Andy Hawes is Warden of Edenham Regional Retreat House
For all those who cherish the fullness of the faith, the Feast of the Annunciation of Our Lord (25 March) must be an extra-red letter day. I was appalled recently to hear of a priest leading a retreat day before Christmas posing the question ‘How many of you can put your hand on your heart and say you really believe in the Virgin Birth?’
For the Christian the Incarnation of the Our Lord is not an option, it is the keystone around which the doctrine and ethics of Christian life hang. Without it all that is left is a pile of rubble out of which something ramshackle can be constructed. It follows that contemplation of the Incarnation is the foundation of prayer: prayer being our relationship with Christ in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. Prayer and doctrine cannot be separated.
Our understanding of our partaking in the sacramental life of the Church will also be shaped by the attitude of our mind, heart and will to Jesus Incarnate. For those readers who attend churches where the Blessed Sacrament is permanently reserved, I advise you regularly to place yourself deliberately
in sight of it and keep the mind and will fixed on the Lord as being present in all the perfect simplicity of the Host. This can have the effect of ‘renewing the mind after the manner of Christ Jesus’ challenging the pervading dead hand of materialism and relativism which is the cause of spiritual death in so many. The wisdom of God is foolishness to man and we must embrace the radical presence of God eternal who wondrously makes himself present in our space and our time.
As the compilers of the Book of Common Prayer knew very well, the truth of the Incarnation cannot be upheld without honouring Mary Mother of God. The reformers were careful to preserve the Marian feasts and in their
collects and readings handed down the fullness of Orthodoxy. The daily praying of the Magnificat in Evening Prayer provided a living conduit to communion with her whom ‘all generations will call blessed.’ I know after over thirty years as a parish priest in ‘middle of the road’ Anglican parishes that for many Marian devotion of any kind is forbidden territory; although most haven’t a clue why they hold such strong reservations.
I have no wish to trample on such tender sensitivities but I have always encouraged parishioners to see Mary as a friend and mother. Her will and the will of Jesus are always seen as one in Scripture from the first sign at Cana until his death. She is always present; holding him in birth and death, and present both at his conception in the Annunciation and the birth of the Church at Pentecost.
For those readers who struggle with an invitation to be a companion in prayer with the Mother of Our Lord it might be helpful to remember that Gabriel addresses her as ‘full of grace.’ The claim of the Church throughout the ages has always been that this ‘fullness of grace’ has never ended and that the Lord is still with her.