Celebrating the Annunciation and Incarnation
Original Feb 2007
Annunciation, Restoring the Liturgy.
A Sunday Solution ?
The Annunciation used to be a holy day of obligation and was celebrated by everyone in the universal Church. The goal of this article is to help restore the active participation for the average lay Catholic in his celebration of that all important feast. And it examines the feasibility of moving this Solemnity to a Sunday celebration during Lent. It fits perfectly into that season and it would enhance our observance of Lent by reflecting on the two most perfect examples who sacrificed worldly pleasures to do the will of our heavenly Father. And Jesus and Mary give us the perfect reason for their choice which was out of pure love for our heavenly Father.
Introduction – The Center Point of Time
The Importance of the Solemnity of the Annunciation/Incarnation
Benefits of Increasing our Emphasis on Annunciation/Incarnation:
I suggest that Catholic communities, in recognition of the Church's teachings on the Incarnation place more emphasis on it. Perhaps the Church would consider adding a feast honoring this event to her calendar and place it on the same day as the Annunciation. I believe this would be completely consistent with the model passed down to us by the early church. Read more on early church.
A solution for consideration would be to celebrate the Solemnity of the Annunciation/Incarnation every year on the Sunday closest to March 25. However, if the closest Sunday is Passion (Palm) Sunday or Easter Sunday, then the Solemnity would be celebrated on the Sunday following Easter and so Divine Mercy Sunday would be pushed forward one week.
Proposed new Name for this Solemnity :
Annunciation to the Virgin Mary and
Or abbreviated as “Annunciation and Conception” or “Annunciation and Incarnation”
The Center Point of Time
A thousand years from now historians will point back to this icon above as the icon that moved the liturgy forward into a deeper appreciation and expression of the Solemnity of the Annunciation and the Incarnation.
The Past is the Key to our Future
The Annunciation used to be a holy day of obligation and was celebrated by everyone in the universal Church. It is worth exploring the possibility of restoring to active participation the laity's role in this rich feast. The goal of this article is to explore some of the profound mysteries of this event and how it offers to us the answers to many of the challenges presented to us in the world today. We will also examine the opportunity we have to help Catholics better appreciate this most important solemnity.
By its own right it deserves special attention because it is one of the most important feasts of the calendar year. For example, it is more important than Christmas because strictly speaking Christ could have become incarnated as a grown man and still preached, died and rose from the dead. Being a baby and being born is not as intrinsically important as being incarnated.
The Incarnation not only implies Christmas, but it also implies the possibility of his death and resurrection.
It would also behoove us to examines the feasibility of moving this Solemnity to a Sunday celebration during Lent.
See Objections Page
It fits perfectly into the season of Lent and it would enhance our observance of Lent by reflecting on the two most perfect examples who sacrificed worldly pleasures to do the will of our heavenly Father. And Jesus and Mary give us the perfect reason for their choice which was out of pure love for our heavenly Father.
Pope John Paul II called for a new evangelization for the third millennium. He invited the whole Church to focus on the 2000th anniversary of the coming of the Messiah. Surely, Karol Wojtyła (John Paul II), is in heaven praying for us to grow in our appreciation of that historic event.
In obedience to John Paul II’s call for a renewed evangelization Monsignor Anthony LaFemina painted the above Icon. (He also painted one on the Eucharist, which was a theme of the year 2000.)
We are in a
SpringTime of a new evangelization. And the goal of this web
page is to offer suggestions on how we can
The mysteries of the Annunciation and Incarnation are like dynamite waiting for us to tap into their awesome power. They offer us the opportunity to grow much more deeply in love with God by meditating on them because they are like spiritual goldmines.
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son …”
Questions to Consider:
1. How important is the Annunciation/Incarnation and what are the spiritual fruits that can be drawn from it ?
2. What would be the benefits of moving the celebration of the Solemnity of the Annunciation to a Sunday observance, whereas now it is only celebrated on a weekday ?
3. And what are the obstacles and objections to the proposal of moving this Solemnity to a Sunday - and can they be overcome ?
The Importance of the Solemnity of the Annunciation/Incarnation
The Catechism of the Catholic Church
“The coming of God’s Son to earth is an event of such immensity that God willed to prepare for it over centuries. He makes everything converge on Christ: all the rituals and sacrifices, figures and symbols of the ‘First Covenant.’ ”
The Incarnation is the turning point in all of human history (BC to AD).
This Solemnity offers the Church a rich and powerful means of evangelization. However, in the liturgical calendar of the Roman Rite the Christological feasts of Lent and Easter “out rank” this “Marian” feast. And so the Solemnity of the Annunciation is always pushed to a weekday celebration. (For example see calendar for 2007 AD.) And this is sad when we consider that only a few Catholics attend daily Mass. The Annunciation/Incarnation is intrinsically tied to Good Friday and to the ultimate feast of Easter. Christ could not have risen if He hadn’t died, and He couldn’t have died unless He had been Incarnated into a body.
· AND THE WORD BECAME FLESH
Pope John Paul II
HOMILY OF HIS HOLINESS
The importance of the Incarnation is also demonstrated when we adore God with the Divine Praises. Notice how near the top it is. Notice the glorious truths that we proclaim after it.
The Divine Praises.
Blessed be God.
Blessed be the great Mother of God, Mary most holy.
Placing this all important Solemnity in a role of Sunday prominence in our sacred liturgical calendar would have numerous benefits. However, it seems to deserve to be placed there on its own merit.
During the Solemnity of the Annunciation the Church call us to worship God with a genuflection when we profess the creed at the words “and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man.”
The Paschal Mystery requires that God become a Man. A person might suppose that God could have come into our physical world without being born, since He could have come as a fully grown man. And so, Christmas is not inherently essential to our having the most important feasts of Good Friday and Easter Sunday. However, the Incarnation - in some form - is indispensable and is therefore more important than Christmas.At Christmas Mass the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI kneels during the Creed when the following words are prayed:
As soon as he kneels so do all the other priests, bishops, cardinals, and the laity as well. It is quite moving to see the Supreme Pontiff honor God and go to his knees as we profess our faith in this awesome mystery of the Incarnation.
