“And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour,
Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid.”
We pray that the Light of the mystery of the Incarnation of Our Lord will saturate our minds and hearts as we contemplate this first mystery of the Holy Rosary: The Annunciation.
St. Louis de Montfort, in his classic work on True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, states the following:
“The Incarnation is the first mystery of Jesus Christ, it is the most hidden; and it is the most exalted and the least known….this mystery is a summary of all his mysteries since it contains the intention and the grace of them all.” (#248).
It should not seem any great mystery to us that the Incarnation contains the grace and intention of all the rest of the mysteries of Christ’s life. Any good catechism will tell us that God’s “intention” in willing the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity was to make possible the salvation and sanctification of mankind through the graces merited by Jesus Christ through His Life, Passion, Death, and Resurrection.
What possible reason could St. Louis de Montfort have, therefore, for saying that the Incarnation is the “most hidden” and “least known” of all the mysteries of Christ’s life? After all, there has been a great deal written about the Incarnation of Our Lord. In fact, the first four Ecumenical Councils of the Church were all about defining many crucial points of doctrine in relation to the Incarnation: that the Divine Person Jesus Christ was of one substance (homoousious) and equal with the Father; that Mary, in being the Mother of Jesus Christ, was truly the Mother of God (Theotokos); that Jesus Christ was truly and fully both God and man, and that this union was rightly understood as two natures (both human and Divine) united in One Divine Person (the Hypostatic Union).
All of these truths concerning the Incarnation are of course in themselves great mysteries, only very partially understood by human intelligence. But even such partial understanding is truly a marvelous thing, made possible as we noted in the introductory article to this series, because man is created by God with an intellectual light of understanding which is a created participation in the Life of Christ. Holy Scripture declares, “We now see through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to face.” But this nevertheless entails that we now do indeed see something very real. And throughout Christian history this participation in the light of Christ, this seeing, has sometimes flashed forth with a brilliance and beauty which is breathtaking. Possibly no instance is more luminous in this regard than the words that are contained in what is called the Tome of Pope Leo the Great concerning the nature of the Incarnation. It was written to Bishop Flavian of Constantinople in the year 449 A.D, was read to all the bishops assembled at the Council of Chalcedon, was received with great acclaim, and constitutes the most marvelous explanation of the two Natures united in the One Divine Person of Christ. In order that we might be inspired into further effort to appreciate the Incarnation, and become convinced that this effort will not be in vain, it is therefore well worth our effort to quote parts of this Letter:
“In this preservation, then, of the real quality of both natures [divine and human], both united in one person, lowliness was taken on by majesty, weakness by strength, mortality by the immortal. And in order to pay the debt of our fallen state, inviolable nature was united to one capable of suffering so that (and this is the sort of reparation we needed) one and the same mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, could die in the one nature and not die in the other. In the whole and perfect nature of the true man, then, the true God was born, complete in His own nature, complete in ours….For that putting off of self, whereby He the invisible made Himself visible and as Creator and Lord of all things wished to become one of the mortals, was an inclination to mercy, not a failure of power. He who keeping the form of God created man, the same was made man in an aspect of servitude. Both His natures keep their intrinsic quality without defect; and just as the aspect of God does not remove the aspect of servitude, so also this latter does not lessen the aspect of God.
“Just as God is not changed by His show of mercy, so the man is not changed by being swallowed up in majesty. Each aspect performs its own acts in cooperation with the other; that is, the Word doing what is proper to the Word, the flesh pursuing what pertains to the flesh….The birth of flesh is a manifestation of human nature; that a virgin should give birth is a show of divine power The infancy of the babe is displayed by the lowliness of the cradle; the greatness of the Almighty is proclaimed by the voices of angels….To hunger, to thirst, to grow tired, and to sleep; these are evidently human. But to satisfy 5,000 men with five loaves of bread and to give the Samaritan woman living water, a drink which frees the one drinking from further thirst, to walk on top of the sea without sinking, and to calm the waves stirred up by a storm – are doubtless the work of God. Hence, to skip over many other items, just as it is not part of the same nature to weep over a dead friend from the emotion of pity and then by the command of His voice to call forth this same man alive, after rolling back the stone from a tomb closed for four days, or to hang on a cross of wood, and yet turn day into night and cause the elements to tremble, or to have been pierced with nails, yet to open the doors of paradise to the faithful thief – so also to say: ‘I and the Father are one’ and to say: ‘The Father is greater than I’ are not both pertinent to the same nature. Although in the Lord Jesus Christ there is one person, of God and man, it is only from one of these sources that contempt comes to both in common, and from the other source that glory comes to both in common.”
