Today, in celebration of the Annunciation, I wish to post a few short reflections.
Reflection 1: The Annunciation and the Mass
We do well to meditate often on the Gospel account of the Annunciation (Luke 1:26-38). Here let us make a simple comparison between the Annunciation and the Mass as the Church celebrates it on the Lord’s Day.
|In the Annunciation…||In the Sunday Mass…|
|The messenger of God (the Archangel Gabriel) brings a message from the God the Father||Ministers of the Church proclaim the messages of God’s inspired Word from the Scriptures|
|A dialogue ensues between Mary and Gabriel in which she seeks to understand with the message that was given||The proclamation of the homily is to begin a dialogue of the Holy Spirit with the Hearts of each believer in the congregation|
|At the continued promptings of Gabriel, Mary responds with faith, in complete assent to the plan God would accomplish in Christ||The congregation is led by the celebrant in the sacred Profession of Faith (the Creed), affirming their belief in the plan God accomplished in Christ|
|Mary is overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, and the Son of God becomes incarnate in her womb (Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity)||The Holy Spirit is invoked in the Eucharistic Prayer, and the Incarnate Son becomes present on the altar (Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity)|
|The Visitation follows, bringing Mary’s Magnificat to the world, one person at a time||The offering of the Eucharist should lead to the extension of Mary’s Magnificat through the growth of the Church|
As far as the “extension of Mary’s Magnificat” goes, let us take John the Baptist as an example. He received an infusion of Mary’s joy at the sound of her voice, before she even sang the first words of the Magnificat (see Luke 1:39-56). Then his eventual life, his martyrdom, and his glorification were all a true exemplification of her words. The Baptist, as a babe in the womb, leaped for joy at the sound of Mary’s voice. The baptized, as babes in the spiritual life, leap for joy at the greeting of Mary, brining God incarnate to us. We pray that this joy is carried forward in our growth in the spiritual life, exemplifying the words* of the Magnificat in our life, death, and eternity.
Reflection 2: The true sacrifice of Christ, the Mass, and the priest
I have been looking for a chance to share this wonderful synopsis of “sacrifice” from a favorite book. This extended quote from Father Boylan is a reflection that speaks for itself.
The Mass, according to St. Thomas and St. Augustine, is ‘the perfect sacrament of our Lord’s Passion.’ That is to say, it is related to the sacrifice of Calvary in somewhat the same way as the consecrated species are related to the Body and Blood of Christ. Just as the Blessed Sacrament gives the Body of Christ a new ‘location’ in space and time, where It is really, truly and substantially – but ‘sacramentally’ – present, so the double consecration [of the host, then the chalice] at Mass gives the Sacrifice of Calvary a new location in space and time, where It also is really, truly and substantially – but ‘sacramentally – present. In each the Real Presence is effected and located by a sign – by the accidents of something else. The ‘accidents’ of the consecration ‘locate’ the sacrifice of the Cross. The Mass is Calvary in sacramental form, and the sacrifice we priests offer to God each morning [or each day] is the sacrifice which Christ offended on Calvary. In our Lord’s sacrifice on Calvary, we distinguish an interior and an exterior sacrifice. The interior sacrifice of Himself was but the culminating act of a lifelong series of acts of complete devotion to God. In fact we are tempted to imagine, Our Lord as summing up His whole life and love in one great act, and giving it exterior expression in the sacrifice of the Cross. His whole sacrifice, interior and exterior, He enshrined in the Sacrament of the Eucharist for our benefit. The Mass, therefore, contains all the spiritual realities of the Cross. St. Thomas puts it this way: ‘We do not say that Christ is daily crucified and killed (i.e. in the Mass), because both the acts of the Jews and the punishment of Christ are transitory. Yet those things which carry with them Christ’s relation to God the Father are said to be done daily (in the Mass); these are, to offer, to sacrifice, and the like. On that account the victim is perpetual and was offered once by Christ in this manner that it might be daily offered by His members,’ (4 Sent. XII). We may safely assume that ‘those things which carry with them Christ’s relation to God the Father’ include supreme worship and love, perfect obedience and superabundant satisfaction for sin, in fact, the whole interior and exterior sacrifice of Christ. That is what we offer to God in the Mass. No wonder Trent tells us: ‘The faithful of Christ can do no work more holy, more divine than this tremendous mystery,’ (Sess. xxii, c.2). It is then the most important act of the priest’s life and we need not apologize for dwelling upon it. But let us first consider it in its relation to the priest’s own interior life.
