Saturday, March 25, 2023

Holy Announcement

 Today is the Solemnity of the Annunciation. From the Protevangelium of James (10-12):

And there was a council of the priests, saying: Let us make a veil for the temple of the Lord. And the priest said: Call to me the undefiled virgins of the family of David. And the officers went away, and sought, and found seven virgins. And the priest remembered the child Mary, that she was of the family of David, and undefiled before God. And the officers went away and brought her. And they brought them into the temple of the Lord. And the priest said: Choose for me by lot who shall spin the gold, and the white, and the fine linen, and the silk, and the blue, and the scarlet, and the true purple. And the true purple and the scarlet fell to the lot of Mary, and she took them, and went away to her house. And at that time Zacharias was dumb, and Samuel was in his place until the time that Zacharias spake. And Mary took the scarlet, and span it. 

And she took the pitcher, and went out to fill it with water. And, behold, a voice saying: Hail, thou who hast received grace; the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women! And she looked round, on the right hand and on the left, to see whence this voice came. And she went away, trembling, to her house, and put down the pitcher; and taking the purple, she sat down on her seat, and drew it out. And, behold, an angel of the Lord stood before her, saying: Fear not, Mary; for thou hast found grace before the Lord of all, and thou shalt conceive, according to His word. And she hearing, reasoned with herself, saying: Shall I conceive by the Lord, the living God? and shall I bring forth as every woman brings forth? And the angel of the Lord said: Not so, Mary; for the power of the Lord shall overshadow thee: wherefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of the Most High. And thou shalt call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins. And Mary said: Behold, the servant of the Lord before His face: let it be unto me according to thy word. 

And she made the purple and the scarlet, and took them to the priest. And the priest blessed her, and said: Mary, the Lord God hath magnified thy name, and thou shall be blessed in all the generations of the earth.

The Protevangelium of James is a hagiography of the Virgin Mary that seems to have been in circulation around the middle of the second century. It plays an enormous role in the imagination of the Church. I suppose the closest analogy in our day would be the Christmas pageant -- the basic Christmas pageant is not canonical, and not really intended to be, but it's an attempt to translate the Gospel stories and our sense of what was prophesied of Christ into an imaginative form, and shapes how we talk about the story. Whatever the original intention of the work, this is essentially how it was used by the Church Fathers -- not canonical in itself, but as a book of legends that have a certain plausibility as narrative and provide a vividly imaginable account of the events of Mary's early life leading up to the visit by the Magi and the death of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. It is the source that gives us the traditional names of the Virgin's parents, Joachim and Anna, and one of the most important Marian feasts of the East, the Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple, is based in part on the Protevangelium's account of Mary as one of the young girls who were consecrated to serve in the Temple -- for instance by spinning and sowing the cloth needed for various functions, as she does in the section above. Note incidentally, that Mary is chosen by lot to spin the scarlet thread, which represents blood, and the purple thread, which represents royalty, which foreshadows the coming of Christ.