Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Silence That Must Be

Trying to grasp the meaning of this mystery, the Virgin asked the holy messenger: “How is it possible that a son be born from a virginal womb? Tell me.” And he answered her with awe, crying out in these words:

Hail, O hidden Sense of the ineffable Plan!
Hail, O Belief in Silence that must be!
Hail, O Forecast of the marvels of Christ;
Hail, O Fountainhead of truths concerning Him!

Hail, celestial Ladder by whom God came down;
Hail, O Bridge leading earthly ones to heaven!
Hail, O Wonder, ever-thrilling to the angels;
Hail, O Wound ever-hurting to the demons!

Hail, O you who gave birth to Light ineffably;
Hail, O you who told no one how it was done!
Hail, O you who surpass the wisdom of the wise;
Hail, O you who enlighten faithful minds!

Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure!

Akathist Hymn to the Mother of God
Reflection – ‘Does the feast of the Assumption have an Octave?’ Someone asked me this on Facebook yesterday. The answer is technically no, but on the other hand, the memorial of the Queenship of Mary falls precisely one week after August 15, so there is a sort of unofficial sub-liturgical octave at play here.

Because of that, and also because it is really, really beautiful, I wanted to share bits and pieces of the Byzantine Akathist hymn to Our Lady, which is done at various points of the liturgical year and which we do on the eve of the feast. We see hear the basic form of the chants I am going to share on this blog: in telling the story of the Incarnation, the various characters of the Bible—in this case Gabriel—break out in rapturous praise of the Mother of God and her awesome privilege from God.

The language is lavish, poetic, packed with imagery laden with theological depth of meaning. It is sung to a tone that is simple but very melodic—unfortunately, I can’t give you the full beauty of the chant here.

The general theme of this chant is the utter mystery of the plan of God. We do not try to analyze exactly how a virgin could become pregnant, exactly how God did this work. In the Christian tradition, we speak of the Annunciation of the event, of Mary pregnant going to visit Elizabeth, and of the birth in Bethlehem, but concerning the actual event of the conception of Christ in Mary’s womb, we say precisely nothing.

We draw a curtain of silence and mystery over this event—only Our Lady and God Himself know ‘how it was done’, and the rest of us are left in ineffable wonder. This is really quite important. This is the ‘silence that must be’, the place where no one is allowed to trespass on the sole prerogative of God to act and to know the scope and manner of His own acting.

It is also true of the other key mysteries of our faith. No one witnessed the resurrection; no one really knows what happened spiritually and metaphysically when God died on the Cross, when His body lay in the tomb and his spirit descended into hell. Nobody knows; and here, in the moment of the Incarnation nobody knows but Mary, and even she must ‘know’ only in the sense of wonder of awe and marvel at the great deeds of God.

As with Jesus and Mary and the great events of salvation, so it is with us, too, you know. I am a spiritual director and journey with many people at a considerable level of depth and intimacy. Properly speaking, a directee should tell his or her director everything about their inner and outer life.

But you learn pretty quickly in that line of work that the action of God in the soul is a deep and hidden mystery, an ineffable plan, a silence that must be, a bringing forth of light into darkness, wonder and awe to the powers of light, mortal wound to the powers of darkness, and no one can say how it is done.

And Mary stands at the very frontier of that mystery in each of our lives, the place where each of us, in our own proper way, conceives Christ in our flesh by the power of God, the action of the Spirit. Mary is the midwife of the life of Christ in our souls, and her own embrace of and dwelling in that mystery, her ‘belief in the silence that must be’ is a powerful help to us in accepting the mystery of our own life and the work of God in our life.

It surpasses the wisdom of the wise and enlightens the minds of the faithful, this ladder and bridge which God has established from the flesh of Mary and in which she continues to play a vital and necessary part. Hail, O Bride and Maiden ever-pure.