“For our Lord did not simply will to become embodied, or will merely to appear. For if He willed merely to appear, He was able to effect His divine appearance by some other and higher means as well. But He takes a body of our kind, and not merely so, but from a spotless and stainless virgin, knowing not a man, a body clean and in very truth pure from intercourse of men. For being Himself mighty, and Artificer of everything, He prepares the body in the Virgin as a temple unto Himself, and makes it His very own as an instrument, in it manifested, and in it dwelling.” –Saint Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word, Ch. 8, #3
The Incarnation is truly the most immense event that has ever and will ever take place. It was what all history was trend toward and which all that has come since has flowed from. When the most Holy Trinity sent its emissary Saint Gabriel the Archangel out of all eternity singing its praises down to a young virgin praying in her room and kneeling before her told her of her most elevated of all vocations and in her humility she accepted and at her word the Second Person of the Most Blessed Trinity came down and was incarnate in her womb. From this mystery all else flows and in this mystery is contained our salvation, for it was in this action of the Godhead that our Lord was given flesh, blood, and His human nature by his own creature, and with this He taught His doctrine, performed His miracles, instituted the Sacraments, and eventually suffered and died for us. And all of that was a direct result of the incarnation.
Now, Angels by nature are messengers and this in fact is what the word “angel” means. We then find that Gabriel the Archangel is the angel par excellence as he it was who was sent with the most important messages ever given from God to mankind.
This is what Dom Prosper Gueranger writes on this topic in his: The Liturgical Year:
So far in the Church’s Calendar, we have not met with any Feast in honour of the Holy Angels. Amidst the ineffable joys of Christmas Night, we mingled our timid but glad voices with the Hymns of these heavenly Spirits, who sang around the Crib of our Emmanuel. The very recollection brings joy to our hearts, saddened as they now are by penitential feelings and by the near approach of the mournful anniversary of our Jesus’ Death. Let us, for a moment, interrupt our sadness, and keep the Feast of the Archangel Gabriel. Later on, we shall have Michael, Raphael, and the countless host of the Angel Guardians; but to-day, the seventh from the Annunciation, it is just that we should honour Gabriel. Yes, a week hence, and we shall see this heavenly Ambassador of the Blessed Trinity coming down to the Virgin of Nazareth; let us, therefore, recommend ourselves to him, and beseech him to teach us how to celebrate, in a becoming manner, the grand Mystery of which he was the Messenger.
Gabriel is one of the first of the Angelic Kingdom. He tells Zachary, that he stands before the face of God.(Lk 1:19) He is the Angel of the Incarnation, because it is in this Mystery, which apparently is so humble, that the power of God is principally manifested: and Gabriel signifies the strength of God. We find the Archangel preparing for his sublime office, even in the Old Testament. First of all, he appears to Daniel, after this Prophet had had the vision of the Persian and Grecian Empires; and such was the majesty of his person that Daniel fell on his face trembling. (Dan. 8:17) Shortly afterwards, he appears again to the same Prophet, telling him the exact time of the coming of the Messias: Know thou and take notice: that from the going forth of the word to build up Jerusalem again, unto Christ the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks,(Dan. 9:25) that is, sixtynine weeks of years.
When the fullness of time had come, and Heaven was about to send the last of the Prophets,—he, who after preaching to men the approach of the Messias, is to show him to the people, saying: Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sins of the world, —Gabriel descends from heaven to the temple of Jerusalem, and prophesies to Zachary the birth of John the Baptist, (Lk 1:13) which was to be followed by that of Jesus himself.
Six months later, the holy Archangel again appears on the earth; and this time it is Nazareth that he visits. He brings the great message from heaven. Angel as he is, he reveres the humble Maid, whose name is Mary; he has been sent to her by the Most High God, to offer her the immense honour of becoming the Mother of the Eternal Word. It is Gabriel that receives the great Fiat, the consent of Mary; and when he quits this earth, he leaves it in possession of Him, for whom it had so long prayed in those words of Isaias: Drop down dew, O ye Heavens! (Isaias 45:8)
The hour at length came, when the Mother of the Emmanuel was to bring forth the Blessed Fruit of her virginal Womb. Jesus was born amidst poverty; but Heaven willed that his Crib should be surrounded by fervent adorers. An Angel appeared to some Shepherds, inviting them to go to the Stable near Bethlehem. He is accompanied by a multitude of the heavenly army, sweetly singing their hymn: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men of good will! Who is this Angel that speaks to the Shepherds, and seems as the chief of the other blessed Spirits that are with him? In the opinion of several learned writers, it is the Archangel Gabriel, who is keeping up his ministry as Messenger of the Good Tidings.(Lk 2:10)
Lastly, when Jesus is suffering his Agony in the Garden of Gethsemani, an Angel appears to him, not merely as a witness of his suffering, but that he might strengthen him under the fear his Human Nature felt at the thought of the Chalice of the Passion he was about to drink. (Lk 22:42-3) Who is this Angel? It is Gabriel, as we learn not only from the writings of several holy and learned authors, but also from a Hymn which the Holy See has permitted to be used in the Liturgy, and which we give below.
