‘The historical event by which God’s own Son became Man, called the annunciation, is commemorated twice each year in the Roman liturgy – today on Ember Wednesday and on March 25. The latter is a Marian feast, while today’s liturgy centres on our Blessed Saviour, even though the stational church is St Mary Major and much of the Mass text is devoted to the Blessed Virgin. In both cases the liturgy stresses history. March 25 commemorates the day of our Lord’s conception, nine months before Christmas; on Ember Wednesday, just before Christmas, the liturgy emphasises the Old Testament background leading to His birth. There is solemn grandeur in the mystery of today’s liturgy, a grandeur which merits it a position along with the chiefest events of Jesus’ life, His birth, and His death.
Today the second Divine Person of the Blessed Trinity was united to a human nature, truly the beginning of mankind’s salvation. It would seem that the occasion of Christ’s assuming flesh should be as great a feast as Christmas. Such actually was the thinking during the Middle Ages. At that time March 25 marked the beginning of the civil year. Today’s Mass, the Missa Aurea or “Golden Mass,” was very highly esteemed. Prompted by the text of the formulary, the holy Abbot St Bernard delivered his famous homilies entitled Super Missus est, which occur in part in the Breviary. The fact that the Rorate Mass, still celebrated often in certain places during Advent, is derived from this Mass, indicates wide popular interest. Among the faithful there existed intense devotion toward the mystery of the annunciation. As a result the Hail Mary was developed and added to the Our Father; and three times daily the Angelus bells pealed, reminding everyone of this sublime event in his salvation. At the phrase, “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us,” in the Angelus and in the Last Gospel, as also at the Et incarnatus est in the Credo, a genuflection was introduced to show reverence for the mystery of the incarnation.
All this helps us to realise the wealth of meaning inherent in today’s liturgy. Nor may we overlook the similarity between holy Mass and the incarnation itself. At Mass Christ becomes truly incarnate under the appearances of bread and wine. Therefore we do not merely commemorate the event; it actually is repeated in a sacramental manner. At the consecration we can say in all truth: “The Word is made flesh!”’
from The Church’s Year of Grace, 1959, by Pius Parsch 1884-1954
Fr Lee Kenyon