Benefits of Increasing our Emphasis on the Annunciation/Incarnation
1. Pro-Life Benefits
When a woman has an unwanted pregnancy it is all too often that she accepts the lie of our culture that her fetus is just a blob of tissue.
And unfortunately, many Catholics have the perception that Jesus first came into the world at the first Christmas. (And some believe the Immaculate Conception just a few weeks before Christmas celebrates Christ coming into the world.)
The Solemnity of the Annunciation, which is forgotten or ignored by many, offers the perfect evangelistic opportunity to proclaim the truth that while a miracle did happen at Christmas an even greater miracle happened approximately nine months (actually 38 weeks) earlier when Jesus came to live inside of Mary’s womb.
Proposed new Name for this Solemnity :
“The Annunciation to the Virgin Mary and the Conception of Christ”
There is a danger that some Catholics who don’t know the Church well might mistakenly think that this feast was given some random date in the calendar. This title above will make its connection to Christmas more obvious and the Pro-Life connotations will be subtly present even if the homilist does not give an explicit Pro-Life message.
In my own and hopefully humble opinion, this could be and probably is part of the problem. There is a tendency to confuse the Annunciation as being a Christmas time event, e.g. many think the Immaculate Conception on December 8 is a reference to Christ’s conception.1
For many who are confronted with the problem of an unwanted pregnancy it is too tempting to be misled by our culture that human life begins during some fuzzy time period of viability. It is only the Annunciation, Incarnation, and Christ’s conception that offers the Church the opportunity to focus its liturgical expression on when life begins. If one’s liturgical exposure to that event is limited to Christmas or Advent, the Church’s opportunity to express a clear and definitive expression of when human life begins is lost.
Since the average Catholic does not go to daily Mass the Church may profit by considering moving the Solemnity of the Annunciation to a Sunday celebration.
Our current liturgical calendar places little emphasis on the Incarnation. When most Catholics are asked, “When do we celebrate the coming of Christ into the world?” they will usually answer “Christmas” which is only partially correct. A much more theologically correct answer would be the Annunciation, but many of the laity either forget this or they are unaware of the theological significance of that celebration.
This might be partly so because this Solemnity is often moved and the laity sometimes miss the 9 month connection it has with Christmas. For example, in 2007 AD it was moved to Monday March 26. In the year 2005 it was moved to April 4. The Annunciation is currently moved from March 25 34% of the time.
However, a much bigger factor – in my opinion – of why this feast is often forgotten or ignored is because it is never celebrated on a Sunday ( in the Latin Rite). Although more Catholics do attend weekday Mass during Lent, most Catholics do not. And those not attending weekday Mass are probably the ones in most need of the message.2
Couldn’t the celebration of the Visitation to Elizabeth by Mary offer an equally suitable substitute for the teaching on the value of human life ?
No. Not completely.
People do not die to themselves and make major adjustments to their lives for the next 18 years for maybes and fuzzy notions. It is only the Solemnity of the Annunciation/Incarnation that enables us to clearly explain, whether explicitly or implicitly, that human life begins at conception. ( Abortionists love to make the issue fuzzy. That is why they want to redefine pregnancy as being after implantation. They know that arguments based on conception have strength precisely because they get past the fuzziness with precise explication.)
1. The Feast of the Immaculate Conception does not offer the opportunity to impress upon the laity the importance of the Solemnity of the Annunciation and its Pro-Life ramifications for the simple reason that most Catholics do not attend Mass on Holy Days of obligation. And those who are in the greatest need of catecheses are the least likely to attend. Furthermore, the homily on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception usually already includes multiple complex issues. The homilist often already has a full agenda of points to make such as Marian devotion, what the Immaculate Conception means, which means explaining what Original Sin means, and how the it is neither unjust or unloving, etc. There is simply not much time to elaborate on a tangent issue such as the Annunciation.
2. A good case could be made that we all need to focus on the Incarnation because of its implications. With the exception the Easter Paschal Mystery it is probably the most important theological event in the history of mankind. It is the event upon which our history turns. The Incarnation actually implies Easter since it would be ludicrous to think that God, Creator Almighty, could lose in a battle against Satan who is a mere creature who depend upon the Creator for his continued existence.
John Paul II
As Pope John Paul II points out above, it is not enough to just claim to be Pro-Life. We must find a way of bringing that message out into the world. Presently, many Catholic girls are not yet fully convinced of that message. With the Annunciation we have the opportunity to present that message a manner that is non-confrontational. Even without talking about abortion and all that ugliness, we can speak clearly about the beauty of Life, and when human life begins.
2. Increase Marian Devotion by Explaining its Foundation
Marian Focus - We honor Mary precisely because she is united to and in Christ
Annunciation to the Virgin Mary and
One of the big questions through the years was whether to use this feast to honor and focus on Mary or to honor and focus on Christ. The Eastern Church centered on Christ and His Conception. In the West during the Middle Ages the focus was on the Virgin Mary.
Presently, in the Latin Rite the Church recognizes both its Marian and Christological aspects. It is considered a Marian feast that gets outranked by the Christological Lenten and Easter Sunday feasts, and yet Pope Benedict XVI points out that this feast is also a Christological feast. (See quote below in the Solution section.)
In 1969 the Roman liturgical calendar “restored
the feast as primarily a Solemnity of the Lord in which Mary, his
mother, is intimately associated. The full title of the feast indicates
its Christological focus—the Annunciation of the Lord—restoring its
ancient name. …”
Should we think of this feast as a Marian feast or one honoring Christ ? And which do we do ? Should we even try to make this feast specifically Marian or Christological and separate the two for this feast.
While separating Mary from Christ has some advantages it can also be misunderstood in a way that undermines both a knowledge of Christ as well as Marian devotion. For example, many Protestants have Mary separated so far from Christ that not only do they not honor her, they see no reason to honor her. They misperceive any devotion to her as being opposed to Christ. For them it is, “Jesus OR Mary.”
However, by celebrating both the
Annunciation to Mary and the Incarnation of Christ together we can
proclaim the bedrock upon which Marian devotion is based, that she is
united to Christ. All the glory goes to God who in turn manifests His
glory in and through the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the Saints.
He is the Source while we are called to be channels of that grace to the
How can we honor both Jesus and Mary ?