All this does indeed involve profound mysteries, and yet these words of Pope Leo should resonate in any truly Christian soul with great beauty, truth, and meaning. Jesus Christ really did all these things. These are historical facts, and therefore the reason for St. Louis de Montfort’s claim that the Incarnation is the “most hidden” and “least known” must lie elsewhere.
The one truth regarding Our Lord’s Incarnation which is totally inexplicable, and therefore truly does make it the “most hidden” of all of the mysteries of Christ is offered to us in a passage from the Epistle of St. Paul to the Philippians:
“For let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man. He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even to the death of the cross.” (2: 5-8).
It is the humility of Christ in the Incarnation which is the “least understood” of all the mysteries of Our Lord. It can make no rational sense to us as to why an Eternal and Infinitely Perfect God should lower himself to be united in human nature with men who are nothing in themselves; that He should then voluntarily suffer the most ignominious and cruel death at the hands of men – that He should be spat upon, scourged, mockingly tortured with a crown of cruel thorns, forced to bear His own Cross, and Crucified – in order to merit the grace of their salvation; and then still be rejected by the vast majority of mankind. We of course have a word for God’s condescension towards man. It is rightly called “Mercy”. But Mercy in itself does not require or encompass this complete subjection and humiliation of God. Only the word “humility” can possibly approach such an act, and this only when this word is used in the fullest sense of suffering “humiliation” and being despised:
“Despised, and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows: and his look was as it were hidden and despised, whereupon we esteemed him not. (Is. 53: 3).
What is inexplicable and hidden to human understanding in regard to God’s humility in the Incarnation, however, comes to complete fruition in conjunction with Mary’s humility in response to the Annunciation:
“Behold the handmaid [servant] of the Lord; be it done to me according to thy word.”
God and Mary meet and embrace in the mutual exchange of total humility, and a Child is conceived. This is the most exalted Mystery of the Annunciation – Incarnation, and it is present in every Hail Mary which we recite during all the Mysteries of the Rosary. With the Archangel Gabriel at the Annunciation we pray “Hail Mary full of grace, the Lord is with thee”; and we then exclaim “Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus” while being present in heart and mind at the Incarnation. It then remains for us to pray “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death” in order that through the graces merited by Christ, we may be transformed into the likeness of the same Jesus Christ within the refuge of Mary’s Immaculate Heart. This is the perfect following of Jesus Christ. For He Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and formed in Mary’s womb wills that we should be conceived into His Life by the Holy Spirit in baptism, and formed into the fullness of Christ through Her Maternal Care. The Rosary is the nursery of sainthood.
We must be warned, however, that the path of humility, in imitation of both Jesus and Mary, is not an easy road. It is tempting for us to think that just because we are not to be numbered among the great and proud in this world, that we are already established among the humble. There is possibly no more effective remedy to such a delusion than the frequent repetition of, and meditation upon, the Litany of Humility. It was written by the Servant of God, Cardinal Rafael Merry del Val, who served as Secretary of State under Pope St. Pius X:
Litany of Humility
O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed, deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being loved, deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being extolled, deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being honored, deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being praised, deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being preferred to others, deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being consulted, deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being approved, deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being humiliated, deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being despised, deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of suffering rebukes, deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being calumniated, deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being forgotten, deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being ridiculed, deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being wronged, deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being suspected, deliver me, Jesus.
That others may be loved more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I unnoticed, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be preferred to me in everything, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may become holier than I, provided that I become as holy as I should, Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
It is in the depths of such humility that we are called to follow Christ.
It is the Rosary, through which we see this virtue of humility come to fruition in all the mysteries of Our Lord and His Blessed Mother. And it is the Rosary which has been invested by God with the grace and power to transform our stony hearts into hearts of humility, in order that we might be deemed worthy to come to the Vision of God: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall see God.”
Humility and the Act of Faith
We live in a time of almost universal deception regarding virtually everything Catholic. This is especially true in regard to the virtue of humility. Humility is now being promoted throughout the Church as an attitude and course of action which is accepting and inclusive towards virtually every form of perversion of truth and morality. In such a mindset, firm adherence to the dogmas and doctrines of the Catholic Faith, and the pastoral practices which are the necessary conclusions of such absolute truths regarding faith and morals, is seen to be a negation of true charity and a reflection of past forms of “rigidity” and “Pharisaic” attitudes which now must be rejected.
