In most polyphonic settings of the Creed, one can observe a change of mood and rhythm when the choir comes to the words: Et incarnatus est… Crucifixus etiam… “by the holy Spirit, he was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man… For our sake he was crucified…” The melody usually slows down; it becomes quieter and more reflexive; the listeners begin to breathe at a slower pace; the music seems to die out as Christ is laid down in the tomb; there is a silence; then the full orchestra and the choir make a fresh start and sing the glory of the Resurrection.
There is nothing similar in the Gregorian Chant tradition. The Credo is a peaceful and harmonious contemplation of the mysteries of our faith which are all treated with the same loving reverence. Nevertheless, we accompany the article of the Incarnation with a bow which is even replaced at Christmas and today by a genuflection. This is another way to stress the centrality of the mystery of the Incarnation of the Lord.
In an sense, it is impossible to recite the Creed without being overwhelmed. I remember an old monk who said that in his personal prayer he would often simply go very slowly through the articles of the Creed: “There is so much I admire”, he said, “so much I want to give thanks for”. Indeed, there is so much we do not understand, so much we want to consider and to embrace in faith with all our heart, all our soul, all our strength.
The mysteries of the Trinity and the Creation are beyond our understanding and imagination. But when it comes to the Incarnation, we are, if possible, even more overwhelmed. The Church speaks of God coming into the world, the Holy Spirit resting on Our Lady, and the Virgin Mary becoming the Mother of God. Unto us a Child is born who is the Saviour of the world. He walks to the Cross for our sake, for us men and for our salvation.
What should we admire more? Should we consider God’s infinite love, His unfathomable greatness which chooses the paradoxical way of humility, littleness, abjection, rejection, suffering and death? Or should we look at Mary, the faithful and humble servant of the Lord who gives herself totally for the fulfilment of God’s plan of redemption of the world?
The Father’s love and Mary’s love give us Jesus. He is the fruit of the encounter between God’s goodness and Mary’s faith. The Incarnation is a moment of perfect harmony between God and humanity; they totally agree; they perfectly trust one another, and they work together as one. The Father sends the Son. The Son enters the world in loving answer to His Father’s love. The Spirit of love creates in a loving creature the body and the soul which the Son assumes as His own. Mary opens herself freely and completely, in joyful obedience, to the working of the Three Divine Persons in her and with her.
That is why this encounter in loving faith and obedience has become the mould in which each answer we make to God’s call is shaped. Each time God invites us – be it to perform just a little action or to commit our whole life – Mary shapes for us the space of our faithful Yes. We say Yes like Mary, but also with Mary, and, in a sense, in Mary. We seem to enter, as it were, the Yes which she pronounced in the name of us all. After her and with her we say Yes to the Incarnation of the Word, in the power of the same Holy Spirit. The Son of God takes flesh in us. He comes and lives in us. He becomes our life. We live in Him and from Him, and this is our salvation. Christian life is the life of Jesus in us; Jesus living in us as He lived in Mary, as He lives in the bosom of His Father.
Today we bow, we even kneel, with a feeling of deep gratitude and intense admiration towards the Word made flesh. We humble ourselves before God who made Himself humbler than us, and before Mary who welcomed God humbling Himself. And with Mary’s maternal support, we follow her humble Son as He draws us all by His Cross to the glory of His Father.