Is it even right to try to do both ? How can Mary who is a creature, be honored in the same breath as God who is the Creator of all ?
However, think of Homer - and his Iliad, Shakespeare - and his plays, Einstein - and his Theory of Relativity. Of course, we do not put these men and the values of their lives on equal par with their work. And yet we cannot truly know the artist unless we also know his work. And the greatest created work of God is the Immaculate Heart of Mary.
And so understood in the right sense, we can speak of both God and Mary, and I believe honor them both in way that helps us to know each of them better. - It was the Church’s teaching on Mary that helped dispel many of the early Christological heresies such as Nestorianism (Ephesus 431 AD.) And, by emphasizing both God’s and Mary’s role and by moving this Solemnity to a Sunday will give the majority of Catholics the impetus to meditate on the foundation of Marian devotion, that she is united to her Son, Jesus Christ.
One convert pointed out that it was his meditation on this feast that led to his understanding and appreciation of Mary’s role in salvation and eventually led to his acceptance of the Catholic faith.
Choosing to recognize this feast as on occasion to honor both God and Mary seems to have a historical foundation. See article below on “Akathistos” from the New Catholic Encyclopedia.
From New Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume I, pages 197-198
“From the Greek ά-κάθισtος, meaning not seated, standing. It is perhaps the most celebrated hymn of the Byzantine Church, and belongs to the poetical genre known as kontakion (see Byzantine Rite, Chants Of). It is performed at the vigil service of the fifth Saturday in Lent, a calendar position that it occupied from an early date; its original association, however, was more probably with the Feast of the Annunciation, March 25.
The body of the poem comprises 24 stanzas (oikoi) linked by an alphabet acrostic—the first 12 treating of the Incarnation and the infancy of Christ, the last 12 alternating the praises of God and His Mother in the even- and odd-numbered stanzas respectively …
early MSS give another stanza, of independent metrical design and standing outside the alphabet acrostic: tή ύπερμάχω σtραtηγώ . . . (To the invincible Leader. . .), a hymn of thanksgiving to the Virgin for the delivery of Constantinople from siege …
the prevailing tendency in more recent
scholarship has been to assign the hymn to the sixth century, or even
somewhat earlier …”
Also see more answers to objections to Marian devotion at
Know Mary, Know Jesus
Just as the Icon shows Jesus in Mary the intuitive mind is led to grasp that the key to answering most Protestant objectionings about Marian doctrines can be found in the realization that Mary is in Christ, the Body of Christ, the Church. It is God's grace working through her co-operation.
See how to respond to Marian objections and how
she is a highway to heaven and the best means of going directly to God.
3. Celebrating a Better Lent
“The desire to embrace his Father’s plan of
redeeming love inspired Jesus’ whole life, for his redemptive passion
was the very reason for his Incarnation.”
The early church believed that celebrating the Annunciation/Incarnation fit perfectly within the Lenten celebration of sacrifice and mortification. 1 Today however, the Annunciation is sometimes mistakenly thought of as being exclusively a joyful event because of its association with the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary. However, God’s mysteries are as broad as they are deep.
In the history of mankind there has not been a greater example of self sacrifice than what happened at the Incarnation and the Annunciation. The Second Person of the Trinity knew full well that accepting His mission from the Father would lead to suffering and a horrible death. And when Mary gave her yes to the Annunciation she was in effect giving her okay to her own death warrant. Since she had no relations with Saint Joseph if he had decided to publicly divorce her, the Law would have required her to be stoned to death, a most unpleasant way to go. And yet, she still said yes.
Mary’s yes to God was not limited, as many Protestants would like to contend, to just being a vessel for God’s Son. Her yes was a complete yes of her whole being to the complete plan of God. 2 John 2:4-5. Her yes was to be fulfilled throughout her life.
Pope Benedict XVI Speaking about the Annunciation
“In this Lenten Season we
often contemplate Our Lady, who on Calvary sealed the "yes" she
pronounced at Nazareth. United to Christ, Witness of the Father's love,
Mary lived martyrdom of the soul.”
The suffering of one’s own mother can cut through many obstacles to move one’s heart. Unfortunately, our present liturgical calendar offers little or no opportunity to give a Sunday reflection on our Sorrowful Mother. The proposal of this web page, if accepted, would do so because Mary's yes was a complete acceptance of God's plan regardless of the personal cost to herself - even if it meant being stoned to death for her "unexplainable" pregnancy.
Therefore, one very good reason for moving this Solemnity to a Sunday prior to Passion (Palm) Sunday is that it fits perfectly into the Season of Lent. This would enhance our Lenten celebration by providing us with two prefect examples, Jesus and Mary, who gave up worldly pleasures to give themselves entirely to God the Father and His plan even when much suffering ensued. And by reflecting on their choices which were motivated by the purest of reasons, a total love for the Father, we can enable a more fruitful celebration of Lent and Easter.
Since penance is an important theme we need to repeat that message. However, there is the danger that if the same message is repeated in the same way it will reach a saturation point where the words become meaningless. Sometimes it is better to approach the theme from a totally different angle. And it is the Solemnity of the Annunciation/Incarnation that offers us the ability to go deeper into the meaning of what penance implies and how to practice penance it a more fruitful way.
For example, on Ash Wednesday the Church will often point out that instead of just giving external things to God we need to open ourselves up to God’s love and give our very selves to Him. And this Solemnity gives us two perfect examples of Jesus and Mary who gave themselves completely to God the Father and His plan of salvation.
There’s a further danger that Christianity can be misperceived as a set of laws, and arbitrary ones at that, and that God is just a Master Law giver who seeks to control us. This perception gives way to the idea that we just have to give some external things to God or that attending ritual ceremonies are solely meant to be perfunctory obligations rather than occasions of faith-filled encounters with the Person of Jesus Christ. And God is misperceived as a Master who has the need to require that we do such things to make Him happy, or at least that we should fulfill most of His arbitrary requirements lest we upset Him so much and get condemned to Hell.
To their credit Muslims are good at expressing how God is our Master and that we need to submit to Him. Islam means submission. However, their view of their relationship to God is limited to a Master/Slave relationship.