These are the claims of the great Archangel to our veneration and love; these are the proofs he gives of his deserving his beautiful name,—the Strength of God. God has employed him in each stage of the great work, in which he has chiefly manifested his power, for Jesus, even on his Cross, is the Power of God, (1 Cor. 1:21) as the Apostle tells us. Gabriel prepares the way for Jesus. He foretells the precise time of his Coming; he announces the birth of his Precursor; he is present at the solemn moment when the Word is made Flesh; he invites the Shepherds of Bethlehem to come to the Crib, and adore the Divine Babe; and when Jesus, in his Agony, is to receive Strength from one of his own creatures, Gabriel is found ready in the Garden of Gethsemani, as he had been at Nazareth and Bethlehem.
How much there is to meditate upon in the mystery of the Incarnation and we ought to pray to today’s holy patron Saint for light. To consider that this glorious Archangel who “stands before the face of God” came out of all eternity adoring and worshiping the all holy, almighty, august, and infinite Lord of all creation the most Blessed and Adored Trinity, and coming down into a little house in the small village of Nazareth knelt before a young girl of but fourteen years and said to her: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.” (Lk 1:28)
What an incredible scene! Remember that in Jewish culture and in the ancient religion of Judaism (just as today in Catholicism) names were very important and they always signified something important about that person. And here we have an angel coming down from heaven and addressing Mary not by the name given to her by her parents Saint Joachim and Anne, but with the name: “full of grace”!
And how does our Lady respond to this amazing honor she has been paid? With utter humility. And then Gabriel goes on to tell her that she was to be the long awaited and longed for Mother that would bear in her womb and give birth to the savior of the whole world! I think at this moment all of heaven, earth, and the saints of the Old Testament in the Limbo of the Fathers held their breath awaiting the answer of Mary. The world had been steeped in four thousand years of darkness from the fall of Adam and Paradise had been shut. What utter joy and exultation and what tears must have been shed in the Limbo of the Fathers when Mary replied:
“Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.”
Let us now take a look at this amazing event through the eyes of the greatest seer the Church has ever known. It is believed she was shown more visions of the past, her present time, and of the future than any other mystic in the history of the Church. Of course I am speaking of Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich (8 September 1774 – 9 February 1824). It was her visions on the life and passion of our Lord upon which Mel Gibson based the non-biblical parts of his The Passion of the Christ. There is a Four Volume Work on the Life of Christ with another just on the Passion and one on the Life of our Lady, and of course there is the massive two volume work on her life and revelations. Here then is what our Lord showed her of His incarnation:
The Life of the Blessed Virgin Mary
by Blessed Anne Catherine Emmerich
VIII – The Annunciation
The Blessed Virgin’s bedchamber was in the back part of the house, near the hearth, which was here placed, not in the center as in Anna’s house, but rather on one side. The entrance to the bedchamber was beside the kitchen. Three steps, not level but sloping, led up to it, for the floor of this part of the house rested on a raised ledge of rock. The wall of the room facing the door was rounded, and in this rounded part (which was shut off by a high wicker screen) was the Blessed Virgin’s bed, rolled up. The walls of the room were covered up to a certain height with wickerwork, rather more roughly woven than the light movable screens. Different-colored woods had been used to make a little checkered pattern on them. The ceiling was formed by intersecting beams, the spaces between being filled with wickerwork decorated with star-patterns.
I was brought into this room by the shining youth who always accompanies me, and I will relate what I saw as well as such a poor miserable creature is able.
