26 March 2007

What a day!

The church was packed this morning as we celebrated the Solemnity of the Annunciation, and what a magnificent celebration it was! One of our favorite hymns is “Sing we of the Blessed Mother,” sung to “Rustington,” which is such a marvelous tune. As the procession moved towards the altar, the smoking thurible marking the way, every voice was belting it out. The Casavant organ was raising the roof, and the organist was having a good time filling in between some of the verses so we’d have plenty of time to incense the altar.

And then, the choir! It was our Academy’s select choir of about eighty children’s voices, singing the Messe d'Escalquens by Jean Langlois. This is the same choir which sang the American premiere of this Mass setting early in February, and I must say they were in fine form.

At the Offertory everyone joined in singing the delightful Basque carol with the words by Sabine Baring-Gould:

The angel Gabriel from heaven came,
With wings as drifted snow, with eyes as flame:
"All hail to thee, O lowly maiden Mary,
Most highly favored lady." Gloria!

"For know a blessed mother thou shalt be,
All generations laud and honor thee;
Thy son shall be Emmanuel, by seers foretold,
Most highly favored lady." Gloria!

Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head;
"To me be as it pleaseth God," she said.
"My soul shall laud and magnify God’s holy name."
Most highly favored lady." Gloria!

Of her, Emmanuel, the Christ, was born
In Bethlehem all on a Christmas morn,
And Christian folk through-out the world will ever say:
"Most highly favored lady." Gloria!

I spoke to the students about the wonderful mystery we were celebrating, and took them back to the protoevangelium in the book of Genesis, so they could understand what was in God’s Divine mind from the beginning, and how this solemnity is really the incarnation of God’s great love for us.

We always genuflect at the mention of the Incarnation when we say the Creed, and I explained that today we would actually kneel on both our knees in awe of the Mystery of the Word Made Flesh. That always reminds me of the story of the old man from Cornwall after the protestant reformation – a staunch Catholic who could not imagine being anything else – who was visiting a rather low Anglican parish. He genuflected during the Creed, and was asked afterward why he persisted in doing such a Popish thing. His answer: “God made Hisself small for me, so I makes meself small for Him.” There’s wisdom for you. Of course, it probably wouldn’t play too well in most liturgy offices.

As it came time for Holy Communion, the number of communicants was increased with our Second Graders, who had been confirmed and received their First Holy Communion this past Saturday. How beautiful it was to see these little ones concentrating so intensely, trying to coordinate saying “Amen” while at the same time getting their tongues positioned just right to receive the intincted Host. For some, it will take a bit more practice to get it down smoothly!

And then, on the way out, we sang the old barn-burner, “Hail, Holy Queen.” The experts would probably think it too Marian for the day, but too bad. Humble Nazareth maiden though she was, she is after all our heavenly Queen. And we’re happy to shout that to the rafters.