25 March 2014

'Behold the handmaid of the Lord.' The Annunciation

The Annunciation, El Greco, 1595-1600 [Web Gallery of Art]

Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.

Fr Donnchadh Ó Floinn (1902 - 1968) was a priest of the Archdiocese of Dublin who wrote 201 short meditations in Irish Gaelic for The Far East, the monthly magazine of the Columbans in Ireland, from March 1949 till April 1967. In 2003 they were published by Foilseacháin Ábhair Spioradálta, which specializes in spiritual books in Irish and is run by the Jesuits, under the title Aibhleoga Crábhaidh‘Sparks of Devotion’. Fifty of these had come out in book form before under the same publisher in 1957 with the title Caoga Árdú Meanman, which could be translated as 'Fifty Raisings of the Spirit’. The editor of Aibhleoga Crábhaidh was Fr Iognáid Ó Maoleachlainn of the Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise.

Father Ó Floinn’s spirituality was suffused with a deep devotion to Mary and many of his short articles were reflections on the mysteries of the rosary, though not in a systematic way. He sometimes returned to the same mystery a number of times. His reflection on The Handmaid of the Lord is below.

The Annunciation, El Greco, 1603-05 [Web Gallery of Art]

Like Father Ó Floinn, El Greco was drawn to the theme of the Annunciation. Web Gallery of Art has ten of his paintings of this scene done between 1568 and  1614.

The Handmaid of the Lord

Banóglach an Tiarna

‘The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary’ – imagine that bright and glorious spirit in conversation with the young girl in the little town of Nazareth, and listen carefully to her answer. What should a person say when she receives a message from heaven? Should she say nothing at all? Or a lot, putting herself down? Mary gave as an answer only a dozen or so words, but those dozen words were full of the wisdom of the Holy Spirit.

‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord’ – there are two things to note about that answer: firstly, it is the first thing every creature should say, because it shows the most basic root of our nature; secondly, it is an answer that embraces the whole life of the Virgin Mary- from Nazareth to heaven and from that March day to the edge of eternity.

Each person is by nature a slave of God. But it’s mostly to creatures that we are slaves: we are slave to ourselves, we are slaves to the gods of gold and silver, we are slaves to things that are insignificant, or to things, however noble and beautiful, that are passing – what wonder then that we become anxious when we’re at war with our own nature?

But Mary - who never spent a moment as a slave except to her Son: in Nazareth taking care of their little house; in Jerusalem watching during the Passion; waiting patiently to be taken to heaven; yes, and even in heaven today, the Queen of angels, isn’t she still the Handmaid of the Lord, guiding the Church and sharing graces?

Ecce Virgo concipiet 
SATTB motet by William Byrd (c. 1540-1623)
Performed by Stile Antico on their CD of English Tudor music for the seasons of Advent and Christmas. 

Antiphona ad communionem  Isaiah 7:14

Ecce Virgo concipiet, 
    et pariet Filium; 
et vocabitur nomen 
    eius Emmanuel.

Communion Antiphon  Isiaiah 7:14

Behold, a Virgin shall conceive 
    and bear a son; 
and his name will be 
    called Emmanuel.

[This is a re-working of a post I published on 9 October 2009.]

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