Saturday, March 28, 2009

FHD on Annunciation

Just found this new page: Full Homely Divinity's "Annunciation (and other beginnings)."

An excerpt:
In the middle of Lent, this season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, this season of self-examination, repentance, and renewal, this season of exile in the wilderness and hope for the restoration of Jerusalem--in this season of all seasons, the angel Gabriel appears to the Virgin Mary, and to us. The angel tells us not to be afraid, because we are afraid: afraid of the vision and afraid of its implications. The angel tells us of a great hope that is about to be fulfilled, but at considerable cost: a modest virgin's honor will be besmirched, individual lives will be altered in unexpected and possibly unwanted ways, earthly kingdoms will be overthrown, and things that are impossible will be done by the God for whom nothing is impossible, even the remaking of the world and the crushing of the serpent who started our troubles so long ago.

Unquestionably, this is a day that is rich in meaning. And yet, remarkably, there are few specific customs associated with it. In England alone there are more than two thousand churches dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. England itself was known as "Mary's Dowry" in the Middle Ages and there were major shrines with annual pilgrimages honoring her at Glastonbury and Walsingham, to name only two of the most important. But on this day, the day known as "Lady Day," the only widely practiced customs were the payment of rents and other legal obligations because March 25th was designated as one of the quarter days when obligations of this sort always fell due. As mentioned before, it was also the day when the year turned, but that would have been a matter of concern only for clerks and lawyers and historians who kept track of such things of necessity.

This should not prevent us from keeping the day with due festivity. It is, after all, the beginning of all that is important to us spiritually. The poet T.S. Eliot wrote, "In my beginning is my end." (Four Quartets: East Coker) He did not invent the phrase but his reflection on the phrase might be an appropriate way to spend part of the day. It should certainly be a day to suspend the severity of Lent, both with festal services in church and feasting at home. Hymns and prayers from Mary's great August festival may properly be incorporated into today's festivities. Her own hymn of praise, the Magnificat, will be sung as usual at Evensong. It could also be sung as an anthem at the Eucharist and, where resources allow, special settings should certainly be used.

The article also includes a link to this John Donne poem, "written to commemorate the concurrence of Good Friday and Lady Day in 1608":
Upon the Annunciation and
Passion Falling upon One Day.

Tamely, frail body, abstain today; today
My soul eats twice, Christ hither and away.
She sees Him man, so like God made in this,
That of them both a circle emblem is,
Whose first and last concur; this doubtful day
Of feast or fast, Christ came and went away;
She sees Him nothing twice at once, who’s all;
She sees a Cedar plant itself and fall,
Her Maker put to making, and the head
Of life at once not yet alive yet dead;
She sees at once the virgin mother stay
Reclused at home, public at Golgotha;
Sad and rejoiced she’s seen at once, and seen
At almost fifty and at scarce fifteen;
At once a Son is promised her, and gone;
Gabriel gives Christ to her, He her to John;
Not fully a mother, she’s in orbity,
At once receiver and the legacy;
All this, and all between, this day hath shown,
The abridgement of Christ’s story, which makes one
(As in plain maps, the furthest west is east)
Of the Angels’ Ave and Consummatum est.
How well the Church, God’s court of faculties,
Deals in some times and seldom joining these!
As by the self-fixed Pole we never do
Direct our course, but the next star thereto,
Which shows where the other is and which we say
(Because it strays not far) doth never stray,
So God by His Church, nearest to Him, we know
And stand firm, if we by her motion go;
His Spirit, as His fiery pillar doth
Lead, and His Church, as cloud, to one end both.
This Church, by letting these days join, hath shown
Death and conception in mankind is one:
Or ‘twas in Him the same humility
That He would be a man and leave to be:
Or as creation He had made, as God,
With the last judgment but one period,
His imitating Spouse would join in one
Manhood’s extremes: He shall come, He is gone:
Or as though the least of His pains, deeds, or words,
Would busy a life, she all this day affords;
This treasure then, in gross, my soul uplay,
And in my life retail it every day.

– John Donne

The page includes this note:
In 2005, Good Friday fell on March 25th, which is ordinarily the Feast of the Annunciation. This symbolically rich concurrence is relatively rare, occurring only three times in the 20th century (1910, 1921, and 1932), and twice in the 21st century (2005 and 2016). After 2016, it will not occur again for more than a century.

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