“She freely offered herself and cooperated with God,
allowing her flesh to eclipse the divinity of her Son by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit.”


Is 7:10-14; 8:10 , Heb 10:4-10 , Lk 1:26-38

The Gospel of St Luke describes a total eclipse of the sun in Chapter 23, verse 44: “It was about twelve o’clock when the sun stopped shining and darkness covered the whole country until three o’clock.” This was an eclipse of the humanity of Christ, for there were no visible signs of life in that body on the cross.

But earlier in the same Gospel of St Luke, there was a similar eclipse of the divinity of Christ, who always had the nature of God, but emptied himself, as St Paul would say with reference to the Annunciation. God began by informing her and by waiting for her act of faith before accomplishing his work. When he was about to bring his firstborn Son into the world, he included the Virgin Mary in his planning.

That means that the incarnation was not only the work of the Father who decided on it, nor only the power of the Holy Spirit who overshadowed Mary. It was also the work of Mary’s will and faith. God made her his mother and so took his humanity from her flesh while she was fully conscious and consenting. She was not some sort of passive instrument moved from outside, as when the moon eclipses the sun and overshadows the earth. Rather, she freely offered herself and cooperated with God, allowing her flesh to eclipse the divinity of her Son by the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit.

And just as Jesus was not to be a man in his flesh alone but also in his soul and in all that is human, so also, he needed a fully human mother who would prepare for his birth not only with her body but also with her spirit and will and with her whole being. In that way, the Virgin Mary would become a mother in her body and soul and bear a fully human being developing in her womb until his birth.

“I am the handmaid of the Lord,” she said. “May it be done to me according to your word.” She spoke, and the effect was that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” As soon as Mary had given God her reply, she received the Spirit who formed in her womb that flesh in whom “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” Nicholas Cabasilas, a Greek monk of the 14th century, summed it all up in something he wrote in a homily for the Annunciation: “The Word of God is conceived at the word of the mother, and the Creator is created at the word of the creature.”

“Let there be light,” God had said, “and there was light”, as we heard in the first reading of the Easter Vigil. In much the same way, as soon as Mary had spoken, the true light dawned: “the real light that gives light to everyone coming into the world.” She bestowed her flesh and blood on him, and after his death on the cross, she was the first to conform herself to the Son who resembled her, and so she shared in his resurrection before all others, at her Assumption into heaven, body and soul.

The Easter Vigil began with the lighting of the paschal candle and the deacon proclaiming, “the light of Christ”. The first day after the Easter Octave recalls how Mary allowed that light to be eclipsed in her womb for nine months so that he could be born and die as a human being and rise again. Now the faithful can say, with the apostle John, “We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” And we can sing in the words of an old Easter hymn:

Love’s redeeming work is done, Fought the fight, the battle won;
Lo! Our Sun’s eclipse is o’er; Lo! He sets in blood no more.

And we may add, with Mary: Soar we now where Christ has led; Following our exalted Head.
Made like Him, like Him, we rise; Ours the cross, the grave, the skies. Alleluia

Fr. Justin Sheehan, OCSO