“He said: Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” (Luke 26-38)
On this morning before Christmas, we reflect on Mary, her inner fears, and her boundless graces before God.
The angel Gabriel’s words to Mary at the Annunciation, “Hail full of grace!” find their way into our artistic, literary and spiritual legacy.
Here is a very brief sampling of how Mary is celebrated as the Mother of Jesus, the Mother of God.
Henry Ossawa Tanner (1859-1937) was an American artist, and first African-American painter to achieve international recognition. His father was a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Tanner is considered a realist painter and influenced by his fellow Philadelphian Thomas Eakins.
Tanners later paintings were based on biblical or religious subjects, including “the Annunciation” (1898) which today is among the collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
In this painting, the angel Gabriel is represented as a column of light that forms the shadow of the cross. Tanner’s intent is to focus on Mary’s inner life of wonder. The acceptance of the angel’s message includes the more demanding assent to the cross that would mark her heart as the Lord’s handmaid.
Born in Prague in 1875, Rainer Maria Rilke’s deeply spiritual poetry takes on a range of human emotion as well as the inner motives of saints and those who aspire to the religious life.
Here in “The Annunciation” (1911) Rilke speaks to the fear in Mary’s heart as well as the angel whose message would change Mary’s life and all of creation.
“Annunciation to Mary,”
by Rainer Maria Rilke
The angel’s entrance (you must realize)
was not what made her frightened. The surprise
he gave her by his coming was no more
than the sun or moon-beam stirring on the floor
would give another, — she had long since grown
used to the form that angels wear, descending;
never imaging this coming down
was hard for them.
(O, it’s past comprehending,
how pure she was. Did not one day a hind
that rested in a wood watchfully staring
feel her deep influence, and did it not
conceive the unicorn, then without pairing,
the pure beast, beast which life begot,-)
No not to see him enter, but to find
the youthful angel’s countenance inclined
so near to her; that when he looked, and she
looked up at him, their looks so merged in one
the world outside grew vacant, suddenly,
and all things being seen, endured and done
were crowded into them: just she and he
eye and its pasture visions and its view,
here at that point and at this point alone:-
see, this arouses fear. Such fear both knew.
Ordained in 1948, Monsignor James Turro is the most senior priest of the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., and is a professor of New Testament Studies at the Immaculate Conception Seminary on the campus of Seton Hall University.
Distinctive as a scholar and preacher, his “Reflections…path to prayer” published in 1972 remains a favorite of mine, for its motifs on the deeply spiritual insights of scripture.
A forgotten truth:
Mary is an opportunity
for encountering Christ.
seemed to have understood this well,
and to have expressed it in allusions of rare charm.
This surely what they sought to say
when they spoke of Mary as:
“House of Gold”,
“Ark of the Covenant”,
“Gateway of the Great King”.
They conceived of Mary
as the precious container
that drew its meaning and beauty
from the precious One contained,
Mary is a “place” for meeting Christ.