Mass celebrated at Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Melbourne

Sunday 24 December, 2017

My dear brothers and sisters,

There are some very rich words in the Readings today, and the richest of all are the words of the angel to the Virgin Mary recorded in the Gospel. The angel Gabriel says to Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow”. The first part about the Holy Spirit is clear enough for us, but the second has a depth of meaning that is not so easy to grasp: “the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow”. Someone who knew the Scriptures as well as Mary did, would have understood the meaning of this shadow straight away, for often in the history of Israel God’s presence was revealed in a bright cloud whose shadow covered the people: the pillar of cloud that led Israel to freedom through the desert; the cloud in which Moses spoke with God; and especially the bright cloud which symbolised God’s presence in his temple.

So when we hear these words, we are meant to think of the Lord’s presence in his temple. We are meant to see that in this moment in the little town of Nazareth, God is making for himself a new temple, so that in his Son, born on earth of the Virgin Mary, he can be present with his people forever.

In fact, the first Reading also speaks about temple. King David wanted to build a house for God, but God declines and says, ‘It is I who will build a house for you’, meaning a royal house, a dynasty from which the king of the world would one day come. In today’s Gospel we see this very prophecy being fulfilled: Jesus is conceived, son of Mary, son of David: he is king forever; and in him God is present among his people more wonderfully than in any temple.

All this is made possible because a young Jewish girl says, Yes: “I am the handmaid of the Lord; let what you have said be done to me”. Mary opens her life and her whole being in welcome to the Lord, and so becomes the mother of our Saviour. She is the perfect image of what Advent and Christmas should mean for us, for we too are called to make of ourselves a house where the Lord can dwell among his people.

When Saint Augustine commented on this Gospel he said a striking thing: Mary is blessed beyond all women because she received the Son of God in her body; but she is even more blessed because she first received the Word of God in her heart. Only one of us was called to be the Mother of the Saviour, but all of us are meant to be like Mary in giving a home in our hearts to Lord. Each of us is meant to be God’s temple, his real dwelling place in the lives of his people. Each one of us lives under the shadow of his glory.

So on this day before Christmas this is the Church’s gift to us: this beautiful rich picture of Mary welcoming the Lord into her heart and her life. Let us pray to Mary, our Mother that we may be like her in opening the house of our life to the Lord, who wants to dwell in us among his people.

+ Denis J. Hart,
Archbishop of Melbourne.

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