The Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord is a special time for our ministry, as our campus ministry chapel is named in honor of Our Lady of the Annunciation. A large reproduction of Fra Angelico’s painting of the Annunciation greets students in the narthex of the chapel, and Russian-style icons of Mary and St. Gabriel adorn the wall of the sanctuary on either side of the tabernacle. The top of that wall is emblazoned with Mary’s words to Gabriel, “Be it done unto me according to thy word” (Lk 1:42).
This year the Annunciation (March 25) fell on a Wednesday, which is the usual day we have our large campus ministry gathering with dinner, a program led by our student peer ministers, and prayer. This year we were planning on celebrating the Solemnity with a special Mass to conclude our evening together, but with the COVID-19 outbreak, that was not to be. Most all of our students are now away from campus, Jackson County government has banned gatherings of more than ten people, and the public celebration of Mass has been suspended in the diocese.
To honor the Solemnity, and provide our students with an opportunity to pray together in time even if separated by space, we decided to live stream a Holy Hour on our Facebook page. We began with Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament followed by the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary, and then prayed Evening Prayer (Vespers) concluding with Benediction and the great hymn of praise, the Te Deum. My wife and two of my children participated with us, so you will hear them praying in the background.
It was a rousing success! We had over 100 viewers of the video (which is a fair number higher than our normal turn-out!) including not only students, but parents and alumni. In fact, we received an email from one of our alumna shortly after the conclusion of the hour, saying, “I just wanted to thank you for livestreaming Adoration tonight. It was so nice to sit in the Presence and sing evening prayer with other people, even if it was only virtually!“
Of course it’s not the same as being physically together with our students in prayer, but until the day comes (hopefully soon) when that can happen, we can take comfort in the fact that we are still spiritually united in the Body of Christ — not only with one another, but with all the angels and saints.
Below is the full video of our Holy Hour, along with the text of a brief homily I preached during Vespers. God Bless!
This is what we proclaim to you: what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked upon and our hands have touched — we speak of the word of life. This life became visible; we have seen and bear witness to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life that was present to the Father and became visible to us.(1 Jn 1:1-2)
These opening words of John’s first epistle provide us with a concise summary of what we celebrate today on the Solemnity of the Annunciation — that what was from the beginning, the word of life, has become visible to us. Or, as John puts it in his gospel, that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14). The Annunciation is really the feast of the Incarnation, celebrating that moment when the Son of God was conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary and became the Son of Man.
So why do we call it the Annunciation? Why not the “Solemnity of the Incarnation”? It is because the good news of the Incarnation was first announced to the Virgin Mary by the angel Gabriel, and did not happen without her cooperation. As recorded in Luke’s gospel, Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her, “you have found favor with God…. you will conceive in your womb and bear a son… the Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Lk 1:30–35).
This announcement, this annunciation, is truly good news. It is so good that it was beyond the fathoming of human imagination until that moment. God the Father, God the Creator, God the source of all being, was not just sending us a messenger, like Gabriel. He was not just sending us a prophet, like Elijah. He was not just sending us a king, like David. He was sending us his Son. He was sending us a Savior, and He himself would be that Savior. God would save us, by becoming one of us, so that we might become one with him. And what Gabriel announced to Mary was, “This will happen in you, if you will it.”
Mary responded with the words that are emblazoned on our chapel wall as a reminder to us all of what our attitude towards God should be. “Be it done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). May your will for me be accomplished in my life, Lord. May your Word become incarnate in my flesh. May you become present in the world through me.
The miracle of the Annunciation is that it is not a one-time event. The Incarnation that was conceived in Mary’s womb continues through space and time in the Church. The Word becomes flesh here on this altar at every Mass. Christ is conceived in the soul of every person reborn in baptism. God’s angels come to us with the same announcement that Gabriel made to Mary — God wants to live in you. The Holy Spirit wants to overshadow you in a transformative way so that God can be present in the world in a unique way in and through you. How will you respond to this annunciation? To this invitation?
Behold, I am the handmaid, the servant of the Lord. May it be done to me according to thy word.