I spent some days in early Advent this year at Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, New York. The monks of the Order of the Holy Cross and their guests (I am an associate of the order) pray five times a day. At three of those services, the bells of the Angelus are rung from the belltower. When the Angelus bells are rung we pray silently as we place ourselves with Mary, at God’s disposal. This prayer happens three times: we hear Mary’s call (“The angel of the Lord brought tidings to Mary”), we hear her response (“Let it be with me according to your word”), and we hear the proclamation that God has become one with us in Jesus (“The Word became flesh and lived among us”).
The Christian proclamation that God is at one with us in Jesus is called the “Incarnation,” and these three wintry seasons of the Church year (Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany) all cohere around our experience of this central event of the Christian drama. In Advent we prepare to welcome a God who will come among us. In Christmas we celebrate and give thanks for God’s enfleshment in Jesus and in us. In Epiphany we seek to manifest in our lives and in the world the implications of what it means to be people whom God takes seriously enough to become one with.
A cathedral church like ours serves God’s incarnational purposes, not only in our worship and ministry but in our very being. You might call us a virtual Angelus in stone and glass. As a transcendent space in our nation’s capital, Washington National Cathedral stands as a visible, accessible focal point for all that is holy in our world and in our national life. In its own way, the beauty of the building represents God’s presence in and among us always. You could say that Incarnation is what Christianity (and all its sacramental, architectural, musical, and artistic representations) is all about.
This Epiphany 2014 issue of Cathedral Age is, in its own way, an exercise in incarnational proclamation. We have articles from Leigh Harrison about the Cathedral’s own statuary and windows as icons of peacemaking as well as on the way we have committed ourselves to honor and support LGBT youth in America. Craig Stapert leads us through a discussion of the preservation and building projects underway to restore and preserve our building. Senator Elizabeth Dole speaks in an interview about her work with veterans, an emerging priority for the Cathedral’s ministries and programs. A pair of sermons gives a taste of what is being said from the Canterbury Pulpit. And other articles highlight some generous bequests we have received, the rededication of the Bishop’s Garden, the anniversary of the carillon, and some staff milestones—an anniversary celebration for Canon Michael McCarthy, and the installation of four new staff canons: Kim Baker, Gina Campbell, Andrew Hullinger, and Patricia Johnson.
As a way of summing up the rhythm of call, response, and incarnation, the Angelus ends with this prayer:
Pour your grace into our hearts, O Lord, that we who have known the incarnation of your Son Jesus Christ, announced by an angel to the Virgin Mary, may by his cross and passion be brought to the glory of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
As you make your way through Epiphany, it is our hope that the Angelus rhythm of call, response, and incarnation will provide a framework for your prayer, reflection, and ministry to those around you. We are blessed to share a common life in the faith community that gathers with Mary and Joseph around the infant Jesus’ cradle. We are doubly blessed to have such a glorious cathedral tradition of worship, beauty, and leadership in which to serve. And we are once again blessed to have generous and faithful friends as companions on the journey.