The Annunciation and Incarnation offers us a third example of total self giving ( besides Jesus’ and Mary’s.)
Jesus Christ came to earth and revealed God to be a Father. And so, the Annunciation is a perfect opportunity to explain the Fatherhood of God. He is a Father from before the world was created, because He is a Father to the Son – who is also God. His Fatherhood is independent of creation because it existed before the world was created. God is perfectly and infinitely happy in Himself. He came to earth and made known His revelation not for His benefit, but for ours.
In the Father/Son relationship we are called not to just give external things to God, but to give our heart and our very selves to God. We find true happiness not in worldly things while trying to appease some Master who makes arbitrary demands on us. Rather, by putting God first in our lives we find happiness in God Himself as we, His adopted children, accept and live in a Father/son relationship.
God’s laws are not to be seen as some arbitrary rules to control us, but rather as our Heavenly Father’s guides to us to save us and to help us so that we might freely choose to live in communion with Him, the Source of all that is good, and to find true freedom and true happiness. The emptiness of our hearts can only be filled by living in a loving relationship with Him and by loving others. The teachings and requirements of the Church are not to be seen as something burdensome, but rather as something life giving.
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and
the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.’ ”
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
Pope Benedict XVI explains how the Annunciation gives us the perfect example of the act of giving of ourselves to God.
The world tends to reduce the meaning of love to unbridled selfish passion. Happiness is reduced to the temporary satisfaction of worldly pleasures. The Annunciation/Incarnation is the perfect opportunity to explain our human nature and how it is meant to be in relation to others. We are made to be united to others in relationships. The empty place in our hearts cannot be satisfied with lonely isolated pleasures or ego trips, but rather it can only be healed and satisfied by truly loving relationships. And our relationships will be truly loving when, and only if, they are based on a loving relationship with God where we worship Him and Him alone.
And Jesus gives us the perfect example by accepting His mission from the Father and by living in union with Him.
And Its Psychological Advantages
Just as in Advent we have Gaudete Sunday, a moment of tempered joy, our Lenten Season has Laetare Sunday two weeks before Passion (Palm) Sunday. It is celebrated by a certain amount of restrained rejoicing mingled with some sadness.
The Second Person of the Trinity accepted the Father’s plan of the Incarnation knowing full well that it would lead to His suffering and death. See quote from CCC 607 above. And so, the Annunciation and Incarnation dovetails beautifully into this Season of Lent.
Shifting our focus to a tempered moment of joy that Laetare Sunday calls us to helps us to better celebrate the Season of Lent. The immensity of the Victory of Easter cannot be understood without experiencing the true sorrow of the Passion.
While many things can be sad, sorrow is more profoundly experienced when it is in the midst of what should be joyful. For example, the death of an old man or woman is sad, however the death of a young bride, when we are emotionally focused on what we expect are the joys of youthful and newly married love, makes the young bride’s death all the more sorrowful. Or if we hear of the death of a young child the occasion takes on an especially sorrowful tone.
Suffering in the midst of an expectant joy makes the suffering all the more painful. Contemplating the reality of death is by nature sad. However, when the experience of the Passion is associated with another occasion, the Annunciation/Incarnation, which we would normally and rightfully associate with profound joy the sorrow becomes more profound and penetrating (and vice-versa.)
As we contemplate the coming of Christ in the Annunciation/Incarnation and what should have been – if there had been no sin – it brings out the true sorrow of His passion. This in turn makes the joy and victory of Easter all the more exuberant.
Only by examining the reality of what death entails will enable us to appreciate and experience the fullness of joy that the resurrection offers us.
Dealing with Death
When a young child or newly wed spouse dies the survivors will often ask, why did God take him or her away from me? The Annunciation points to the fact that human life begins at conception and this can lead to recovery for those that mourn. God, who is the Author of life, creates each human person at the moment of their conception. (Jesus is One Person, a Divine Person, who is co-eternal with the Father.)
Since God is the creator of time and space He knows our future and how many days each of us will live. (This is not a denial of free-will, but a recognition that God is outside of time.)
God should be seen as the One who gives not as one who takes away. Whether by God’s divine providence we are destined to live 2 years, 20 years or 80 years or whatever time span we are blessed to have should be seen as a gift. No one deserves or earns the gift of another person.
The gift of personhood and life that begins at conception is a miraculous and tremendously great gift. Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves about what we do not have we should be grateful for the underserved gift that we were given. So, whatever friends or relatives that we are blessed to have and whatever time period we are blessed to have them should be seen as on occasion of joy and thanksgiving.
Understanding True Penance
The mystery of the Annunciation/Incarnation provides the perfect opportunity to explain in a positive way what God, man, human nature, true love, and penance really mean. Jesus gave his very self to the Father, following the Father’s example. Jesus embraced His Divine will out of love for Him, not out of fear of being punished by some Master. Mary, the model Christian, also gave her complete and unreserved yes to God, accepting in faith that His will was best for her.
Understanding this mystery lays the foundation for understanding what penance is truly meant to be and what it is meant to lead us to.
For some Catholics their participation in penance has been reduced to a time for starting a new diet and their understanding of sacrificing is limited to just the external things that are offered up. For others a lifestyle that is seriously and inherently sinful is mistaken as being totally distinct from their penitential practice.
However, emphasizing the Solemnity of the Annunciation/Incarnation will enhance the Church’s ability get to the real meaning of penance. One of the primary goals of penance is to inspire people to the foundation of what penance is meant to signify and lead those people into the giving of their heart, and of their very selves to God. Fortunately, this Solemnity and the readings for that celebration are especially conducive for achieving that goal and it approaches that purpose with a unique message.
Spring, and the Incarnation.
Happiness: Do You Want To Be Happy ?
4. Celebrating a Better Easter
“ … Christ’s Resurrection is closely linked to the Incarnation of God's Son, and is its fulfillment in accordance with God's eternal plan.” CCC 653
The Annunciation/Incarnation provides an excellent opportunity to help the catechumens prepare for their reception of Jesus Christ on Easter in the Sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Eucharist. This day is the most important day in their lives as they become Born Again, or Begotten from Above, into God’s family (John 3:3). It is, or at least should be, a turning point in their lives that deserves a most special attention on our part to help them recognize it as such.
