Digging out our Ears

Digging out our Ears

Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord. Fr Jonathan Fleetwood shows how the Mary’s reception of the Word is an act of offering and sacrifice to God.

Today the Angel Gabriel, messenger of God the Father, announces to the Virgin Mary the sending of the Holy Spirit and the sending of his Son, Jesus. He starts announcing by saying, “Hail”. Can you translate words like “Hail” and other greetings? The usual English translation says, “Rejoice”. This sounds a bit like an instruction from Gabriel to Mary, “cheer up”. “Cheers” would sound different.

At the start of the Hail Mary we, when praying the Hail Mary, echo and enter into two greetings, that of the Angel to Mary and that of Elizabeth to Mary. Would we be able to echo and enter the greeting by saying, “Rejoice, Mary, highly favoured one”?

The first word or words of greetings, words like “Hail”, are like a knock on the door. They are a call-address where the message is an attachment. Prayer in an earlier age was often expressed as ‘calling upon God’. The call or knock at the start carries many meanings. You knock in accordance with politeness, honour or worship. Many aspects are read into the knock. The “Hail” is more a pointer word, an attention word, a word of making present two agents to each other.

The circumstances may also interpret the occasion. Other attention words like “Lo”, “Behold”, See” or “Here” are used in the New Testament: “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord”. Paintings, visions, of the Annunciation are very important in bringing out this aspect. The Angel and Mary see each other and you see the seeing all at the same time. “Hail” is more a stage direction than a command or statement. We call upon Mary when we say “Hail, Mary”.

The special comings together in action of two humans, but also of humans and God, have lots of aspects of interpretation. We may greet, as in “Hail”. We may name, as in “Mary”. We may bless, as in “Blessed art thou amongst women”. We may promise, offer and receive, as aspects of “Let it be done to me.”

The harmony of the Annunciation both with Old Testament religious sentiment and with the New Testament life of Jesus is shown in the link of the Responsorial Psalm to the Second Reading. The Second Reading is from Hebrews and quotes part of the psalm. The versicle is connective: “Here I am Lord, I come to do your will.”

This is a cry that fits the general religious man (Psalm) and also fits Our Lord’s relationship with his Father (Hebrews). This fits Our Lady in the Annunciation scene too. The psalm reinforces the tied aspects of hearing, reception and offering. The Responsorial Psalm text is not quite the same as the psalm text quoted in Hebrews, (nor some Hebrew translations). It includes the phrase “I ask for an open ear”. A commentator says this derives from “ear(hole)s thou hast digged for me”.

The “digged” ear is, so to say, the womb for the Word. Mary both assents to the future conception of the child and also receives and consents to the present Word she hears. The Angel calls “listen”. She listens. The action of the angelic salutation is at the same time, and in the same act, the act of God and the act of Mary’s receiving the Word, and this by her body and soul before the baby comes. The message of the Angel is not present in some intermediary channel of communication: action and reception are one. Moreover, the act of reception and obedience is, as the psalm indicates, also an offering and sacrifice.

Just as the action of Mary is an instance of the dispositions of the religious person, as voiced in the psalm, so is Mary’s action a model for our reception of the Word of God. As St Ambrose said, commenting on St. Luke’s Gospel, “Every soul who has believed both conceives and generates the Word of God and recognises his works. Let the soul of Mary be in each one of you to magnify the Lord. Let the spirit of Mary be in each one to exult in Christ, but according to faith, Christ is the fruit of all men.”

Readings: Isa 7:10-14 | Psalm 39 | Heb 10:4-10 | Luke 1:26-38

Jonathan Fleetwood was one-time Prior Provincial of the Province of England, and later chaplain to the Dominican Sisters at Stone in Staffordshire. He died at Holy Cross Priory in Leicester. May he rest in peace.