Lent and Easter
in the Domestic Church

The Annunciation

Peter Fournier and Catherine Fournier

Page 50 in "Lent and Easter in the Domestic Church"

Feast day: March 25

The Story of the Annunciation

Sometimes, one action of one person changes life for everyone. We are told in Genesis that Eve and then Adam decided to disobey God and eat "the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil". That did not seem like much, but it changed all of history. The Annunciation is another very important example.

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"Annunciation" sounds like "announcement", and that is just what happened. An angel appeared to Mary and announced that she had found favor with God and would bear a son, Jesus. Saint Luke tells us about it in his Gospel (Lk 1:26-38).

The angel, perhaps in the form of a man, greeted Mary, saying "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!" Mary was confused and did not answer at first. 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 favor with God, that she was to conceive and bear a son, and that he was to be called Jesus, the Son of the Most High, the Messiah

Mary was a simple girl from the small town of Nazareth. She was betrothed (engaged) to Joseph, but not yet living with him. When the angel appeared to her, she was frightened and confused. She did not really understand what he was telling her. Why should she be chosen? What did it mean?

"How can [will] this be, since I have no husband?" Mary asked, not out of doubt, like Zechariah, but from astonishment. The angel answered her, saying, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God."

This answer could not have reassured or convinced Mary. But, remembering and honoring the angel's earlier words, "the Lord is with you", and trusting God, she answered, "Let it be to me according to your 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. Through 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 understood things only after long pondering and meditation, that she, rather than understanding God's plan, relied on perfect trust and submission to the will of God.

Mary's 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 honor Mary! (See CCC 144, 148.)

The Feast of the Annunciation is celebrated on March 25. It is calculated backward from the date of the Nativity (Christmas).

Though this feast day is named for only one event, the Annunciation, the Church actually commemorates at this time two events important to all mankind. On this day, the Archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary to announce that she was to be the Mother 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 foster son of Joseph.

For most of the Church's history, no feasts were celebrated during Lent. The one exception was this Feast of the Annunciation. The earliest mention of the feast is in the Sacramentarium of Pope Gelasius (d. 496). The Toledo and Trullan Synods (656 and 692) refer to the feast as being universally celebrated in the Catholic Church.

Early Christian writers recognized March 25 as the day of the Lord's death as well as of His Incarnation. They argued 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 Savior 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.

Celebrating the Feast Day

The Feast of the Annunciation is also known as Lady Day, and girls whose names commemorate Mary may celebrate this as their name day. This would include Maria, Mary, Marie, Madonna, and Main. Darica (morning star), Regina (queen), and Abrianna (mother of many nations) could also celebrate this as their name day.

Two symbols are commonly associated with this feast, both symbolizing purity and chastity: the lily and the stork. The lily is well known and used as a symbol for many saints (including Saint Joseph), but today the stork is largely forgotten as an emblem of our Lady. It is associated with the Annunciation because the return of storks to northern towns announced the coming of spring, and in parallel the annunciation to Mary indicated the coming of Christ. The northern European tradition that newborn babies are carried to their mothers by a stork is an extension of this association with the Annunciation.

Remember to add prayers honoring Mary and asking for her protection and intercession to your family prayers. This might be a good time to introduce the much-loved and sometimes forgotten Angelus Prayer to your family. Many hymns sing Mary's praises, among them, "The Angel Gabriel", "Immaculate Mary", "Hail Queen of Heaven, the Ocean Star", and "Salve Regina". They can be found in most hymnals.

The Feast of the Annunciation, like the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, provides a perfect opportunity for some family charitable activity. It is a moment to transform faith and teaching into good works. It could become an annual traditional project for the family.

Mary was engaged but not yet married to Joseph when the angel visited her. She must have been overwhelmed and humbled by what God asked of her. At the same time, while trusting perfectly that God would protect her, she must have also been a little frightened. Her society was not kind to women who became pregnant outside of marriage. She would have been in grave danger if Joseph hadn't heeded the message of the angel in his dream and married her.

To honor Mary's motherhood and to recognize the great gift of every new baby, have the family make a gift to brighten a pregnant mother's day. Some flowers, a potted plant, or a few made-ahead and frozen dinners will really cheer and help a pregnant woman. If you and your family don't know anyone who is expecting a baby, consider giving a similar gift to a pregnancy crisis center.

Your gift doesn't need to be elaborate or expensive to be much appreciated. Homemade stuffed toys, basic toiletries for mom or baby, and simple baby clothes are always needed by these organizations and the mothers they help. As well as honoring and welcoming new life, you will be teaching your family that a gift with love is more splendid than a gift with a big price tag. (See CCC 2447.)

The lily is the flower of the Annunciation. In Renaissance paintings the Angel Gabriel holds a lily, or a lily is placed in a vase between him and the Virgin Mary. Lilies are easily made from a circle of white construction paper wrapped into a cone shape and glued. A yellow strip for a stamen (though in some traditions, the stamens were removed from lilies used at Marian feasts to preserve the purity of the flower) can be glued inside and a smaller green cone and long green strip added as a stem to the bottom. These lilies could be placed around a picture of Mary or could decorate the table.