Fra Angelico shows us something of the message that Gabriel brought from God to Mary.
I have never been a great artist, despite all the best efforts of my art teacher at grammar school. He did, however, inspire me to appreciate art and that has become an important part of my life. Amongst the paintings we studied was Fra Angelico’s The Annunciation, painted about 1450. It is a fresco painting in the Convent of San Marco in Florence. Fra Angelico was a Dominican monk who was a master of Renaissance art but his purpose was always to teach. His paintings were always to illustrate the message of God.
Fra Angelico’s painting of the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary (the feast day we celebrate today) is one of the most moving and well-known of this event in St. Luke’s Gospel. There is a quiet stillness and a sense of gentle conversation and attentiveness; of revelation and eventual acceptance of God’s plan for the salvation of the world. A plan which needed Mary’s ‘Yes’. Though Fra Angelco’s scene captures very little of the surprise and turmoil the Angel’s message brought to Mary there is a sense that something deeply significant is going on in the quietness of the scene.
We are told by St. Luke that she was deeply troubled and like many who are called by God to some action and service, she thought of reasons this could not be. After reassurance by God through the angel, she then offered herself to God’s plan. This was not the submissive meekness usually associated with this moment.
It is significant, perhaps, that Luke begins his Passion story with a similar struggle leading to an acceptance. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus too tried desperately to avoid His Crucifixion. Out of His anguish, his sweat fell like ‘drops of blood,’ yet, as with His Mother he finally allowed The Divine Plan to go forward with His ‘Yet your wil, not mine be done.’
In both cases, Son and Mother gave themselves fuly and completely to the work of claiming the world back to God. For both it was a real giving requiring from them an active sharing in the Plan of God.
In painting his Annunciation, I see Fra Angelico choosing to paint that moment after Mary’s acceptance,just before the angel left her. The vocation, or call, of God to Mary had been made and acceptance eventually given and after that, as is so often the case when we have strggled with God’s will and our own, a godly peace descends.
I like to think that Fra Angelico wanted to show that. He wanted those who looked at his painting to know that when we meld our wills with God’s there is an amazing outpouring of Grace. That’s when real vocations happen. It is not surprising therefore that we might say, Hail Mary, full of Grace…
so fill us with your grace
that we may accept you will in all things
and with the Virgin Mary, full of grace
rejoice in your salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord.