Today is the feast of the
Annunciation, the feast whereby the Incarnation was made known to Mary
by the angel Gabriel. Because of the brevity of the passage in the
Gospel of Luke, many tend to overlook the significance of this episode
in the biblical narrative, and as a result underestimate how the
incarnation of the Creator hinged on the decision of one of its created
to participate in this divine plan. Many would thus pay little attention
to just what the stakes were for the rest of creation.
Bernard of Clairvaux, the twelfth-century reformer of the Cistercian
Order, did pay attention to the significance of this drama and the
pivotal moment just prior to Mary's response "I am the handmaid of the
Lord" (Luke 1:38). It is poetically encapsulated it in a passage of his Praise of the Virgin Mother, entitled "The Whole World Awaits Mary's Reply" and reproduced below.
have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a son; you have
heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel
awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We
too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of
condemnation weighs heavily upon us.
price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once
if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and
behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to
be recalled to life.
Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in
their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the
other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in
the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits
for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word
depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for
the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of
quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the
angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak
your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word,
embrace the eternal Word.
do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive.
Let humility be bold, let modesty be confident. This is no time for
virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent
Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is
pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to
faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator.
the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he
should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek
him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise
in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold
the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your
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