St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh
25 March 2009
Cardinal Seán Brady
Archbishop of Armagh
I am very pleased to celebrate this Mass of thanksgiving on the Solemnity of the Annunciation made to the Blessed Virgin Mary by the Angel Gabriel. We offer this Mass in thanksgiving for the Movement and for the Statutes.
I am very pleased to welcome you here to Armagh during this week when we are celebrating a Parish Mission preached by Sr Briege McKenna and Fr Kevin Scallan. I am very pleased to welcome you here to Armagh, to the City of St Patrick, the City which Patrick chose for the foundation of his Principal Church. Last week we celebrated his Feast. Then we read again, in his Confession, how privileged Patrick felt himself to be here because of the fact that God rescued him from his unbelief. For already at the tender age of 16 years, Patrick recognised that he had been neglecting God by failing to keep the Commandments and by ignoring the advice and the counselling which the Church was offering to him. Like the Prodigal Son, in the midst of his trials and tribulations, Patrick came to his senses. He put his trust absolutely in the tender love and protection of God, his Father, in the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, his brother, and in the inspiration and gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Today, on the Feast of the Annunciation, it is our joy to celebrate the decision by the Virgin Mary of Nazareth to put her trust in the words of the Angel Gabriel. Mary believed in the promises which God, speaking through his messenger, Gabriel, was making to Mary.
Today we recall, with great joy, the sacred moment when, with the help of the Holy Spirit, Mary accepted her unique vocation in God’s plan for all men and women. As a result she conceived in her womb God’s only son, the Saviour of the world.
We pray today, in a special way, for the Church that she too may always accept the Will of the Father and that as a result Jesus may be conceived in the hearts and minds of all peoples.
We pray for those elected to govern the nations of the world and as they make their decisions for the welfare of their people they may, like Mary, listen attentively to the Word of God and allow themselves to be guided by it.
We pray for expectant mothers that they may accept the children they carry with love and joy. Today we remember all women, that they may see in God’s graciousness to Mary, the dignity of womanhood and motherhood.
Through all the readings there is a lot of emphasis on the Will of God. In the first reading the Prophet Isaiah tells us that the Lord spoke to Ahaz. God offered a sign to King Ahaz but he refused it, stating that he doesn’t want to tempt God. Prophet Isaiah crystallises this because he is being less than honest, he didn’t want to change his own will, he didn’t want to submit to the Will of God. In any case God gives, through the prophet, to him, a sign. It is said that no educator has been able to decipher exactly the meaning of this sign, who is this maiden or virgin, as the word means both, and who is the child who will be call Emmanuel, God with us? It was only later they began to speak clearly of the virgin. It is only when the event took place in Nazareth that the final meaning of the prophecy became clear. God reveals himself gradually.
In the second reading, in the Letter of the Hebrews, the author of the Letter of the Hebrews says the word Christ came to the world, he said, “God doesn’t want sacrifices and offerings but that He had come to do the Will of God.” Christ himself said, “My meat is to do the Will of the one who sent me.” Then, in the Gospel, we have Luke describing the beginning of our salvation. The Virgin Mary, betrothed to a man of the House of David, was chosen by God to become the mother of God’s son. When the Angel approaches Mary and says, “Hail full of grace the Lord is with you,” Mary was greatly troubled at the saying. She wonders what kind of greeting this might be. It is natural and normal when God, in all his majesty and power, draws near to us, poor humans, that we are over-awed. The Angel seeks to reassure Mary by saying, “Do not be afraid, no harm will come to you.” How often Jesus had to say that to his disciples, “Do not be afraid”. The Angel assures Mary that she has found favour with God, that she is God’s highly favoured one, that is what the word really means, full of grace, and the Angel outlines what God’s plan is, that she will conceive in her womb and bear a son. His name will be Jesus, which means Saviour. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father, David. Mary belonged to the House of David because Joseph was of the House of David. This Son will reign over the House of Jacob for ever as the House of Israel. There will be no end to his Kingdom and if Mary was fearful before, I am sure she is just bold over, but she retains her calm and she asks, “How shall this be since I have no husband?” People sometimes compare that with what Zachariah said to the Angel when the Angel came to him and he asked, “How shall I know if this is so? I am an old man and my wife is old also.” But Gabriel said, “I am Gabriel, I stand in the presence of God who sent me to speak to you and tell you this good news but you have not believed my message which will come true at the right time. Because you have not believed you will be unable to speak, you will remain silent until the day my promise to you comes true.” So Zachariah is punished for his failure to believe. Mary believed, but she wanted some clarification about how this would take place and when she went to see her cousin, Elizabeth, Elizabeth compliments her. She said, “How happy you are to believe that the Lord’s Message to you will come true.” Now remember at this stage Zachariah was still struck dumb. Elizabeth had figured out, maybe it had been revealed to her, that her husband had been punished for his lack of belief, his lack of trust in the revelation made by God. Mary believed that the promises would be fulfilled, the promises made to her by God. Elizabeth compliments her on that, that’s her greatness because of her faith. “She had conceived the Word in her mind before she had conceived it in her body.” St Agustine said, I think. And God’s revelation continues through his Word, I know the Neo-Catechumenal Movement has great veneration for the Word of God. I have visited the Chapels of your Seminary in Warsaw and in Rome and saw how the Word of God is honoured and enthroned there, but you must also realise that God reveals himself through the Word and through tradition and I suppose these Statutes are, in a sense, a gift to you from the tradition of the Church and they are a sign of the Church’s approval but as the Movement goes forward it must remain constantly attentive to the instruction of the Church, the wisdom of the Church, which the Church wants to share with you.
Anyway, when Mary had received the clarification she sought, that the Holy Spirit would come upon her and that the power of the Most High would overshadow her, that the child would be called Holy, Son of God, she said, “Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your Word.”
This Gospel, this Feast, calls each one of us to remember that we too are called to be handmaids of the Lord, to be the servant of the Lord. And we ask for the grace to be more and more aware of what God wants us to do, to be more and more aware of God’s presence in our life. St Paul says, “I live through love in His presence.”
Mary listened carefully.
Hail full of grace – most highly favoured one.
Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you.
Mary is blessed, truly blessed, because she has found favour in the sight of God.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you.
The first time Mary had that greeting from the Angel Gabriel, she was afraid. She has recovered from that fear and now she hears those words around the word in praise and honour of her name.
Mary has found favour with God. We too have found favour with God. We are his beloved children. God so loves us that He gave his Son.
Mary did conceive a child and bore a Son to whom she gave the name, Jesus. He reigns in His Kingdom forever. What difference does all of this make?
This Jesus, Son of Mary and Son of God enters into the depth of this world. He comes down from his heavenly throne and takes on his human form.
The Church, which is His Body, continues his presence in the world. God is still with us in His Church, in its Sacraments, in the Word.
The Holy Spirit was sent, by Jesus, to remind us, the Church, of what He, Jesus, said and did.
The Holy Spirit inspires the Church to examine the signs of the times. In Confirmation the Spirit comes to make people more like Jesus. Hence the Movement.