nazareth, making her a holy tabernacle and a new and truer Ark of the Covenant. This is the day, as the Maronite liturgy proclaims, that “the peace of God is planted, and the heights and depths cry out: ‘O come, Lord Jesus!’ ” [2]
Some of these themes are present in the traditional Roman orations for the feast. The Collect is:
Deus, qui de beátae Maríae Vírginis útero Verbum tuum, Angelo nuntiante, carnem suscípere voluisti: praesta supplícibus tuis; ut, qui vere eam Genitrícem Dei crédimus, ejus apud te intercessiónibus adjuvémur. Per eundem Dóminum nostrum.
Which I translate as:
O God, who hast willed that Thy Word should take flesh from the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary during the Angel's announcement: grant to Thy suppliants, that we, who believe her to be truly the Mother of God, may be helped by her intercessions in Thy presence. Through the same our Lord.
For the first part or protasis, most translations have “in the womb” of Mary instead of “from the womb,” but the preposition in question is not in but de, which means “from” or “out of.” We can forgive the ancient author for the biological inaccuracy: babies are not formed from the tissue of their mother’s womb but from an ovum that is in the womb, a fact which was not discovered until the nineteenth century. But the main point of is worth contemplating: when the Word became flesh, Its flesh came entirely from Mary’s flesh rather than from a commingling of a mother’s flesh with a father’s. To put it in modern terms, 100% of Jesus Christ’s DNA came from Mary of Nazareth.
In the second half or apodosis of the prayer, we ask for help from God through Mary’s intercession in almost a plea-bargain manner: we are going out on a limb and believing that this maiden bore God; in return, can’t we have some special favors from her? The phrasing of ejus apud te intercessionibus. Although it can be translated as “through her intercessions with Thee,” I chose “by her intercessions in Thy presence” to highlight the distinctive character of the preposition apud, which is the Latin equivalent of the French chez (“in the house of”). There seems to be an implicit contrast between the Incarnate Word being in the womb of Mary and Mary now being in the eternal abode of God. She who “enclosed” God is now enclosed in His Paradise.
The Secret is:
In méntibus nostris, quáesumus, Dómine, verae fídei sacramenta confirma: ut, qui conceptum de Vírgine Deum verum et hóminem confitémur; per ejus salutíferae resurrectiónis potentiam, ad aeternam mereámur perveníre laetitiam. Per eundem Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
Strengthen in our minds, we beseech Thee, O Lord, the mysteries of the true faith: that we who confess the Virgin’s Son to be truly God and man, may deserve, by the power of His saving resurrection, to reach eternal joy. Through the same our Lord.
Sacramenta, which I have translated as “mysteries,” also means “sacraments.” Given that the sacrament of the Eucharist is about to be confected, it is a fitting ambivalence. Salutiferus, which I have translated as “saving,” literally means “salvation-making.” When we think of the Incarnation, we think of the salvation-making power of His Resurrection.
The Postcommunion is:
Gratiam tuam, quáesumus, Dómine, méntibus nostris infunde: ut qui, Angelo nuntiante, Christi Filii tui incarnatiónem cognóvimus; per passiónem ejus et crucem, ad resurrectiónis gloriam perducámur. Per eundem Dóminum.
Which I translate as:
Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts: that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ Thy Son was made known by an angel announcing it, may, by His passion and cross, be brought to the glory of His resurrection. Through the same Lord.
The prayer is well-known to Catholics as the conclusion to the Angelus, which in itself is an interesting choice, insofar as a Marian devotion ends with a prayer that makes no explicit mention of Mary. As the Postcommunion to the Feast of the Annunciation, the prayer contributes to an interesting pattern of mysteries that are or are not mentioned:
The Collect mentions Mary, the Angel, and the Incarnation;
The Secret mentions Mary and the Incarnation;
The Postcommunion mentions the Angel and the Incarnation.
Again our thoughts go naturally from the Incarnation to the Passion to the glory of the Resurrection. Why did God become man? To die for us and to rise again to give us glory. It is message from an angel almost too good to be true. But it is so good that it has to be true.
[1] “On God’s Marriage Proposal,” Angelus address at the 2008 World Youth Day Closing Mass, Zenit News, July 19, 2008, St. Bernard of Clairvaux has a beautiful commentary on this theme in his Homily 4.8-9, available in translation here
[2] The Book of Offering to the Rite of the Antiochene Syriac Maronite Church (2012), 28.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: