Tuesday, March 20, 2012


The Annunciation of Our Lord
(Since March 25th, 2012 is a Sunday, the feast is transferred to Monday 26th)
The Feast of the Annunciation commemorates a moment that we might call the first stirrings of the Incarnation. Mary learns (if she scarcely understands) that she is to be the Mother of God. It is key to the significance of the event, that she accepts this role with deep humility -- "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.". From the start, God aligns his saving power with human freedom.

The date of the Annunciation exactly nine months before Christmas reveals that it has long been taken to be the moment of conception, and this, in a sense, makes it the first feast of Christmas. The connection is simply assumed in 'Gabriel's Message', a carol from the Basque country in Spain, now sung across the world. This has led to its being widely regarded as a Christmas carol, whereas in fact, it is really a song of the Annunciation. 

The familiar English translation was made by the Revd Sabine Baring-Gould, a 19th century Anglican clergyman, now known as a hymn writer, but better known in his own day as a collector of English folk songs and medieval myths. Baring-Gould's personal experience may have given the carol he translated so successfully a special resonance for him. An aristocrat by birth, and a graduate of Cambridge University,  he met and fell in love with a mill worker's daughter while working as a Curate in a Yorkshire parish,. Over the next two years, he carefully prepared the ground so that they could nevertheless proceed with this socially 'unsuitable' marriage. It lasted 48 years, and when Grace died, the stone he erected in her memory said (in Latin) 'Half my heart'.

Gabriel's Message
Antonello da Messina (1430?-79) Mary - the Annunciation
The angel Gabriel from heaven came,
With wings as drifted snow, with eyes as flame:
"All hail to thee, O lowly maiden Mary,
Most highly favored lady." Gloria! 

"For know a blessed mother thou shalt be,
All generations laud and honor thee;
Thy son shall be Emmanuel, by seers foretold,
Most highly favored lady." Gloria! 

Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head;
"To me be as it pleaseth God," she said.
"My soul shall laud and magnify God’s holy name."
Most highly favored lady." Gloria! 

Of her, Emmanuel, the Christ, was born
In Bethlehem all on a Christmas morn,
And Christian folk through-out the world will ever say: "Most highly favored lady." Gloria!

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