The Annunciation/Incarnation provides a certain prelude or preparation for this event.
As the homilist expounds upon the turning point in human history, the Annunciation/Incarnation, the catechumens will grow in appreciation for what Jesus Christ offers and they will be led to a deeper commitment in following their Savior. This occasion provides the opportunity to reflect on the importance of Christ coming into the world to save us and we will be moved to esteem the importance of Christ coming into our lives and enabling the changes that only He can bring.
This Solemnity provides an excellent opportunity to contrast the destructive worldly forces with the hope and beauty that is offered by Jesus Christ.
For more, on how Christ and His revelation has changed the world, see
Science and Western Civilization’s Debt to Catholic Church
Increasing our focus on Jesus’ and Mary’s acceptance of their vocations given to them by God the Father will be helpful in many ways and for several reasons. Not only would it be helpful in regards to consecrated religious vocations, but it would help inspire those in the laity to fulfill their role as well. How much better off would the world be ...
Besides giving to us the perfect examples of fulfilling ones vocation, the Incarnation and Annunciation offer to us the perfect formula for making that possible. It is not just our own personal commitment or inner strength that makes it possible (Matthew 26:33), but by following the example of Jesus and Mary by developing a deeply personal and loving relationship with God the Father through much faith and prayer.
Unfortunately some people today expect their priests to only tell them what makes them feel good. (Cf. 2 Timothy 4:3) They assume that the priest, the church, the world, and even God owe them a life without suffering. They look to God primarily for Him to save them from suffering. By reflecting on Mary’s “Yes” to her vocation and by reflecting on her life’s example in how she was not saved from suffering in this life the lay faithful will have a greater opportunity to be cured of these possible false expectations and to grow in a greater appreciation of a salvation from sin rather than just a salvation strictly from suffering. This deeper awareness of the meaning of life will aid them in discerning and living out their vocation.
Pope Benedict XVI Speaking about the Annunciation
“Behold, I am the handmaid of
the Lord, let it be done to me according to your Word". Mary's reply to
the Angel is extended in the Church … The “yes” of Jesus and Mary is
thus renewed in the “yes” of the saints, especially martyrs who are
killed because of the Gospel.”
Therefore, focusing on the coming of Christ in
the Annunciation and the Incarnation lays the groundwork for a better
celebration of Easter.
Restoring the Liturgy,
How would it be best to increase our
emphasis on the Annunciation and Incarnation in order to tap into this
powerful and theologically rich mystery ?
Marian or Christological Feast ?
Pope Benedict XVI
In years past the Solemnity of the Annunciation was a holy day of obligation, and so the entire Church was able to tap into its richness. Unfortunately, even if that were re-instated I don’t believe most Catholics would attend since most Catholics today no longer go to holy days of obligation if they are not already attached to that particular feast. And those who most need its evangelistic message are those least likely to attend holy days of obligation.
Easter Sunday always falls between the dates
and April 25th
inclusive. In our current liturgical calendar when March 25th
falls on a Lenten Sunday the Annunciation is always moved to the
following Monday. When March 25th
falls between Passion (Palm) Sunday and Easter Wednesday inclusive (the
latest possible day in the calendar) the
Annunciation is always moved to the eighth day after Easter.
The Solemnity could be celebrated on the Sunday that is closest to March 25th placing it between March 22nd and March 28th for most of the year. However, if the closest Sunday is Passion (Palm) Sunday or Easter Sunday, then the Solemnity would be celebrated on the Sunday following Easter. It would be celebrated on the same day as Divine Mercy Sunday. The Incarnation is so rich it has many facets.
Objections and Answers
1. The early church did not place the Solemnity of the Annunciation on a Sunday and the Incarnation is not a liturgical feast at all, so we should not change what was passed down to us.
Response: This objection is half right. We do want to continue and maintain what the heritage that God has given to through His Church. However, we need to discern exactly what is being passed down and not read into what the Church has been doing a position or ruling that the Holy Spirit and the Church never intended. And we cannot close our eyes to any truth that is an internal logical development of our tradition or any new insights to those truths that we have.
Why no Incarnation feast?
The early church did not have the biological science to tell them when human life began as we do today. Without that tool they did not have the ability to correctly place the Incarnation into the liturgical year. They knew how long pregnancy lasted, but they did not know that human life began with the beginning of pregnancy. So, they could insert the Annunciation into the liturgical year, but not the Incarnation.
The fact that their liturgical calendar lacked the Incarnation should not be interpreted as a judgment against its inclusion because they lacked the science to really address the question.
By analogy consider the teachings of Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274.) His statements on how Mary was saved are considered unacceptable by today’s standards and our teaching on Mary’s Immaculate Conception. Does that mean he rejected the Church’s teaching on that, specifically Ineffabilis Deus by Pope Pius IX in 1854 ? Dissenter’s try to claim that, but their logic fails on several points. To reject something you have to truly consider it.
However, Saint Thomas Aquinas never had the privilege of having the solution of Blessed John Duns Scotus (1265-1308) – that Mary needed to be saved, but was indeed saved from the first moment of her conception – being presented to him for consideration. Furthermore, Saint Thomas Aquinas lacked the scientific knowledge of how life began. Since, he could not truly consider these facts that help us describe today how Mary was Immaculately Conceived, you cannot honestly say he rejected it, even though his words do not comply with today’s teaching on this issue.
Similarly, the early church did not have the science to place the Incarnation into their liturgical calendar, but that does not mean they rejected its inclusion on a prominent Sunday celebration, or diminished its importance in any way.
Rather, to discern the importance of the Incarnation in the early church we need to look to other sources of our tradition.
The best source, or the best clues, I propose is to look at the book of the Liturgy, the Bible which is the collection of those books and only those books that we are permitted to read during the liturgy.
Consider the Bibles of the Middle Ages. The first page of each of the Gospels was often given its own page of special calligraphy. Which I suppose one would expect since the four Gospels are so prominent. However, one other verse also got that pre-eminent place of distinction. It was Matthew 1:18.
Matthew 1:18 “Now this is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about. When his mother Mary was ... found with child through the holy Spirit.”
And that verse began with an enormous letter called the Incarnation Initial.