The Blessed Virgin came in and went behind the screen before her bed, where she put on a long white woolen praying-robe with a broad girdle, and covered her head with a yellowish white veil. Meanwhile the maid came in with a little lamp, lit a many-branched lamp hanging from the ceiling, and went away again. The Blessed Virgin then took a little low table which was leaning folded up against the wall and placed it in the middle of the room. As it leant against the wall it was just a movable table-leaf hanging straight down in front of two supports. Mary lifted up this leaf and pulled forward half of one of the supports (which was divided), so that the little table now stood on three legs. The table-leaf supported by this third leg was rounded. This little table was covered with a blue-and-red cloth, finished with a hanging fringe along the straight edge of the table. In the middle of the cloth there was a design, embroidered or quilted; I cannot remember whether it was a letter or an ornament. On the round side of the table was a white cloth rolled up, and a scroll of writing also lay on the table.
The Blessed Virgin put up this little table in the middle of the room, between her sleeping place and the door, rather to the left, in a place where the floor was covered by a carpet. Then she put in front of it a little round cushion and knelt down with both hands resting on the table. The door of the room was facing her on the right, and she had her back to her sleeping place.
Mary let the veil fall over her face and crossed her hands (but, not her fingers) before her breast. I saw her fervently praying thus for a long time, with her face raised to heaven. She was imploring God for redemption, for the promised King, and beseeching Him that her prayer might have some share in sending Him. She knelt long in an ecstasy of prayer; then she bowed her head onto her breast.
But now at her right hand there poured down such a mass of light in a slanting line from the ceiling of the room that I felt myself pressed back by it against the wall near the door. I saw in this light a shining white youth, with flowing yellow hair, floating down before her. It was the Angel Gabriel. He gently moved his arms away from his body as he spoke to her. I saw the words issuing from his mouth like shining letters; I read them and I heard them. Mary turned her veiled head slightly towards the right, but she was shy and did not look up. But the angel went on speaking, and as if at his command Mary turned her face a little towards him, raised her veil slightly, and answered. The angel again spoke, and Mary lifted her veil, looked at him, and answered with the holy words: ‘Behold the handmaid of the Lord, be it done to me according to your word.’
The Blessed Virgin was wrapped in ecstasy. The room was filled with light; I no longer saw the glimmer of the burning lamp, I no longer saw the ceiling of the room. Heaven seemed to open, a path of light made me look up above the angel, and at the source of this stream of light I saw a figure of the Holy Trinity in the form of a triangular radiance streaming in upon itself. In this I recognized–what can only be adored and never expressed–Almighty God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost, and yet only God Almighty.
As soon as the Blessed Virgin had spoken the words, Be it done to me according to your word’, I saw the Holy Ghost in the appearance of a winged figure, but not in the form of a dove as usually represented. The head was like the face of a man, and light was spread like wings beside the figure, from whose breast and hands I saw three streams of light pouring down towards the right side of the Blessed Virgin and meeting as they reached her. This light streaming in upon her right side caused the Blessed Virgin to become completely transfused with radiance and as though transparent; all that was opaque seemed to vanish like darkness before this light. In this moment she was so penetrated with light that nothing dark or concealing remained in her; her whole form was shining and transfused with light. After this penetrating radiance I saw the angel disappear, with the path of light out of which he had come. It was as if the stream of light had been drawn back into heaven, and I saw how there fell from it onto the Blessed Virgin, as it was drawn back, a shower of white rosebuds each with its little green leaf.
While I was seeing all this in Mary’s chamber, I had a strange personal sensation. I was in a state of constant fear, as if I was being pursued, and I suddenly saw a hideous serpent crawling through the house and up the steps to the door by which I was standing. The horrible creature had made its way as far as the third step when the light poured down on the Blessed Virgin. The serpent was three or four feet long, had a broad flat head and under its breast were two short skinny paws, clawed like bat’s wings, on which it pushed itself forward. It was spotted with all kinds of hideous colors, and reminded me of the serpent in the Garden of Eden, only fearfully deformed. When the angel disappeared from the Blessed Virgin’s room, he trod on this monster’s head as it lay before the door, and it screamed in so ghastly a way that I shuddered. Then I saw three spirits appear who drove the monster out in front of the house with blows and kicks.
After the angel had disappeared, I saw the Blessed Virgin wrapped in the deepest ecstasy. I saw that she recognized the Incarnation of the promised Redeemer within herself in the form of a tiny human figure of light, perfectly formed in all its parts down to its tiny fingers.
