Solemn Chapter of the Annunciation

This image of the Annunciation is placed at the head of the Chapter Hall for Solemn Chapter.

Sr. Denise Marie chants the Gospel...In the beginning was the WORD.

Sr. Mary Magdalene sits near the prioress as she reads her homily.

The community at Chapter.

One of our monastic customs is "Solemn Chapter" which occurs on the vigil of the great feasts of the Annunciation and Christmas. It takes place after Mass in the Chapter Hall and is the formal announcement of the coming solemnity. Often, the homily is given by a Sister chosen by the Prioress but kept secret until she says, "Would the Sister who is to give the homily please come forward?"

For Solemn Chapter of the Annunciation a chantress chants the Prologue of St. John also known as the "Last Gospel". Then, all the able-bodied sisters hit the floor (more or less!) to make the venia which is our Dominican way of asking pardon for our sins. Then the homily is given. Yes, a homily, because it is preached on the Gospel of the feast.

Following the homily the beautiful responsory from Christmas Matins, "Verbum Caro" is sung by the community. We usually don't get it perfect but we try!

Today our Sr. Mary Magdalene gave the homily, the text which is below. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

Solemn Chapter March 25, 2010

Sr. Mary Magdalene

“O Mary! Today by your conception you have brought our Savior to the world... O Mary, blessed are you among all women for ever… Today the Godhead has become one with our humanity in such a permanent bond that nothing can break it.” 1

When I was about 15 I used to focus a lot of energy on memorizing lines from this (un-recommended low budget) philosophical animated movie which I’m sure none of you have seen called “Waking Life”. There is a beginning scene in which the main character is walking down the street. A man in a car (which is actually a boat on wheels) pulls up and asks him if he’d like a ride. He ends his offer with the seemingly random statement, “To say ‘yes’ to this moment is to say ‘yes’ to all existence.” Upon first hearing this, I was baffled. I suppose his “yes” did change the course of the movie, but how could accepting a ride from this total stranger change the course of the universe? Aside from the C.S. Lewis concept that every encounter with someone is either pushing them towards hell or pulling them towards heaven, this truism makes the most sense in light of the Annunciation. When Our Lady said “yes” with complete free will, her fiat, she said “yes” to all existence. This individual “yes” changed the course of the universe.

As our big brother, St. Thomas tells us, “God could have restored human nature in any number of ways.” Yet, equal to NOTHING, the Incarnation illustrates the depth of His love for us. Our other big brother, Meister Eckhart gives this example: Imagine a very rich couple. Some unfortunate accident happens to the woman and she loses an eyeball. The husband tells her, “Don’t be sad, it’s just an eyeball.” She tells him, “I don’t care about the eye. I am very upset that you might not love me now.” The husband ponders this then decides that the best way to demonstrate the depth of his love is to gouge out his own eye. This story captures a small degree to which Christ was willing to lower himself out of pure love in a total gift of self. As with all analogies, this analogy falls short, because it’s missing the redemptive element. Still, it is vital to keep this total self gift in mind as we look at the Annunciation.

St. Luke tells us the first words spoken by Mary were “How can this be?” (Luke 1:34) Mary did not doubt that it would it happen, but questions the way this outcome will be brought about. “How can this be?” she asks, yet a more descriptive version of this question could be, “How could ANY two humans ever come together to conceive God?” And the angel’s ending response, “Nothing is impossible for God.” (Lk 1:37) What we perceive as a normal reality is at the complete service of the Lord, just like Mary. Through her faith and humility, Mary’s heart receives the words of the angel without any doubt. Furthermore, her virginity will be preserved for the greater good of the Kingdom, just like us. “The motherhood which is accomplished in her comes exclusively from the ‘power of the Most High.’ (Lk 1:32) ” 2

The Blessed Virgin’s parting words to the angel: “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord, be it done unto me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38) The beauty of the Annunciation echoes in each of our souls as we reiterate those words spoken by Mary. Three times a day we pray this, calling to mind what a bold example Our Lady left us. By placing herself at the complete disposition of God, Mary wills only what He wills.

I am reminded of an ancient duty of a Roman wife to her husband upon first arrival at the house, “Wherever you are, there also shall I be. Wheresoever your will leads you, there likewise my desires shall carry me.” 3 At the moment of the Incarnation by responding with her fiat, Mary conceived a man who is the Son of God. In every moment leading up to the Incarnation and every moment after, her heart beat a continual fiat. Whatever God wills, she wills. Obviously, we all had to echo this at least once or we wouldn’t be here now, sitting in this chapter hall. With that in mind, let us discuss the beauty of this vocation. The quotable quote from our 2010 patron, St. Augustine states, “Lord, thou has made us for Thyself & therefore our hearts are always restless til we find rest in Thee.” God alone can pacify the desires of our hearts. As we rid ourselves of worldly pleasures we become happier and holier, fulfilled in our vocation. The restlessness Augustine mentions is caused by the strange births born of man and worldly things in a sense conceiving evil within. However, on the other hand, in imitation of Mary “our attentiveness to the Word of God should release the springs of our fertility, to bear Christ in the world… hope takes flesh and blood in our life and words”. 4 Our vocation demands for us to be silent and wait for God’s Word to come. Just like Our Lady it requires emptiness. By Mary’s “yes” Christ was physically conceived in her womb, so too by our “yes” can Christ be spiritually conceived in us, and with reverberation of that “yes” He is conceived in others. With us a concern is expressed for all those who ask or don’t ask our prayers: the needy, the sick, handicapped, abandoned, orphans, elderly, children, imprisoned, etc. “Spousal love always involves a special readiness to be poured out for the sake of those who come within one’s range of activity.”2 My dear sisters, through all the obtainable resources and with purity of heart, we can conceive and bear fruit that change all existence. Just as the Gospel Acclimation of yesterday informs us, “Blessed are they who have kept the word in a generous heart and yield a harvest through perseverance.” (Lk 8:15)

Just as the lungs involuntarily breathe, and the eye involuntarily tracks movement (proved too true in choir), I propose the question: Wouldn’t it be the essence of spiritual motherhood to train our hearts to involuntarily beat compassion and charity for all existence? Our Holy Father, St. Dominic was known for his gift of bearing sinners, the down-trodden, and afflicted in the inmost sanctuary of his compassion.5 With that I conclude: Today let us rejoice for Christ loves us enough to “gouge out His eyeball”, and let us respond to that love with a “yes” to each and every small opportunity for charity, saying “yes” to all existence just like Our Lady over 2000 years ago in Nazareth.

1 St. Catherine of Siena

2 Pope John Paul II

3 Plutarch “Ubi tu Caius, ego Caia.”

4 Fr. Timothy Radcliffe, O.P.

5 Jordan of Saxony, Libellus n. 12