For example we see this in
Now, lest some accuse the monks of the Middle Ages of some kind of aberration, let us look even earlier. Let us look at the text of the Bible itself.
John the Evangelist considered the Incarnation so important that he put it right in the beginning of his Gospel.
The First Letter of John also begins by telling us about the Incarnation. 1 John 1:2-3 And, again the proclamation of the Incarnation is the primary focus of the Second Letter of John.
2 John 7
Also see the page on the Importance of the Incarnation
2. We should not alter the things of God such as the timings of the Solemnity of the Annunciation to fix the lesser things of man such as the abortion issues.
This too is half correct. However, the Annunciation, and more importantly the Incarnation deserve to be placed on the most important days of our celebration on their own right.
3. The Liturgical Calendar cannot be re-arranged just to accommodate a secondary purpose.
The feast of the Annunciation is also the Incarnation. It is of such major theological importance to our faith it deserves in its own right a special recognition that only a Sunday observance can adequately give. Only a Sunday observance will direct our laity to the attention that it deserves. In the past it was a Holy Day of Obligation, but unfortunately today many Catholics no longer observe those obligations. Hence, it is worthwhile moving it to a Sunday just as Ascension Thursday was moved to a Sunday. Read more about the importance of the Annunciation and Incarnation.
4. The Annunciation is a Marian Feast, and therefore, it gets outranked by the Christological Feasts of Lent and Easter which it cannot replace.
Pope Benedict XVI points out how the
Annunciation is also a Christological feast.
5. The focus of Lent should not be interrupted by this joyful feast
The early church believed that celebrating the Annunciation/Incarnation fit perfectly within the Lenten celebration of sacrifice and mortification. See note 1. Today however, the Annunciation is sometimes mistakenly thought of as being exclusively a joyful event because of its association with the Joyful Mysteries of the rosary. However, God’s mysteries are as broad as they are deep.
In the history of mankind there has not been a greater example of self sacrifice than what happened at the Incarnation and the Annunciation. See complete section dedicated to answering this question under the heading of Lent.
6. We must maintain the status quo and we cannot move the Annunciation from March 25th. We must keep the nine month association with December 25th, Christmas Day, so as to maintain the length of Mary's pregnancy so that others make the connection with that feast as well.
This argument is short sighted for numerous reasons. In brief, it uses bad science to promote a falsehood and is counter productive.
Our current calendar moves the Solemnity of the Annunciation from the March 25th date 34% of the time. 26% of the time it is moved six to fifteen days ahead to the eighth day after Easter, and on some occasions as late as April 9.
Therefore, the argument that it cannot be moved is at best misleading, if not a denial of the facts. Since, we clearly do move the feast from the date of the 25th quite often, the argument is not whether or not we can or should move it, but rather what arguments do we have for and against moving it and when do we want to move it. It should be noted that currently when March 25th falls on a Lenten Sunday the Solemnity of the Annunciation is always moved, whereas under the new proposed plan the Solemnity would stay on March 25th when that happens.
Currently, we are drawing a line by connecting the dots for a nine month association by using March 25th, but unfortunately, albeit unintentionally, by far most Catholics never see that line. At no time – 0% – is the Annunciation celebrated on a Sunday when it would have the greatest potential to reach the masses with its powerful message. Instead it is always celebrated, on an obscure – and all but forgotten by most Catholics – weekday Mass. And so what is the point of drawing a line to connect the dots if almost no one sees the line?
Proposed Solution ... Continued.
I fear that many people take for granted the mercy and graces God offers to us. Their thinking in some cases is, “So, I will get married for the third time and outside of the Church this weekend. God loves me. He understands.” Or “So, I will get an abortion tomorrow. I don’t need to go to the Sacrament of Confession. God loves me. He understands.” The price which was paid to win for us this grace needs to be contemplated to be appreciated.
Pope John Paul II had written an address that was given posthumously the day after his death on Divine Mercy Sunday. He shows how the foundation of our trust in God’s mercy is in our Father’s love for us.
The Father’s love, that He gave us his only Son knowing that He would suffer and die, needs to be contemplated so that we appreciate what is offered to us on Divine Mercy Sunday. By celebrating the Incarnation on Divine Mercy Sunday, or shortly before it, will help us appreciate the Father’s love and His Divine Providence.
Placing the Annunciation-Incarnation on the Sunday after Easter has enormous advantages. While Divine Mercy Sunday has a much needed and powerful message I believe that the message is not heard by many because they have fallen into a presumptuous way of thinking.
Many in the world today are not conscious of their own separation from God and how He established a Church to minister His preaching and Sacraments to reconcile them back to Him. Most people in the world today think of themselves as being a basically good person who is going to heaven regardless of whether they are going to Church or not. They are not murdering anybody, they are doing all those bad things that read about others doing. They think of themselves as being better than the standard that is presented to them in the press, or at least as good if not better than all those “hypocrites who go to church every Sunday.”
Many believe that they have earned heaven by being good, or at least that they are not so bad that a loving, merciful and soft God would send them to hell. Many are presumptuous about God’s mercy and they do not believe that they have to do anything to attain it. And this attitude prevents them from understanding and or appreciating the message of God’s mercy that is presented to them on Divine Mercy Sunday. Until we acknowledge that our sin separates us from God and that heaven is a gift that none of us could ever earn we cannot appreciate our need for His Mercy or His gift of it.
We need to discover His plan for our return to Him.
And so, by occasionally placing the Annunciation - Incarnation on Mercy Sunday we have the best opportunity to prepare them for that revelation. On the Solemnity of the Incarnation the Church has the opportunity to teach and to show how Jesus is the promised Messiah promised in Genesis 3:15. It is the perfect time to teach that God so loved the world that He sent His Son with a three fold mission, to Teach, to Rule, and to Sanctify.
By helping those who have come back to the Church at Easter time to realize that Jesus is a Teacher we are wetting their appetite to learn what God wants to teach us on Divine Mercy Sunday.
This suggestion to move the Annunciation to a Sunday would keep it between March 22nd and April 11th and thereby keep it within the normal pregnancy period of 38 weeks plus or minus a couple of weeks (March 20th to April 17th.) When Easter falls on April 5th or later - almost two thirds or 64.8% of the time - the Annunciation and Conception would fall on the nearest Sunday, i.e. within three days of March 25th, between the dates March 22nd and March 28th.
