This year, by the inscrutable decree of Divine Providence, Good Friday fell on 25 March. And because of that we now celebrate the Annunciation in Eastertide, on the first free day after the Easter Octave. So this year, it seems to me, we are specially invited to read the Gospel of the Annunciation in the light of Good Friday, and then also in the light of Easter.
The Angel went in and said to her: Ave Maria, gratia plena; Dominus tecum. And Our Lady was deeply disturbed by these words. No wonder that Mary was disturbed: she had very good cause to be. For contained in this first announcement were all its consequences. Mary was invited by the Angel to receive a most wonderful gift, a gift of infinite worth, a gift for which the whole human race had been waiting, and which she would be privileged to receive on behalf of all. But a condition for her receiving it was a readiness to have it horribly, brutally, violently taken away. The Lord is with you! Yes, Mary, if you assent, you will receive the Lord, the God of Israel, the Creator of the Universe. as your own child. You will be his Mother. He will be your own little baby. You will bring him up. But then you must stand and watch him tortured to death on the Cross.
Hail Mary, the Lord is with you! And through you, he wants to be with all others who will receive him. If you assent now, all these others, in their countless multitudes, who will assent with you, after the pattern you set: they also will be able to bear him in their bodies, and hearts, and souls. The Lord is with you, for he now asks your permission to take up human nature through you. But he asks to be born of you, only in order to be able to die. The Body he receives from you will be, from the beginning, given away. It will be essentially a holy sacrifice. From the very beginning his whole life will be a sacrificial offering to God; and on Good Friday that sacrifice will be consummated. And you, Mary, are invited, from the beginning, but supremely there, to offer him also; to give him away, for the salvation of the world.
Rejoice O Mary, full of grace! Yes: even though there is to be so much sorrow in store for you, so much pain and distress, so much suffering, still, nevertheless, rejoice! You can rejoice, precisely because you are full of grace! Precisely because already you are perfectly surrendered to God, perfectly conformed to his will; because you are already so completely possessed by the Holy Spirit: you will be able to give your Son away, for the life of the world. Your act of giving him away must be completely free; yet also it will be in you the work of Divine grace. Never think that the Lord would ask such a thing from you out of blind obedience. No: you will do it, you can only do it, out of love; the very same love that is in the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, flowing freely, by the fullness of grace, through you.
But Mary was deeply disturbed by these words, and asked herself what this greeting could mean. But the Angel said to her: Mary, do not be afraid! It is true that you are not to be spared a greater and deeper pain than you can now even imagine. If you say yes to God now, then the cost to you will be total, as it will be also to your Son. But do not be afraid! For the Holy Spirit will not deny you, with all his other gifts, the gifts of fortitude, and strength, of courage and trust. Do not be afraid, for as your sufferings increase, so will the grace given to you.
Mary, do not be afraid! For you have won God’s favour! So much has the Lord taken you into his confidence, that he now reveals to you, certainly not yet in a complete way, but also certainly truly, the plan of his will: the economy of the salvation he will work. Do not be afraid, because everything that Lord asks you to do or to suffer will come only from his abounding love, and mercy, and goodness. Mary, you have won God’s favour, so that he now asks your free and willing cooperation in his whole purpose, which will be accomplished in the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ. Without you, this mystery cannot unfold, cannot come into effect. But through it, the Lord wishes to accomplish great things, divine things. From the Paschal mystery will come the forgiveness of sins, the opening up of salvation, the overturning of the Empire of the devil, the outpouring of grace, the proclamation of divine Mercy.
Look, Mary! You are to conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you must name him Jesus. The name Jesus is of itself a blessing, a source of grace, a consolation, an active power for good. But people will also use it as a curse, an insult, a blasphemous oath. And on Good Friday it will be written up in mockery over his Cross.
He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the house of Jacob for ever, and his reign will have no end. The greatness of Jesus will be manifested above all in his humility. It will shine forth supremely from the Cross. The true Son of the Eternal Father will show forth God’s infinite love, love to the end, above all on Good Friday. From there he will establish his Kingdom. The inscription of Pilate will read: King of the Jews. But he will be King of more than that. His Kingdom will comprise all God’s holy people; heirs of the promises to Jacob; they will be the community of salvation, destined for eternal glory in heaven. And all those who inherit this Kingdom will be also your own children, Mary. Of each one of them Jesus will say to you: this is your Son, bearer of my own life: see me in him or in her. And to each one of them he will say, pointing to you: this is your Mother.
And Mary said: Behold the handmaid of the Lord: let it be done to me according to your word. Alleluia.
Now the light of Easter shines on to the message of the Angel, and onto the assent of Our Lady. Rejoice O Mary! Not like Job, who lost all his children, and was given back different children as compensation in a new prosperity. No, as was decreed from the beginning: Jesus would die, then rise again victorious. He will be great, said the Angel, Son of the Most High, possessing the Throne of David. Now all this is fulfilled definitively: nothing can ever threaten it; and Our Lady’s place in it all, from beginning to end, remains central. Now Mary rejoices in the supreme height of heaven, completely and forever united with her Son, and with the Father and the Holy Spirit, looking down in mercy and love on us, who are her children, and who celebrate with love and gratitude her Annunciation today.