The Angelus: Responding to the Will of God
I found myself meditating briefly on the Angelus recently, and what came most forcefully to mind is how this prayer portrays the immense fruitfulness of cooperating with the will of God. It is traditional to recite the Angelus three times a day, at six in the morning, noon, and six in the evening. During Eastertide it is replaced with the Regina Coeli.
As most readers know, the three versicles and responses of the Angelus are drawn right out of the New Testament. The first two are taken from the account of the Annunciation in Luke’s Gospel (1:26-38), and the third from the opening of John’s (1:14). Together, they show what happens when we discern and accept God’s plan for our lives.
The prayer opens with the briefest possible statement of the case: The angel Gabriel declares God’s will to Mary and, through the Holy Spirit, she conceives Christ. Here we have the beginning and the end of the matter: God’s plan is announced and then realized in Mary. The action is all God’s—the God of Israel performing the mightiest of all His works. She who has already been greeted as “full of grace” will nonetheless be filled with grace in a new and unprecedented way; Mary will bear Grace Itself as a Child.
We know from reading the whole account that Mary wondered how this could be. We learn something important when we see that the Angel provided an explanation on two levels. On one level, we learn, as it were, the methodology: the Holy Spirit will overshadow Mary, an action that does not compromise her virginity. But there is a deeper level, for the more important part of Gabriel’s explanation is not the “methodology” but the reminder that “nothing is impossible with God”.
That is the essence of the issue, and Mary’s response plumbs its depths in the second versicle and response: “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to thy word.” The answer to Mary’s question about “how this can be” is simply to trust God enough to accept His plan. This has always been Mary’s great lesson to the Church, but it is also the great lesson of the Angelus prayer. How can God’s will be realized? Simply and solely by our acceptance of it. God's performance is never in doubt, but only our cooperation.
And what a miracle follows Mary’s trust in God’s will! If the second part of the Angelus focuses on Mary’s response, the third part explicates the result: The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. This is what it means for Mary to “conceive by the Holy Spirit”. Christ comes into our world, making Mary the God-bearer (Theotokos). His coming enriches not just Mary but all of us—every person in the entire world.
It goes without saying that this particular response to God’s will is special above all others, for it initiates God’s plan of salvation in Christ. Yet every acceptance of God’s will follows this same pattern: Hear, assent, and bear fruit. Each time we do this, we find blessing not only for ourselves but for others. Each time we hear, assent and bear fruit we participate in the same Christian mystery which was initiated with Mary's consent, that is, the salvific passion and death of her Divine Son.
Thus may we all be brought to the glory of the Resurrection. Amen.
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