This mystery is so immense and so deep one can never plumb its depths no matter how long they may live nor how holy they may be. It is simply beyond human comprehension and is ample food for meditation for the rest of your life. When one relates this mystery to that of the Blessed Sacrament and this event of the Incarnation to the Transubstantiation that takes place at each and every Holy Mass there is opened yet another vast area of mystery and material for meditation and for growth in devotion. This is indeed why we must pray for priests who receive our Lord into their hands each day, as our Lady only did once into her womb. We must pray that they persevere in holiness and that they are perfect imitators of our Lady. This is why Saint Alphonsus taught that a priest, and indeed all the faithful must be devoted to Mary in order to be saved.
It was only in the 4th Century that this very doctrine so foundational and essential to the faith came under attack. It was one of the darkest hours in the history of the Church. Arianism, the first great heresy, and possibly the most terrible (until Modernism) struck the Church and after a short time a vast area of the Roman Empire and the Church were engulfed by it. But into the darkness stepped a young priest, who would later become known simply as the “Father of Orthdoxy”, and this was of course the great Saint Athanasius.
While still a young cleric under the wing of Saint Alexander Patriarch of Alexandria (whose place Athanasius would take after his death) he attended the first Ecumenical Council of the Church at Nicaea and tore to pieces the heresiarch Arius with his impeccable knowledge of Sacred Scripture and Catholic Theology. Even though Arius and his heresy were condemned by the council it persisted and became so rampant that at one time 97% of the Bishops in the Church were heretics. Once, during this time, the Emperor Constantine was speaking with Pope Liberius and he said: “Who are you to defend Athanasius against the world!”.
Indeed, it was very much Athanasius alone that the faith rested for a time when he was excommunicated and banished on 5 different occasions. On one occasion this was done even by the Pope himself who had been deceived. His only solace was found in his friend Saint Hilary of Poitiers (called the Athanasius of the West) who he stayed with during at least part of his banishment, and his people in Alexandria who loved him dearly and who never ceased praying for him. A worthy example for us to pray for our own pastors, even if they are not always to our liking.
Athanasius is also a Doctor of the Church and he is the “Doctor of the Incarnation”, because of his great defense of this teaching and his clear and eloquent teaching on the subject. One can even still read his great treatise, On the Incarnation of the Word, and this great work was then boiled down in to a creed which is still used Liturgically in a few specific times during the Liturgical year…
The Athanasian Creed
Quicumque vult salvus esse, ante omnia opus est, ut teneat catholicam fidem:
Quam nisi quisque integram inviolatamque servaverit, absque dubio in aeternum peribit.
Fides autem catholica haec est: ut unum Deum in Trinitate, et Trinitatem in unitate veneremur.
Neque confundentes personas, neque substantiam separantes.
Alia est enim persona Patris alia Filii, alia Spiritus Sancti:
Sed Patris, et Fili, et Spiritus Sancti una est divinitas, aequalis gloria, coaeterna maiestas.
Qualis Pater, talis Filius, talis Spiritus Sanctus.
Increatus Pater, increatus Filius, increatus Spiritus Sanctus.
Immensus Pater, immensus Filius, immensus Spiritus Sanctus.
Aeternus Pater, aeternus Filius, aeternus Spiritus Sanctus.
Et tamen non tres aeterni, sed unus aeternus.
Sicut non tres increati, nec tres immensi, sed unus increatus, et unus immensus.
Similiter omnipotens Pater, omnipotens Filius, omnipotens Spiritus Sanctus.
Et tamen non tres omnipotentes, sed unus omnipotens.
Ita Deus Pater, Deus Filius, Deus Spiritus Sanctus.
Et tamen non tres dii, sed unus est Deus.
Ita Dominus Pater, Dominus Filius, Dominus Spiritus Sanctus.
Et tamen non tres Domini, sed unus est Dominus.
Quia, sicut singillatim unamquamque personam Deum ac Dominum confiteri christiana veritate compellimur: ita tres Deos aut Dominos dicere catholica religione prohibemur.
Pater a nullo est factus: nec creatus, nec genitus.
Filius a Patre solo est: non factus, nec creatus, sed genitus.
Spiritus Sanctus a Patre et Filio: non factus, nec creatus, nec genitus, sed procedens.
Unus ergo Pater, non tres Patres: unus Filius, non tres Filii: unus Spiritus Sanctus, non tres Spiritus Sancti.
Et in hac Trinitate nihil prius aut posterius, nihil maius aut minus: sed totae tres personae coaeternae sibi sunt et coaequales.
Ita ut per omnia, sicut iam supra dictum est, et unitas in Trinitate, et Trinitas in unitate veneranda sit.
Qui vult ergo salvus esse, ita de Trinitate sentiat.