Making room in the Liturgical Calendar
Adopting this suggestion would mean that the Annunciation would be celebrated on the 3rd, 4th, 5th Sunday of Lent or the Sunday after Easter. So, one of those Sunday readings would be displaced on a given year, but it would vary from one year to the next so that none of the Liturgical readings would be completely displaced. So, there would be no need to make any major changes to our Liturgical Calendar other than those mentioned.
Its latest celebration would be on April 18th. This is one day beyond the time span of pregnancy of 38 weeks from conception to birth plus or minus a couple of weeks. Counting backward from December 25th gives the corresponding window of March 20th to April 17th. The Solemnity would only land on April 18th when Easter fell on April 4th. This only happens 3.2% of the time. However, even this late date still falls within what “The World Health Organization defines normal term for delivery.” In fact, even at this shortest possible time span between the Annunciation and Christmas under the proposed plan presented here, a woman would have been defined as being “at term” a full six days prior to delivery. See reference.
When Easter comes earlier than April 4th the second Sunday after Easter is the 17th or before. When Easter comes after April 4th then the nearest Sunday to March 25 is always one of the Sundays that precede Passion (Palm) Sunday.
Although celebrating the Annunciation and Conception Sunday on April 18th falls one day outside of the range of 38 weeks plus or minus two weeks it has a distinct advantage. Currently our culture has a very distinct prejudice against motherhood. Every pregnant mother anxiously counts down the days of her confinement. What mother would not be relieved and overjoyed to have her period of confinement reduced by a day? The symbolic reducing by the Church of Mary’s “confinement” by one day could be a symbolic jester to how the whole Church should value and cherish and assist mothers especially during their pregnancy.
On the other hand, if celebrating the Annunciation and Conception Sunday on April 18th is an insurmountable obstacle, then when Easter falls on April 4th the celebration for the Annunciation and Conception could be pushed back to the Sunday prior to Passion (Palm) Sunday on March 21st.
The proposal offered at this website does move the feast more frequently, but it moves it to a prominent yearly Sunday celebration in a simple consistent manner. It is still tied to the March 25th date although less strictly, so that its much needed message is heard by those who most need to hear it. And when March 25th falls on a Lenten Sunday the Annunciation will stay on March 25th, unlike our current system.
To see how these percentages above are
calculated see the
The Beauty of Truth
Is it reasonably to think that this Solemnity will be moved to a Sunday ?
We can know some things by faith and other things by reason. And I propose that it is by logical deduction, that is by reason, that we can see that the Church will most likely move this solemnity to a Sunday. If the Church does indeed do this, that would prove that it was God's idea all along. If not, then it would prove that this small portion of this web article was only my idea. (In which case, I would perhaps spend an extra year in purgatory saying "mea culpa." However, the logic in the reasoning is so strong, I would probably deserve and extra ten years in purgatory if I did not advance the truth of this case, assuming that it will be eventually approved. :) )
There are two lines of thought that will lead us to that conclusion. One is very conclusive, but also a little longer. So, I will give it last.
First line of reasoning:
The Annunciation-Incarnation is the cornerstone to our faith. Read more about this Solemnity's Importance. It deserves to be restored to a greater prominence in the Liturgy so that it can be celebrated and contemplated more devoutly by the general laity, that is, by the whole church. It used to be a holy day of obligation for the universal church before the French Revolution. However, if it were restored to a holy day of obligation, most of the laity would probably still not attend since they miss celebrating many of those feasts already. So, that doesn't work. The only practical way to get everyone to tap into the awesome power of this beautiful mystery of our faith is to move it to a Sunday.
Second line of reasoning:
As a whole the Catholic Church is not doing that well in opposing abortion. Although most everyone realizes that abortion is an ugly thing and most will say they oppose it to some degree, and yet many Catholics will still vote to keep it legalized (for when they "really need" it.)
Just examine the voting record of Catholics. And many Catholics who are not living a celibate lifestyle support the services of Planned Parenthood and they are not open to the creation of new life.
And unfortunately, many Catholic girls get abortions. Catholics, men and women, are deceived by our society. They buy into the lie that their child is
“just a blob of tissue” who has no rights.
And so, it is of paramount importance that the Church oppose that lie and inoculate, if it where, our children from that horrendous lie with the truth of Christ. It might prove too difficult to convert many of the middle aged pro-abortion “Catholics,” but it is not too late to reach out to the very young. It is not just a matter of announcing and preaching an intellectual concept. The truth must be communicated in a way that it is embraced in the depth of our being so that we can truly die to ourselves and our concupiscence (disordered sexual desires) so that we might celebrate and live our life in Christ. The most powerful way of teaching is not by simple direction or instruction. Rather, it is by establishing a culture that is based on truth and presupposes it.
The “Catholics” who favor keeping abortion legalized in at least some instances have a very fuzzy notion about when human life really begins. Their justification for accepting abortion is the acceptance that maybe society is right, and maybe the unborn child is really just a “blob of tissue.”
The Annunciation and Incarnation is the only feast that really offers us a concrete way of answering this question and showing that human life begins at conception (fertilization). Focusing on this Solemnity by moving it to a Sunday is not only a good move, but it is the ONLY winning move to refute this lie. Therefore, it is quite reasonable to conclude that the Church will make this move.
Where is the certainty?
Consider a chess match by two grandmasters. These games are rarely played out to the end. One of them will invariably resign half way into the game. Why? Because the ending is certain. After a series of moves one player catches on and sees how the previous peculiar moves of his opponent has led him into a trap. His opponent, a grandmaster, will not just make a good move. He is going to make what they now both see is the best move. Checkmate is a certainty. So, he resigns. The Holy Spirit will lead the Church into making not just a good move, but the best move. They question is timing. So, if the reasoning above is true, then the Church shall do it. It is just a question of when.
1. This proposed plan would enhance our Lenten celebration by providing us with two prefect examples, Jesus and Mary, who gave up worldly pleasures to give themselves entirely to God the Father and His plan even when much suffering ensued. Read more on Lent.