This view amounts to a complete falsification of the nature of humility itself, and as such it entails the inversion of the entirety of the Catholic Faith.
The primary act of humility for any Catholic is the Act of Faith itself. Vatican Council I defines the Act of Faith thus:
“Man being wholly dependent upon God, as upon his Creator and Lord, and created reason being absolutely subject to uncreated truth, we are bound to yield to God, by faith in His revelation, the full obedience of our intelligence and will. And the Catholic Church teaches that this faith, which is the beginning of man’s salvation, is a supernatural virtue, whereby,, inspired and assisted by the grace of God, we believe that the things which He has revealed are true; not because the intrinsic truth of the things is plainly perceived by the natural light of reason, but because of the authority of God Himself, Who reveals them, and Who can neither be deceived nor deceive.”
This definition tells us that “the beginning of our salvation” is entirely dependent upon an act by which, with the absolutely necessary help of God’s grace, we yield our intelligence and will to God as He has revealed Himself. The possession of our Catholic Faith therefore absolutely requires this primary act of humility towards God and His revealed Truths, and any attempt to propose a humility which “goes to the peripheries” in order to be inclusive towards errors or sins which are in opposition to these Truths, is simply the work of Satan.
This negation of the real meaning of humility has been increasingly dominant over the past 50 years. It became prevalent after Vatican Council II with the almost total rejection of the Gift of the Holy Spirit which is rightly named “Fear of the Lord.” This was changed to such terms as “reverence”, “awe”, or even “reverence for life in all its forms”. These are not at all the same. We may reverence, or be in awe, of a new car, a sunset or the birth of a new baby, but such sentiments are in no way to be equated with the Gift of the Holy Spirit which is Fear of the Lord.
This alteration has had enormous consequences for the life of the Church, and especially for the faith of our youth who have been confirmed. As scripture says, “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”, and it is not only the beginning of wisdom, but the foundation of all the other Gifts of the Holy Spirit. If we change it, diffuse it, or eliminate it in the administration of this sacrament, we are vitiating the whole meaning, purpose, and conduct of the Christian Faith. We can make no judgment about the extent to which such falsification might result in God withholding graces in this sacrament, but we certainly can make a judgment as to the affect upon the disposition of the minds and hearts of countless young people who have received this sacrament. And it is upon such dispositions that the graces of the sacrament are dependent if there is to be any Catholic Faith, or the living of that faith. Without the Gift of Fear of the Lord, there can, in fact, be no possession of the theological virtue of Faith itself. It should be no matter of wonder to us, therefore, that for untold numbers of our youth the Sacrament of Confirmation has for them been not an occasion of growing and maturing in the Catholic Faith, but rather a graduation out of the Church and into the spirit of the World, of which Satan is the Prince (Jn. 12: 31-32; 14:-30-31; 16;7-11).
The Gift of the Holy Spirit which is Fear of the Lord is not an abject fear. It has nothing in common with the fear of bats, snakes, or human tyrants. On the contrary, it establishes in us the absolute truth of the most fundamental reality of our lives. This reality is twofold: 1) the truth concerning the infinite Majesty, Truth, and Goodness of God; and, (2) the truth concerning our own poverty and sinfulness. The effect of this Gift is therefore that of delivering our souls, through this fundamental act of humility, into the arms of God, wherein we may further ascend the ladder to the higher Gifts, and the holiness that is demanded of us by Our God. The Gift of Fear of the Lord therefore corresponds to the First Beatitude:”Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall see God.” Without this Gift there is no possibility of our attaining to the Vision of God in Heaven.
Without this fundamental act of humility, we cannot be spiritual children of Our Blessed Mother, or receive the grace of being transformed into the likeness of her Son within Her Immaculate Heart. Mary is the Mother of Mercy, but this mercy can only be ours under one irrevocable condition:
“And his mercy is from generation unto generations to them that fear him.”
Such is the truth hidden from the enemies of God. And such is the hidden truth of the Incarnation:
“Unless you be converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt. 18:3).
*Please pray every Rosary to include the intention: For the Purification of the Church. Also please have your Pastor offer a Mass for this intention, refer him to the Proposal, and ask him to promote the Rosary to the Interior: For the Purification of the Church on Feb 2, 2019.