March 25: Annunciation of the Lord—Solemnity
Liturgical Color: White
“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” ~Luke 1:38
In the fifth century, bishops engaged in a fierce theological debate over the unity of the divine and human natures of Christ, referred to as the “hypostatic union.” Nestorius, the Archbishop of Constantinople, argued that there were two underlying hypostases, or substances, in Christ, one human and one divine. He believed that the humanity of Christ was born of the Virgin Mary, but not His divinity. Therefore, Nestorius believed Mary should only be called the “Christ-bearer” and not the “God-bearer” (Theotokos). Saint Cyril, the Archbishop of Alexandria, argued that the divine and human natures of Jesus were united in one hypostasis. Divinity and humanity were perfectly united and, therefore, Mary is properly called the Theotokos, or “Mother of God,” not just the “Mother of Christ.” God was born of her, not just His body. Mary conceived a Person in her womb, and that Person was both God and man, perfectly united as one. In 431 the Church held a council at Ephesus at which Cyril’s position was adopted and Nestorius’ position was condemned. Nestorius was then removed as Archbishop of Constantinople.
The Solemnity we celebrate today came into practice around the time of this controversy, possibly as a way of emphasizing the theological teaching that emerged from the Council of Ephesus. Throughout Church history, when a theological truth is defined, that truth is then celebrated liturgically as a lived expression of the Church’s faith.
The date of this celebration is interesting. It is set nine months before Christmas, but most likely, the date of Christmas was set nine months after the Annunciation. Many early Christians believed that Jesus’ death occurred on March 25, and, therefore, His Incarnation must have also taken place on this day. Interestingly, as early as the third century, it has been suggested that March 25 was also the date of the creation of Adam, the fall of Adam, the fall of the angels, the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham, and the passing of the Israelites through the Red Sea.
Today’s celebration of the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord recalls the historical event of the Angel Gabriel appearing to the Virgin Mary, as found in Luke 1:26–38. It also celebrates the Church’s faith in the underlying reality that took place at that moment in time. It celebrates the Incarnation, making this solemnity not only a Marian solemnity, but first and foremost a Christological one. Though Christmas commemorates the birth of Christ, the Annunciation commemorates the Incarnation within the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Most certainly, this solemnity is also a Marian celebration. We celebrate the Virgin Mary’s perfect “Yes” to the plan of the Father. We celebrate her humility, obedience, docility, and especially her motherhood of God and man.
This solemnity is also a celebration of the Father in Heaven because it reveals the beginning of the pinnacle of His perfect plan of salvation. That moment in time, the moment of the Incarnation, holds significance beyond comprehension. This moment was in the mind of the Father in Heaven from all eternity and took place in a hidden way, known only to this lowly and humble virgin.
As we celebrate this glorious solemnity, ponder all these central mysteries of our faith. Faith must be celebrated, not only believed. It must be proclaimed, rejoiced in, loved, and lived. Profess your faith in the Incarnation and seek the intercession of the Virgin Mary. Ask her to pray for you that you may imitate her “Yes” to the will of the Father in Heaven, so that you can continue to bring forth His divine Son in your soul, so that He will continue to be made manifest to the world through you.
Most glorious and ever-virgin Mary, when the Archangel Gabriel appeared to you to announce the coming of God within your virginal womb, you inquired with humility how this could be. The Archangel spoke further, and you assented to this divine mystery with all your heart. Please pray for me, that I may always consent to the will of God in my life so that your divine Son may also be conceived in my soul to continue His saving work of redemption. Mother Mary, pray for me. Jesus, I trust in You.