Sed necessarium est ad aeternam salutem, ut incarnationem quoque Domini nostri Iesu Christi fideliter credat.
Est ergo fides recta ut credamus et confiteamur, quia Dominus noster Iesus Christus, Dei Filius, Deus et homo est.
Deus est ex substantia Patris ante saecula genitus: et homo est ex substantia matris in saeculo natus.
Perfectus Deus, perfectus homo: ex anima rationali et humana carne subsistens.
Aequalis Patri secundum divinitatem: minor Patre secundum humanitatem.
Qui licet Deus sit et homo, non duo tamen, sed unus est Christus.
Unus autem non conversione divinitatis in carnem, sed assumptione humanitatis in Deum.
Unus omnino, non confusione substantiae, sed unitate personae.
Nam sicut anima rationalis et caro unus est homo: ita Deus et homo unus est Christus.
Qui passus est pro salute nostra: descendit ad inferos: tertia die resurrexit a mortuis.
Ascendit ad caelos, sedet ad dexteram Dei Patris omnipotentis: inde venturus est iudicare vivos et mortuos.
Ad cuius adventum omnes homines resurgere habent cum corporibus suis: et reddituri sunt de factis propriis rationem.
Et qui bona egerunt, ibunt in vitam aeternam: qui vero mala, in ignem aeternum.
Haec est fides catholica, quam nisi quisque fideliter firmiterque crediderit, salvus esse non poterit. Amen.
Whoever wishes to be saved must, above all, keep the Catholic faith.
For unless a person keeps this faith whole and entire, he will undoubtedly be lost forever.
This is what the catholic faith teaches: we worship one God in the Trinity and the Trinity in unity.
Neither confounding the Persons, nor dividing the substance.
For there is one person of the Father, another of the Son, another of the Holy Spirit.
But the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit have one divinity, equal glory, and coeternal majesty.
What the Father is, the Son is, and the Holy Spirit is.
The Father is uncreated, the Son is uncreated, and the Holy Spirit is uncreated.
The Father is boundless, the Son is boundless, and the Holy Spirit is boundless.
The Father is eternal, the Son is eternal, and the Holy Spirit is eternal.
Nevertheless, there are not three eternal beings, but one eternal being.
So there are not three uncreated beings, nor three boundless beings, but one uncreated being and one boundless being.
Likewise, the Father is omnipotent, the Son is omnipotent, the Holy Spirit is omnipotent.
Yet there are not three omnipotent beings, but one omnipotent being.
Thus the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.
However, there are not three gods, but one God.
The Father is Lord, the Son is Lord, and the Holy Spirit is Lord.
However, there are not three lords, but one Lord.
For as we are obliged by Christian truth to acknowledge every Person singly to be God and Lord, so too are we forbidden by the Catholic religion to say that there are three Gods or Lords.
The Father was not made, nor created, nor generated by anyone.
The Son is not made, nor created, but begotten by the Father alone.
The Holy Spirit is not made, nor created, nor generated, but proceeds from the Father and the Son.
There is, then, one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three sons; one Holy Spirit, not three holy spirits.
In this Trinity, there is nothing before or after, nothing greater or less. The entire three Persons are coeternal and coequal with one another.
So that in all things, as is has been said above, the Unity is to be worshiped in Trinity and the Trinity in Unity.
He, therefore, who wishes to be saved, must believe thus about the Trinity.
It is also necessary for eternal salvation that he believes steadfastly in the incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Thus the right faith is that we believe and confess that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is both God and man.
As God, He was begotten of the substance of the Father before time; as man, He was born in time of the substance of His Mother.
He is perfect God; and He is perfect man, with a rational soul and human flesh.
He is equal to the Father in His divinity, but inferior to the Father in His humanity.
Although He is God and man, He is not two, but one Christ.
And He is one, not because His divinity was changed into flesh, but because His humanity was assumed unto God.
He is one, not by a mingling of substances, but by unity of person.
As a rational soul and flesh are one man: so God and man are one Christ.
He died for our salvation, descended into hell, and rose from the dead on the third day.
He ascended into heaven, sits at the right hand of God the Father almighty. From there He shall come to judge the living and the dead.
At His coming, all men are to arise with their own bodies; and they are to give an account of their own deeds.
Those who have done good deeds will go into eternal life; those who have done evil will go into the everlasting fire.
This is the Catholic faith. Everyone must believe it, firmly and steadfastly; otherwise He cannot be saved. Amen.