There are many artist depictions of the remarkable moment the angel Gabriel greets Mary and, to her astonishment, delivers God’s message that she will conceive and bear a son. As a devout Jew familiar with the Messianic prophecies she learns she will be the mother of Emmanuel – God with Us – the child who will one day rule all the nations, who will be the light of the world, and the fulfillment of God’s promises to his children of Israel. It is Mary’s “yes” that puts God’s plan into motion; and in that yes, a “yes” we call Mary’s “fiat,” we are reminded that God’s invitations always invite a response.
As my good friend, Patrick van der Vorst at Christian Art suggests, the story of the Annunciation in Luke’s Gospel is a reminder that, “We too can be filled with grace and let grace be poured into our hearts, if like [Mary], we listen and respond to God’s message of love.”
As this Advent season draws to a close, as we anticipate and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ at this Christ’s Mass – this Christmas – let us ask the Holy Spirit to open our hearts to receive God’s loving invitation meant for all of us – for each of us. In the words of the late Francis Cardinal George, “When our hearts are open the Lord can change and transform us, so that one day we can speak with love about the One who is love.”
Come, Holy Spirit!
That is a beautiful message of this Advent season. We must open wide the doors of our hearts to Christ. Such openness can be our response. Let us then invite Jesus into that space and ask him to enkindle the dark recesses of our heart to let his light shine and inflame us with his love. Let us invite the Holy Spirit to dwell within us so that we – body, mind, and spirit – may be a temple worthy of the Lord.
Come, Lord Jesus!
Mary is the preeminent model of Christian discipleship. We would do well every day to respond to God with an attitude of expectation – one of active anticipation. When God’s invitation came Mary was ready. Are we?
For a Gospel reflection about this painting please enjoy below.
Peace be with you!
Disciple of Christ | Son of the Church
The fine arts, but above all sacred art, “of their nature are directed toward expressing in some way the infinite beauty of God in works made by human hands….”
A reading from the holy Gospel according to Luke 1:26-38
In the sixth month,
the angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David,
and the virgin’s name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said,
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her,
“Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”
But Mary said to the angel,
“How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?”
And the angel said to her in reply,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God.”
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”
Then the angel departed from her.
The Gospel of the Lord
Reflection on the Painting
by Patrick van der Vorst
Our painting beautifully depicts the Annunciation. The Angel Gabriel has come at God’s behest to announce to Mary that she will conceive and give birth to a son, whom she is to call Jesus. The dove of the Holy Spirit, in a burst of golden light, descends upon the Virgin at the same moment that the Angel Gabriel raises his right hand in blessing. Whilst the room is flooded with natural light coming through the open window, the purpose of the lit candle in the top left corner is not to provide illumination, but instead signals the presence of God at the Annunciation.
The domestic setting of the scene is charming and highly detailed. Look for example at the Book of Hours that Our Lady is reading. The partially-visible illuminated left page therein appears to show a thin tree trunk encircled by a snake next to a naked figure. It thus refers to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. But redemption is close, by Christ’s Incarnation and sacrifice on the cross. An image of Moses holding the Tablets of the Law is on the wall next to an unlit chandelier. The placement of the dove between the Moses print and Mary suggests a transition from the Old Law to the New Law. Mary’s purity is symbolised by the lilies in the vase and by the basin and ewer with the white folded towel.
There is plenty to look at in this painting. The gentle, subtle references to Scripture are charming. Above all, it is a beautiful depiction of today’s Gospel reading, where we are told how Mary was listening to God. With tenderness and openness she heard the message of the angel and responded with an unconditional ‘yes’. We too can be filled with grace and let grace be poured into our hearts, if like her, we listen and respond to God’s message of love. Our unconditional ‘yes’ to all that God wants from us will make us fulfil our mission and make us blossom.
Credit: Patrick van der Vorst, Gospel Reading for Today, Christian Art, "The angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth" December 20, 2021; https://www.christian.art/todays-reading.php . Information herein posted under the "rules of fair use" to foster education and discussion in accordance with Section 107 of the Copyright Act 1976.
For the Mass readings of this Monday of the 4th Week in Advent, visit https://bible.usccb.org/daily-bible-reading.
Truth, Beauty, and Sacred Art
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church
Created “in the image of God,” man also expresses the truth of his relationship with God the Creator by the beauty of his artistic works. Indeed, art is a distinctively human form of expression; beyond the search for the necessities of life which is common to all living creatures, art is a freely given superabundance of the human being’s inner riches. Arising from talent given by the Creator and from man’s own effort, art is a form of practical wisdom, uniting knowledge and skill, to give form to the truth of reality in a language accessible to sight or hearing. To the extent that it is inspired by truth and love of beings, art bears a certain likeness to God’s activity in what he has created. Like any other human activity, art is not an absolute end in itself, but is ordered to and ennobled by the ultimate end of man (CCC 2501).
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
Saint Paul, Letter to the Philippians 4:8
St. Paul, Apostle, Martyr, pray for us.
Be not afraid! And may the peace of Christ be with you and your loved ones today and always. Holy Family, pray for us. Amen.