Our salvation hinges upon our consent to being saved.
The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary;
And she conceived by the Holy Spirit …
The Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord is celebrated by the Catholic Church on March 25 — exactly nine months before the Nativity of the Lord, in December.
Why do we bother? Why insistently recall this singular moment — one that many non-Catholic Christians barely consider, except, perhaps, in the run-up to Christmas?
Because this single moment contains within it the first and foremost lesson of Christianity — the one around which every other lesson whirls: Our salvation hinges upon our consent to being saved, and it is a consent that must be given over and over again. Just as God’s own intention — his Word of assent — was necessary for the creation and sustained expansion of the universe, so was Mary’s “yes” necessary to the its salvation.
God said, “Let there be … ,” and from that was brought forth light. At the Annunciation it is the created creature who says the Word. “Yes,” Mary said, “let it be … ,” and from that was brought forth the light of the world.
Behold the handmaid of the Lord: Be it done unto me according to thy word.
“Yes.” “Let it be.” These are the words that permit life rather than refuse it. Creation and sustenance are born of positive assent, affirmation.
“God created us without us, but he will not save us without us,” wrote Augustine in one of his sermons, and the Annunciation demonstrates it.
While today we remember the Annunciation in a special way, the Church puts this great truth and ever-instructive mystery before us constantly by recommending the daily recitation of the Angelus, whose words continually bring us back to the beginning, that first lesson, for our continued instruction — the reminder that our every yes keeps us on a God-directed path. And then it does something else. It plops us right into a mystery that is imponderable and yet ever-pleasant to dwell upon:
And the Word was made Flesh: And dwelt among us.
To remember the incarnation, every day, is to also remember the Passion and death of Christ Jesus, every day; which is also to remember that there is nothing we suffer in life that God himself did not consent to suffer, as well, out of sheer love for us, in his “mad eros of the cross.” It is, finally, to remember that this love, this consent, this yes, has conquered all, which means we are — with every surrender, every yes of our own — made continually free, in Christ.
How grateful I am that our Church encourages the daily refreshment that is found in recalling the Annunciation, because in that brief pause of prayerful remembrance, there is an invitation to continual immersion in transcendent light and life. To rise of a morning with the words of the Angelus on our lips, “The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary …” and then to repeat them at noon, and at six, and again upon retiring, or to use those words while announcing the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, is to be continually drawn back to what is real, and true, and salvific; our perspective is trained toward Christ, and heaven, and the long view of things.
One antiphon in the Office of Readings urges us, “Surrender to God, and he will do everything for you.” Each time I encounter it I am shocked, because it seems such a bold statement, and also a bit too easy, doesn’t it? Like something a salesman, or a politician, might say: vote for me, and I will do everything for you.
Except, then I remember that in God’s case, it is true; the more we surrender to God’s purposes, give up our own will, the more we assist in the propulsion of his will in our lives, which is really all about cooperating with his purposes for the good whole world.
Behold the handmaid of the Lord: Be it done unto me according to thy word …
And the Word was made Flesh, and dwelt among us …
From that, all else follows. That is why, even when it is sometimes difficult — as when I must refrain from Holy Communion because I am unfit to receive — I consent to obedience and could never be anything but a Catholic.
Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.