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Monday, August 02, 2010

A Rather Joyful Mystery

El Greco 1541-1614
The Annunciation 1596-1600
Oil on canvas
315 cm x 174 cm
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid


In the Rosary, The Annunciation is of course the first of the Joyful Mysteries.

Unlike other depictions of The Annunciation, this work is filled with Joy and with celebration.

The work was the central panel of the main altarpiece at the church of the Colegio de Nuestra Señora de la Encarnación (the Church of the College of Mar). The Annunciation is of course the event of the Incarnation of Christ in Mary`s womb.

It was the largest altar piece which was commisioned from El Greco

There are two other versions of this painting: one in the Museo de Bellas Artes, Bilbao, and the other in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection in Madrid

This is unlike other depictions. This is no quiet scene. A plain humble room in a poor house in Roman occupied Palestine is invaded by Heaven. Mary has up till that point been diligently carrying out ordinary rather boring and tedious tasks.

The normal laws of time and space as understood by mankind are suspended. There is celebration, transformation and transfiguration. The humble are exalted.

The event is mysterious.

How can a virgin give birth ? As Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, seeing I am a virgin?"

How can a Human Being give birth to a Divine ? How can a human being cooperate in God`s plan of redemption ?

How can the consent of Mary be essential to the Redemption of humanity ?

How can there exist "the indissoluble and wedded union of the divine nature with human nature in the one Person of the Word" ?

Then there is the Mystery of the Trinity. The Holy Spirit acts to produce the result of how the Second Person of the Trinity becomes the son of Mary, the beginning of Jesus in His human nature.

The angel said: "The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore also the holy one who is born from you will be called the Son of God."

The Son proceeds from the Father; the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and the Son.

The Angel supplies the answer: "For everything spoken by God is possible."

Pope John Paul II wrote on 22nd May 1988 in his Letter to All Consecrated Persons on the Occasion of the Marian Year:

"The words spoken to Mary at the Annunciation were certainly unusual.

A careful reading of Luke's text shows that the angel's words to her contain the truth about God, in a manner that already conforms to the Gospel and to the New Covenant.

The Virgin of Nazareth has been introduced into the inscrutable mystery, which is the living God, the Triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In that context the Virgin's vocation to be Mother of the Messiah was revealed to her, a vocation to which she responded with her fiat: "Let it be done to me according to your word" (Lk 1:38). ...

The moment of vocation always directly concerns a particular person, but as with the Annunciation at Nazareth it also means a certain "unveiling" of the mystery of God. Before it becomes an accomplished fact within an individual, before taking on the form of a choice and personal decision, a vocation refers back to another choice, a choice on the part of God, which has preceded the human choice and decision.

Christ spoke of this to the Apostles during his farewell discourse: "You did not choose me, but I chose you" (Jn 15:16).

This choice invites us - as it did Mary at the Annunciation - to discover ourselves in the depths of the eternal mystery of God who is love. "

The Virgin Mary and the Archangel Gabriel are pure and full of grace and surrounded by symbols underlining these qualities. Both are filled and animated with Love and Joy.

El Greco's style is highly charged and hypnotic. His elongated and foreshortened figures lend a mystical air.

But with his Greek Orthodox background, was he more than particularly careful in his depiction of the Holy Spirit at the time of the Annunciation especially as he was painting for a clerical audience in post-Tridentine Spain ?

But was it his Greek Orthodox background which allowed him to paint such a startlingly different composition ? In the Eastern Church, the Feast of the Annunciation is one of the twelve Great Feasts of the church year.

The Annunciation is called Euangelismos (Evangelism) in Greek, literally meaning "spreading the Good News".