Feast Day: March 25
Sometimes, one action of one person changes life for everyone. Eve and then Adam deciding to disobey God and eat the apple is one example. It doesn't seem like much, but it changed all of history. The Annunciation is another very important example.
'Annunciation' sounds like announcement, and that's what happened. An angel appeared to Mary and 'announced' that she had found favour with God, and would bear a son Jesus, Son of the Most High. Saint Luke tells us about it in his Gospel.
Mary was a simple girl from the small town of Nazareth. She was betrothed to Joseph, but not yet living with him. When the angel appeared to her, she was frightened and confused. She didn't really understand what he was telling her. Why should she be chosen? What did it mean?
She asked 'How shall this be done, because I know not man?' The angel answered, 'The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee.' Mary still didn't completely understand, but she knew that the angel was a messenger from God and that she had been chosen for a special job. So she said, 'Let it be done according to Thy will.'
One simple action of saying 'Yes' to God, changed everything. Mary became the Mother of God, and Our Blessed Mother. Jesus grew up in Nazareth, taught his disciples and died on the cross for all our sins. All this happened because Mary said 'Yes' that one time.
What a thing to celebrate! What a great reason to love and honour Mary!
Editor's Note: The difference between betrothal and marriage is not well understood in modern times. A betrothal was similar to an modern engagement, in that it was a period of preparation for married life, but unlike an engagement, betrothals were considered legally binding and therefore not easily broken. Also, betrothals took place in a formal ceremony, not in an informal private moment as do engagements today. Only after a marriage ceremony would the couple begin living together as man and wife, and be considered married.
With regards to the Annunciation and Incarnation, this is an important distinction. To ensure that there is no doubt that Mary's child was conceived of the Holy Spirit, it was necessary that the Incarnation take place during the betrothal period, when Mary was formally promised to Joseph, but before the marriage, when they were living together as man and wife. Today, the betrothal and marriage are both done in one ceremony and the couple begin living together immediately. For Mary and Joseph then, they were "married" in a modern sense at the time of the Annunciation, but the marriage had two stages, and only in the second stage would they know each other as man and wife. Mary then was not an "unwed mother" as we understand that expression today.
The facts of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary are told in the Gospel of Luke, 1: 26-38. The feast of the Annunciation is celebrated on March 25th. It is calculated backwards from the date of the Nativity (Christmas.)
In the Feast of the Annunciation, the Church commemorates two events important to all humanity. On this day, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce that she was to be the Mother of of the Redeemer and Messiah promised for centuries in prophecy. On the same day, the Incarnation took place. God the Son, the second person of the Trinity, assumed a human body and soul and became the Son of Mary and Joseph.
The angel, perhaps in the form of a man, greeted Mary saying 'Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee.' Mary was confused and did not answer. The local tradition of Nazareth states that she fled from him in fear, and the angel followed her into the house to continue his message. The Angel then told Mary that she had found grace and favour with God, that she was to concieve and bear a son, and that he was to be called Jesus, the Son of the Most High, the Messiah.
'How can this be, since I know not man?' Mary asked, not out of doubt like Zechariah, but from astonishment. 'The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee and the power of the Most High will overshadow thee. And therefore also the Holy which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.' This answer could not have reassured or convinced Mary. But, remembering and honouring the angel's first words 'The Lord is with thee', and trusting God, she answered, 'Let it be done to me according to Thy Word.'
And so, the Incarnation of Jesus began, in the simple trusting assent of a humble woman. The Annunciation is the beginning of Jesus' life as a human being. Though His Mother's assent He is a member of the human race, like us in all things but sin. We are told several times through the Gospel that Mary 'treasured all these things in her heart.' Some traditions state that Mary was well educated in the Scriptures and would have known at the moment of her assent that her child would eventually be sacrificed 'like a lamb' for the sins of man. Other traditions hold that Mary only understood things after long pondering and meditation, that she, rather than understanding God's plan, relied on perfect trust and submission to the will of God.
It is certain that she said 'Yes,' and that the Annunciation and Incarnation did take place on that momentous day that we celebrate as the Feast of the Annunciation.
For most of the Church's history, no feasts were celebrated during Lent. The exception is the Feast of the Annunciation on March 25. The earliest mention of the feast is in the Sacramentarium of Pope Gelasius (d. 496). The Synods of Toledo and Trullan (656 and 692) refer to the feast as being universally celebrated in the Catholic Church.
Early Christian writers ascribed many events to this day. Arguing that the Incarnation of Our Lord and His death must have coincided with the creation and fall of Adam, and that since the world was created in Spring, the Saviour must also have been both conceived and crucified in the Spring. Many other events were supposed to have occurred on this day, including the fall of Lucifer, the crossing of the Red Sea, and the offering of Isaac by Abraham.
The story in the Gospel of Luke is simple enough. Given a message, a mission from God, Mary bowed her head and uttered her 'Fiat.' But there is so much more.The history of the Church flows from that moment, the Incarnation was accomplished in that instant. A Virgin of the House of David became the Mother of God as had been prophesized. The Second Person of the Blessed Trinity became man, like us in all things but sin.
The Incarnation proves that Mary is the Mother of God. She is the Mother of the Divine Redeemer of the world, the Mother of our Lord and Master, our perfect friend and guide to her Son. After His heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit, there is no-one Jesus honours so much as His Blessed Mother. She intercedes for us to Her Son, and has been blessed with the privilege of appearing to us on occasion, as at Fatima and Lourdes.
Many writers (Sts. Jerome, Cyril and Augustine) hold that Mary's consent to the will of God as communicated in the message of the Archangel Gabriel, was essential to our Redemption. It was the will of God, Saint Thomas writes, that the redemption of mankind should depend upon the consent of the Virgin Mary. This does not mean that God's plans were subject to the will of a human or that man would not have been redeemed if Mary had not consented. It means that Our Blessed Mother's consent was foreseen in eternity, and therefore is an integral part of the design of God.
The Feast of the Annunciation is an opportunity to bow our heads and thank Our Blessed Mother for her faith and trust, and to offer our own trusting 'Fiat' to God's designs.
After the angel had appeared to Mary, she travelled to the village of her kinswoman Elizabeth. The words of Elizabeth form part of the prayer we now say as the 'Hail Mary'. Mary replied with her Magnificat;
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord and my spirit exults in God my saviour because he has looked upon his lowly handmaid.
Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed, For the Almighty has done great things for me.
Holy is His name, and His mercy stretches from age to age for those who fear Him. He has shown the power of His arm, He has routed the proud of heart. He has pulled princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly.
The hungry He has filled with good things, the rich he has sent empty away. He has come to the help of Israel his servant, mindful of his mercy according to the promise He made to our ancestor of His mercy to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.