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Commentary from 




Rivingtons, London, 1884



[MARCH 25.]



There is no mention of the festival of the Annunciation in the Lectionary of St. Jerome, although there are days in honour of the Purification and the Nativity and the Death or Assumption of the Blessed Virgin. It is however of very early date, as Proclus, patriarch of Constantinople, who died A.d. 446, has left a Homily on the day, which was preached in the presence of Nestorius, and against his heresy. It is also mentioned by St. Athanasius, St. Chrysostom, St. Augustine, and other writers as early; and the Collect is found in the Sacramentary of Gelasius, at the end of the fifth century, as well as in that of St. Gregory. In the Council of Toledo, A.d. 656, the first of seven Canons orders that the feast of the Annunciation shall, in future, be kept on the 18th of December, so as not to interfere with the celebration of Good Friday or the observance of Lent. But this day was afterwards appropriated to the festival named "the Expectation of the Blessed Virgin," and the old day was restored.

In the Consuetudinary of Sarum this festival is called "Our Lord's Annunciation," and Bishop Cosin proposed to alter the title both here and in the Table of Lessons to "The Annunciation of our Lord to the Blessed Virgin Mary:" in both cases his alteration was rejected, and the authorized title is " The Annunciation of our Lady," or " The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary."

The Church of England commemorates the Mother of our Lord on five days in the year, the Annunciation, the Purification, the Visitation, the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, and her Conception. The three latter are Black Letter Days in July, September, and December: the two former, as days which commemorate events that associated her with the Person of our Lord and the work of our salvation by His human Nature, are provided with special services as days of obligation.

If our Blessed Lord's Nativity occurred on the 25th of December, as there are sound chronological reasons for supposing, this may be taken as the true time when the angel Gabriel first gave to the Church the words, "Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women;" words which have been associated with errors in doctrine and practice, but which are still words that come from God. It must have been about this time also, "in those days," that the Blessed Virgin was inspired to give to the Church the Canticle which has ever since been so dear to every generation. The words which she was thus inspired to speak respecting herself, and those which were spoken of her by the angel "sent from God," show to what an exalted place she was raised by the Providence of Almighty God: and her meek reception of the wonderful revelation shows a holiness in the subjection of her will to the will of the Lord, Whose handmaid she was, that no saint ever surpassed. Holy in her original character, her holiness was made more perfect by that most intimate union with Jesus which existed for nine months of her life. Little children were brought to Jesus that He might lay His hands on them, and thus sanctify them by the touch of a passing moment; but the same Jesus abode long in His Mother's bosom, His spotless Body was formed of her substance, and sanctified her both in what He received from her as Man, and what He gave to her as God. Not Eve when she was in Paradise could have been so holy as the Virgin Mary when she became a Paradise herself. Not even the glorified saints who have attained to the purity and bliss of Heaven are raised to higher blessedness and purity than that saintly maiden was whom Elizabeth was inspired to speak of as "the Mother of my Lord."

This sanctity of the Blessed Virgin Mary through her association with her Divine Son has always been kept vividly in view by the Church: but, while excess of sentiment on the one hand has led to an irreverent dishonour of her name by associating it with attributes of Deity, so want of faith in the principle of the Incarnation has led, on the other hand, to an irreverent depreciation of her sanctity. Our two principal and three minor festivals in honour of the Virgin and her work in the Incarnation point out the true course; to esteem her very highly above all other saints; but yet so that her honour may be to the glory of God.

Introit.—Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness; let the earth open, and let it bring forth salvation. [Alleluia. Alleluia.—If in Easter season.] Ps. And let righteousness spring up together; I the Lord have created it. Glory be.