The Feast of the Annunciation
The word “Incarnation” refers to the union of the divine nature of the Son of God with human nature in the person of Jesus Christ. It includes the conception, birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus, and His continuing presence in the Blessed Sacrament. We celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas, and His victory over death --- opening the gates of Heaven --- at Easter. But neither of these events would have occurred had Mary not said “Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum” or “Let it be done unto me according to Thy word” at the Annunciation.
We celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation nine months before the birth of Jesus, on March 25. We are told by the fathers of the Church that God becoming man is more important than God creating man. Therefore, the conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary marks the beginning of the “new creation.”(2Cor 5:17) The painting of the Annunciation by Sandro Botticelli tells much of the story:
Mary is shown clothed like royalty not because she was rich or powerful, but because she was “full of grace,” that is, without original sin, and the Mother of God. Since the Mother of God is higher than the angels, the angel genuflects to her as a sign of respect. The angel’s hand and Mary’s hand approach each other, in a way somewhat reminiscent of “The Creation of Adam” in the Sistine Chapel. But the angel is not reaching for Mary’s hand. Instead, the angel’s hand points up, accentuated by the window or door frame, indicating the means by which Jesus, the new Adam, will be conceived: “The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee, and therefore the Holy One to be born shall be called the Son of God.”
Behind the angel, one sees an idyllic, paradise-like setting with a large tree --- the Tree of Life. Jesus, who is now dwelling in Mary’s womb, will atone for the sin of Adam and enable those who believe in Him to be conceived and born again as children of God through His death on the cross. The Cross is the true Tree of Life and the body of Christ, still present in the Eucharist, is the fruit of the Tree.
Since the Feast of the Annunciation occurs near the time of the vernal equinox, or at the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere, it makes sense that this “new creation” would be associated with New Year’s Day. And that’s just what happened.
At the Council of Tours in 567, March 25 was adopted as the start of the New Year. It remained so until Pope Gregory XIII changed it back to January 1 in 1582. Not all went along with this revision; the American colonists celebrated New Year’s Day on March 25 through 1751. Then they too adopted January 1st.
Now, with a few exceptions, most Catholics take little notice of the Feast of the Annunciation. It is however, a Solemnity, which means that unless it occurs during Holy Week, the fasts of Lent do not apply on this day: Celebrating this great event in salvation history is appropriate.
During Lent, we try to make a new beginning, to renew our effort to participate in our own small way in God’s plan of salvation. We do that by saying, like Mary, “Let it be done unto me according to Thy word.”