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An unheard-of greeting: The Annunciation

A brief lection for our readers on this Feast of the Annunciation, an excerpt from the Venerable Bede’s homily on Luke 1:26-38.

The angel entered and said to her, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women.”

As unheard of as this greeting was in human custom, so fitting was it to the dignity of blessed Mary. … Truly full of grace was she to whom it was granted to give birth to Jesus Christ, the very one through whom grace and truth came (John 1:17). And so the Lord was truly with her, whom he first raised up from earthly to heavenly desires, in an unheard of love of chastity, and afterwards sanctified, by means of his human nature, with all the fullness of his divinity. Truly blessed among women was she, who without precedent in the womanly state, rejoiced in having the honor of parenthood along with the beauty of virginity, inasmuch as it was fitting that a virgin mother bring forth God the Son. …

We can understand the saying, “And the power of the Most High will overshadow you,” at a more profound level, in relation to the sacrament of the Lord’s incarnation. For we say that we are “overshadowed” when in the baking noonday sun we put between ourselves and the sun either an intervening tree or any other sort of shade by which we may render the sun’s heat or light more tolerable to ourselves. Thus it is not without reason that our Redeemer is designated by the light or heat of the sun, for he both illuminates us with the knowledge of truth and inflames us with love. Hence he himself says through the prophet, “To you, however, who fear my name, the sun of justice shall arise” (Mal. 4:2).

It was his rays which the blessed Virgin received when she conceived the Lord. But that same sun, that is, the divinity of our Redeemer, cloaked itself with the covering of human nature as with a shade, and by this means a virgin’s womb was able to bear him. Thus the power of the Most High overshadowed her at the time when the divine might of Christ filled her with his presence, and, in order that his substance could be received by her, he veiled himself with our weakness.

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