Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., delivered the following homily for the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, following his joining in the worldwide Consecration of Russia, Ukraine and all of humanity to the Immaculate Heart of Mary March 25 in St. Mary of Assumption Cathedral, Trenton.

Homily on the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25, St. Mary of the Assumption Cathedral, Trenton

Today, the Catholic Church throughout the world interrupts the continuing sobriety of the season of Lent to celebrate the solemn feast of the Annunciation of the Lord.  We hear the familiar passages from holy Scripture, Isaiah anticipating and predicting that “the Virgin shall be with child and bear a son, Emmanuel, God is with us!” In the Gospel of St. Luke, that prophecy is made personal as it is brought by the angel Gabriel to the ears of the Virgin Mary, whose “yes” to God immediately brought into her womb the very Son of God. 

St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) wrote of this moment “Him whom the heavens cannot contain, the womb of one woman bore.  She ruled the Ruler; she carried Him in whom we are … she gave milk to our Bread.”  The Annunciation to the Virgin Mary was that instance in human history when the “Word became Flesh and dwelt among us.”  Pope Benedict XVI referred to this passage at the beginning of St. Luke’s Gospel as “a humble, hidden event – no one saw it, no one except Mary knew it – but, at the same time, it was crucial to the history of humanity.  When the Virgin said ‘yes’ to the Angel’s announcement, Jesus was conceived and with Him began a new era of history” (“Holy Days: Meditations on the Feasts, Fasts, and Other Solemnities of the Church”). The world was changed forever in the moment this solemn feast commemorates today.  In opening her womb to the Holy Spirit, the Virgin Mary opened the door to our salvation.

“Today is therefore a day,” Pope Francis has reflected, “in which we should thank the Lord and ask ourselves: am I a man or woman who says, ‘yes’ or am I a man or woman who says ‘no’ or who looks the other way in order to avoid responding?”  In many ways, this beautiful, joyful, solemn feast interrupting our penitential observance of Lent becomes a perfect meditation for what the whole of Lent tries to accomplish within us. In the Garden of Eden, Eve tied a knot with Adam through their sin and unbelief; in the Annunciation, the Virgin Mary untied that knot and set us free through her faith, through her open obedience to God’s will. Mary is sometimes referred to as “the Undoer of Knots.”  That image, depicted in a 17th century German painting, brings us to her today as we confront the “knots” we make in our daily lives.

Again, Pope Francis speaks to us of two great lessons from the Virgin Mary. The first is a lesson of faith in which she “believes and proclaims that God does not leave his children alone, humble and poor, but sustains them with merciful care” and love (Angelus, Feast of the Assumption 2015). Through the Annunciation, God put us in direct, personal contact with his Divine Son. That is what the Church throughout the world celebrates today.

The second lesson is that “life is not a senseless wandering but a pilgrimage which, with all our sufferings … that has a sure destination” (Angelus, Feast of the Assumption 2015).  The Virgin Mary’s “yes” of faith puts us on the clear path of faith to the Lord Jesus Christ himself – from the moment Gabriel’s words were spoken to her and she accepted his message – through the whole of his life – to the Cross and Resurrection. “I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be done to me as you say.” On this feast we are called by her innocence, humility, courage, obedience and example to make her words our own.

In our troubled world at this very moment, unsettled by the outrage, carnage and destruction of the current war in Ukraine, we turn to Mary once more – as we have done so often throughout the history of the Church – and place within her Immaculate Heart, in a profound act of consecration, Russia and Ukraine, as we pray for peace there.

O Immaculate Heart of Mary, lead us to the heart of your Son; Our Lady Queen of peace, O Mary Undoer of Knots, pray for us!