Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Laetare, Light and the Annunciation

On another place, to which I might or might now link due to some unpleasantness, I described what Laetare and Gaudete Sundays were and why the rose coloured vestments were so appropriate. After delving into that briefly, I began to think more about it, and then to come to some interesting conclusions about "light." This in turn lead me to think about today in the calendar.

After that little introduction ...

After that little introduction I should first lay out the explication I gave on that other site:

Each of these Sundays is a hopeful reminder of the goal we're moving towards. They are to their Liturgical Seasons what the Transfiguration was to the Apostles, a foretaste of the Resurrection. So too the Rose vestments remind us "Hang in there, the great and wonderful thing we're moving towards is almost here! Rejoice! Be glad! Exult!" Because, these Seasons, without a Laetare or Gaudete can very much become the opposite of what we want to achieve. They can be overwhelming with our self-reflection, when we should be overjoyed at the great gift that was (in the case of Lent) Christ's sacrifice for our sins.

Now, the important thing to note about these two Sundays, and we'll just focus on Laetare going forward, is that they are like the Transfiguration in a sense. The Transfiguration gave the Apostles a foretaste of the Risen Lord by way of His Glorified Body. How particularly appropriate for Lent then is Laetare Sunday since it is precisely the Resurrection we're moving towards celebrating.

It is no surprise that of the three cycles' readings, the two that come from John make much of this concept of "light." In cycle A, which is also used whenever we welcome new brothers and sisters into the church, Christ declares in the story of the Man Born Blind that He is the Light of the World. In cycle B, Christ tells Nicodemus much the same thing. Indeed the word "φῶς" appears in the Gospel of John numerous time from beginning to end. The Gospel of John is suffused, in fact, with the light of Christ. That is why it is so apropos that we use John on Sundays like Laetare and extensively throughout the Easter Season. What I said in my previous Laetare post should come to mind: the Gospel of John is predominantly concerned with Christ's Divinity. Which is why it is so suffused with the Light of Christ.


Now, it was a convoluted line of thinking on my part, but I did begin to think a lot about the Light that came into Mary's life at the Annunciation. I think about this, because today we hear the reading as the Greek correctly states it. In order words, the greeting of the angel is "full of grace." Now, "highly favoured" and so on are not incorrect per se. The Greek means to have grace fully poured out into someone, but grace can also mean favour. I have always taken the position, much to my chagrin, that the translators want you to hear the word play with "you have found favour with God." But for today, the reading from the Gospel serves the purpose that I believe the text is actually saying. Mary was completely and irrevocably filled with grace.

Mother Theresa noted that Mary was full of grace just by carrying Christ in her womb. Christ's Incarnation after all is a grace. But it is more than this. When Gabriel came to her, she was already full of grace and the perfective was used to describe her. Her conception was a future tense at the precise moment of the Annunciation. The promise by the angel was already efficient, it was going to happen. And yet there is a sense that her "may it be done to me according to thy word" was not unnecessary.

Now, I see in this story numerous things. I see the grace of Christ's Incarnation. IN this whole tableau between angel and Virgin, Christ is ever at the centre. The whole narrative happened to give Him the glory. God's will, His desire to pick this poor Nazarene Virgin out of any others was irrefutable. Yet her free will was never diminished. God remained sovereign, but Mary remained free. As a Thomist, and especially as a Bañezian Thomist, I find a perfect example of how God can predestine things without overriding free will. In the beginning, He moved all determined things to their determined ends, and all free things to their free ends. This seems to me a perfect example of that very fact. God's will could not be undone here, and yet Mary clearly had a choice she freely made.

Now, a good Thomist (as I aspire to be) points out that the being full of grace made her completely free to make the right choice, that is, whatever is the will of God. Why? Because it healed her will. And in a way that was akin to, no indeed was the state of Original Justice (hence her conception most immaculate). The way St Thomas described this in the Summa was to say that God moves all things to Himself according to their natures and it is human nature to have free will; ergo, the freedom of Man's will is paradoxically used to move Man to predestined ends. It seems to me logically necessary, although I know others disagree, that Mary had to be completely healed so that her free-will could be in complete accord with God's in this matter. That might not get everyone all the way to the Immaculate Conception, but it goes a ways (and yes, I understand full well some of the immediate objections. Interestingly, St Thomas dealt with those too, but in different contexts).

And this brings me back to "light," the Light of God's grace, which heals, frees us and turns us to God. It is appropriate on these two days, Laetare and the Annunciation to give great joy for the bounty of God's grace, not least of which was His own Free Gift of Himself to us and for us.

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