When a priest offers up the Mass, he offers it, of course, as a minister of Christ Who is the principal offerer, and is a representative of the whole Church – the Body of Christ. But that must not blind us to the fact that the priest offers up the sacrifice of the Mass as his own sacrifice also. He must, then, mean what the Mass says. Now the Mass is Our Lord’s sacrifice, and expresses Our Lord’s interior sacrifice which was, as we have shown, the summing-up and culmination of His whole life. So that in making the Mass his own, the priest has to make Our Lord’s interior disposition his own too, and he has to make those dispositions permeate his whole life. The priest’s position is somewhat the reverse of that of Our Lord. Our Lord first lived His life of perfect concordance with the will of God and then summed it up in an interior sacrifice which found expression in the exterior sacrifice of the Cross. The priest ‘takes over’ this sacrifice in the Mass and makes it his own. He therefore has to endeavour to make his interior sacrifice correspond with the exterior sacrifice sacramentally renewed in the Mass, and he then has to make his whole life correspond to that interior sacrifice! If the figure of speech is not too irreverent, one could say that our Lord’s whole life and dispositions are “telescoped” into His sacrifice on Calvary, which becomes the sacrifice of the priest at Mass. The priest then has to expand and apply that sacrifice to his whole life and dispositions. It is true that, in the order of time, the Passion of Christ is first applied to the soul of the priest at Baptism – but even so, Baptism only looks forward to the Blessed Eucharist; and – are we not baptized into the death of Christ?! Each Mass, as it were, re-enacts and renews the whole process. (Boylan, The Spiritual Life of the Priest, pg. 61-63).
It need hardly be pointed out that this passage is directed to priests in much the same manner that a hammer in full swing is directed to a nail. It’s a hammer that hurts, and hurts even more when you’re out of shape and out of place. But, with all the applicable puns about the nails that “hold things together,” we can say personally that such reflections do the job that nails do. The proper perspective on the Mass keeps us in shape and in place, and keeps us together.
Reflection 3: the Annunciation and the common/baptismal priesthood
The word Eucharist means Thanksgiving. The Thanksgiving of the Eucharist is INSEPARABLE from obedience to the will of God. It’s inseparable from the “supreme worship and love, perfect obedience and superabundant satisfaction for sin” that Father Boylan highlighted. The priest renews this offering at the altar of the Mass, but all the baptized participate in it if they are worthily exercising their “common priesthood.”
Let us match this perspective with the teaching of the Magisterium that all the baptized members of the Body of Christ share in Christ’s priesthood in a certain manner.
The baptized have become “living stones” to be “built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood.”73 By Baptism they share in the priesthood of Christ, in his prophetic and royal mission. They are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, that [they] may declare the wonderful deeds of him who called [them] out of darkness into his marvelous light.”74 Baptism gives a share in the common priesthood of all believers. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1268)
Incorporated into the Church by Baptism, the faithful have received the sacramental character that consecrates them for Christian religious worship.83 The baptismal seal enables and commits Christians to serve God by a vital participation in the holy liturgy of the Church and to exercise their baptismal priesthood by the witness of holy lives and practical charity. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1273, emphasis added.)
In short, because we are all “baptismal priests,” we therefore have the ability, and the duty, to turn our own very lives into a sacrifice. That sacrifice-of-our-lives would be meaningless and powerless without Christ. But it is baptism that gives us the capacity to participate in Christ’s own sacrifice, giving meaning to our own.
A powerful moment in the fulfillment of that capacity in us is precisely when, with living faith, we receive Holy Communion. Is this the most powerful moment of our capacities as baptismal priests? Yes and No. Yes, in that the Eucharist, objectively speaking, contains the infinite divine power of Christ. We might say, that at no other moment are we “surrounded” by greater divine power than when receiving communion. But no, “surrounded” in an objective sense does not always equate to becoming a sacrifice “consumed” in the subjective offering of our will through charity. The graces of our sacramentalized life – a life constantly being turned into a living sacrifice – often reach their zenith and high-point at moments chronologically quite separate and distinct from those precious minutes when we are communing with our Lord by consuming his Body and Blood.
The greatest example of this, without doubt, is the grace of martyrdom (re-enter, from above, John the Baptist). Many times martyrdom comes after a forced separation from the sacraments. After martyrdom, other examples of this might include Religious Professions, the “epiphanies” of those many life changing experiences such as retreats, and that onrush of the Gifts of the Spirit some call the “baptism in the Spirit” for the sacramentalized. All of these experiences, while containing and retaining their spiritual and logical connections to the Sacrament of the Eucharist, need not occur in any chronological proximity to the offering of the Mass or the receiving of communion.
This brings us back to the Annunciation. It was a “high-point” in the history of all then existing high-points of grace, of those experienced by any man or woman. The Annunciation contained within itself the very “logic” and “structure” of the Eucharistic offering of the Mass, and spiritual and logical connection to the Mass. But was 33 years before the “first Mass” would be offered in the Upper Room.
How shall we describe the baptismal priesthood in view of Mary’s 33 years of life between the Annunciation and Pentecost? Simply, Mary lived by faith, from the first to the last. God gave her the ability, and the duty, to turn her own very life into a sacrifice. And so the Annunciation revealed a “Eucharistic” logic and pattern of doing just that. And she was faithful to the end. For she was there, when God opened up the path for Pentecost through Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It was her greatest “living sacrifice” to go through that Darkest Night of dark nights, the extreme trial of faith on Calvary, the spiritual descent into the Sepulcher. Then, by faith, she lived out the fruits of that sacrifice, in the midst of the Church, until her glorious Assumption.
And now… now, Mary’s power to perfect the exercise of the baptismal priesthood in each believer is gloriously coextensive with the effects of her faith, from the Annunciation, to Pentecost.
- *See Luke 1:46-55. And Mary said:“My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior. For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him. He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”