2. It provides a more enhanced liturgical opportunity to prepare the Catechumens for their reception of Christ coming into their world. Read more on Easter.
3. It would lay the bed rock foundation for Marian devotion on how Jesus united Himself to Mary, as we meditate on how God incorporated Mary into His plan of salvation for us. Read more on Mary.
4. It would make the unmistakably clear point of how human life begins at conception and thus make an obvious pro-life message without even using the emotionally charged words such as abortion, etc. That point being made by implication could reach those who have built up defense mechanisms and become closed minded when they hear explicit pro-life terminology and arguments. Read more on Pro-Life.
5. The implementation of this plan provides a simple consistent liturgical calendar that would tap into the powerful message of this feast on a yearly basis. And most importantly, it would greatly benefit the vast majority of Catholics who only attend Sunday Mass.
6. By reflecting on Jesus’ and Mary’s yes to God the Father and His plan for them and how their love that made that yes possible we can greatly aid all the faithfully to reflect on their own vocation and its importance. Read more on Vocations.
7. Jesus' and Mary's yes to the Father provides us with the key to handling our own crosses in life, a deep love for the Father and trust in His most perfect will as to what is best for us even when some cross ensues.
8. With the rise of Islam in Western Europe and America it would seem advantageous to have a Sunday devoted to the distinctively Christian doctrine of the Incarnation.
9. There is no more powerful means of fighting the satanic forces of abortion than by celebrating the liturgy that honors the Author of Life when He took on a human life.
Just as the Church (in North America, in most of the states) moved the Feast of the Ascension, forty days after Easter, to a Sunday in order to help the whole congregation to focus on and to draw upon its theological importance, the Church has all the more reason to consider moving the Annunciation and Incarnation to a Sunday celebration.
There are two other problems with our current
Second, the current title, “The Annunciation of our Lord” does not readily call to mind its connection to Christmas. (The catechetical development of many Catholics is not that great.) And the lack of devotion to this particular liturgical day because of the above reasons of its irregular and obscure weekday celebration make the realization of the connection to Christmas harder to recognize and to remember.
Regardless of whether we keep the current calendar or accept the proposal stated here this feast is going to be moved from the March 25th date on a somewhat regular basis. Therefore, it behooves us to consider the proposed name change below to make this connection to Christmas more obvious.
A New Name for the Solemnity
Proposed new Name for this Solemnity :
Annunciation to the Virgin Mary and
Or abbreviated as “Annunciation and Conception”
or “Annunciation and Incarnation”
The mystery of the Annunciation and Incarnation is so powerful and theologically rich the Church might want to consider renaming the Solemnity of “The Annunciation of the Lord” to make some of these deeply needed truths more obvious. I suggest two considerations.
In old calendars this feast has been called Festum Incarnationis, and also Conceptio Christi, among other titles. (See Catholic Encyclopedia, 1907, for more history on this feast)
Previously the title focused on Mary while now the focus is on Christ as the Annunciation of our Lord, even though it is a “Marian” feast. I suggest a new title that refers to both, Christ and how He works in and through Mary. Please read the section on Mary explaining why I believe this would both help better explain who Christ is and his plan of salvation for us as well as help explain and instill a greater Marian devotion.
When the average Catholic is asked, “When does the Church celebrate the coming of Christ?” they will almost always say Christmas and ignore or forget about the Annunciation. And this is quite understandable since our Sunday liturgy tends not to emphasize the Annunciation and since most Catholics neither go to daily Mass nor do they make the conscious connection between the Annunciation and Christmas nine months later. (Actually the gestation period for humans is 38 weeks, not nine months.)
So, it is essential that we help them make this connection for them to be deeply influenced by the strong implication of this Solemnity, which is that human life begins at conception. Therefore, in addition to moving the Solemnity of the Annunciation to a Sunday, I propose that this feast be given a new name to make its “9 months - or rather its 38 weeks” connection with Christmas more obvious, regardless of whether or not the homilist draws out this point.
The following title is long, but when we consider the number of
Catholic girls getting an abortion, it seems worth the sacrifice.
Of course, the evangelistic advantages of this new name go far beyond
just the Pro-Life objectives.
Proposed new Name for this Solemnity :
Annunciation to the Virgin Mary and
Or abbreviated as “Annunciation and Conception”
All of us would do well to meditate on the beauty, the significance, and power that this Solemnity, and this infinite Truth, has to offer. This feast contains in its very nature the answers to many of society’s errors and lies. And those who don’t go to daily mass are perhaps those most vulnerable to those lies and therefore are in most need to hear and meditate on its message. The benefits of moving it to Sunday are enormous because it is only on Sunday that most people will be in a position to recognize its connection to those truths including its connection to Christmas.
So, in conclusion, the adoption of this proposed change to the calendar as well as the new title for this feast – unlike our current calendar – will make the connection between this Solemnity and Christmas obvious to every one, and it will be made known every year. The opportunity to celebrate and draw from the richness of the Annunciation and Incarnation only comes once a year.
The Solemnity under this proposed solution could come as early as third week of Lent, but would more frequently come toward the end of Lent, i.e. fourth or fifth week.
Solutions that Don’t Work and their Disadvantages
(Alternate Plan 3)
(Alternate Plan 4)
All comments, criticisms, or suggestions are
most welcome. Please
The ideas submitted here are so that the Church may decide their merits. And of course, all faithful Catholics believe that the Holy Spirit will continue to lead the Church the way God sees as best.
We all would do well to emphasize these mysteries of God, the Annunciation to Mary and the Conception of Christ. Obviously, I accept whatever the Church decides, but I do ask for the Church's consideration on this issue because the current regulations were made before abortion became the widespread problem that it is today. While the themes in the Lenten Gospels are applicable throughout most of the year, the opportunity to fully focus on the Annunciation and its message comes only once a year.
And so we have the following questions:
“Would it benefit the Church to increase her reflection on the truths revealed by the Annunciation and Incarnation?” and
“What would be the most effective method of helping the average Catholic to reflect on those mysteries?” and
“Would the Church be able to emphasize the celebration of that Solemnity by moving it to a Sunday?”
Thanks to Rev. Fr. René Butler, M.S., for his help in research.