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Upholding the Faith and Order of the Church
Tuesday October 17th 2017

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The Creche, The Cross, And Mary

Ebersmunster_Abbatiale049From the Prologue of the Gospel of St. John, vs. 1-4, 14: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.”

Anglo-Catholics, in particular, and Anglicans, in general, are often chided by their critics for what they perceive as an over-emphasis on the Doctrine of the Incarnation, to the detriment of the more central, saving act of the Atonement, the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross.

It’s true, of course, that catholic-minded Christians do love to go on and on about the Incarnation, and its immense implications: matter matters; material things are good, and not intrinsically evil; water, bread and wine, and oil, in and beyond themselves, convey a meaning that hints at divinity.
As St. John reminds us in his Prologue, using some of the most exalted prose in the New Testament, “The Word became flesh.”

Our Christian faith helps us hold together things which often get separated: faith and practice; word and sacrament; law and mercy; work and rest; giving and receiving. And so it is with Incarnation and Atonement. They both reflect the same Divine Plan, and are inextricable. The Atonement presents the saving “work” of Christ, breaking down the barrier of enmity between the righteous God and a sinful humanity by His passion and sacrificial death on the Cross, bringing salvation to the world. But who is this Christ doing this work? That is the question the Incarnation answers. The Incarnation shows us who He is.

At a moment in time, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, God the Son, took flesh of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and was made Man. St. Luke recounts this in Chapter 1 of his Gospel. The Angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will conceive a child by the Holy Spirit, and call him Jesus. And Mary said, “I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your Word.”

Catholic-minded Christians are often criticized for their devotion to Mary. They are told this diminishes the proper attention that should be paid to Jesus. But again, both are necessary and should be held together. Devotion to Mary leads to worship of her son, Jesus. When Mary said “Yes” to the Angel Gabriel, she was a “type” of all humanity, in receiving what God wants to give, His Grace. And after receiving Him, she shared Him with the world. Because of her willingness to be a part of the drama of redemption, the Fathers, at the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D., declared her the Theotokos, the God-bearer, sheltering in her womb, Jesus, both God and Man; one divine person with two natures, divine and human.

In reflecting on the Annunciation, St. Thomas Aquinas writes, “The angel’s reverent salutation of Mary is a complete reversal of roles from the Old Testament, in which men revered angels. Such reverence was due to angels because they have a spiritual and incorruptible nature, are more familiar with God, and partake most fully of the divine light.” In revering Mary, then, the Angel Gabriel is showing she surpasses the angels in these three aspects. Only someone “full of Grace” could merit such extraordinary reverence.

So, for nine months, the Blessed Virgin Mary harbored divinity within herself, a living “ark of the New Covenant” bearing the “holy of holies” but not consumed by the divine fire; a living tabernacle containing the “Real Presence.” We know that when a mother gives birth, some of her baby’s cells remain in her body for the rest of her life. So even after the Nativity of Jesus, Mary continued to harbor divinity within her body. This is why Mary matters, and is honored.

Mary helps us in understanding who her son Jesus is. She is the closest human being to Him. She was present at His birth, throughout His life, and she stood at the foot of the cross and was with Him in His death. Through her, we and all humanity are united in that reality, the saving drama of redemption, which holds together both Crèche and Cross.

Fr. Terence Jordan, semi-retired, is assisting at St. Mark’s Church, Arlington, Texas. He is the Superior of the Society of Mary in the Dallas Fort Worth area.

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