Christ the Divine Embryo, the Turning-Point of History

The angels are immeasurably more powerful and holy than any of us. We would quake in terror were we to meet an angel face-to-face. Yet the Holy Gabriel bows down in humility before the Blessed Virgin to acknowledge his Queen. When we repeat his words in the Rosary, the Angelus, the Liturgy of the Church, and on many other occasions, we should try to make that salutation in the same spirit of humility before the one who was chosen to be the vessel of honour who carried the living God in her womb.

The Archangel Gabriel continues by addressing her as “gratia plena ”, that is, full of grace as a past, existing, and enduring state. As we know from the teaching of the Church, Our Lady was conceived immaculate, so she was full of grace from the first moment of her life. She was also able to grow in grace throughout her life, because a person’s capacity can grow if that person is, like Our Lady, actively holy and virtuous in complete accord with the will of God.

Our Lady’s greatness is acknowledged by her cousin Saint Elizabeth whom she went to visit “with haste.” It was a journey of about ninety-five miles from Nazareth to the home of Saint Elizabeth at Ein Karem, a mile or so to the west of Jerusalem. It would take about six days for someone young, fit, and accustomed to walking.

Saint Elizabeth greeted the Blessed Mother with the words,

“Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Lk 1.42-43)

In this greeting, Saint Elizabeth acknowledged the presence of the five-to-six-day old embryo (or blastocyst) who was Lord and God. Saint John the Baptist, the unborn child in her womb, leapt with joy in recognition of the divine embryo.

In the time of Our Lady and Saint Elizabeth, nobody knew about embryos: the development of life later in the womb was not well understood either. Now that we do have that knowledge, thanks to the application of our God-given intelligence and thanks to the hard work of scientific study, it is important that we recognise the divine person of Christ from the first moment of His conception.

The conception of the Word made flesh as a single-celled embryo in Nazareth is the turning-point of the whole of human history. Before my diaconate ordination, I made the customary retreat with two fellow students who have served as priests for thirty-five years. We stayed at a convent at Loreto and on one day we went to visit the Holy House. I have never forgotten seeing inscribed on the gradine of the altar, the words “ Hic verbum caro factum est” – “Here the Word was made flesh.” There was a specific place and a specific time at which God became man, and we celebrate it today in the feast of the Annunciation.

Today’s feast marks a brief and glorious interlude in our meditation on the Passion of Christ. The child who was conceived did indeed go on to suffer and to die for our sins. But He was, is, and ever shall be the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, the crowning glory of all creation. Before Him let us bow in adoration.


PICTURE CREDIT: Wikimedia. The Annunciation (1423-4). Masolino da Panicale. National Gallery of Art, Washington. Public Domain.

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