Solemnity: March 25
In the liturgical year the various aspects of the one Paschal mystery unfold. This is also the case with the cycle of feasts surrounding the mystery of the Incarnation (Annunciation, Christmas, Epiphany). They commemorate the beginning of our salvation and communicate to us the first fruits of the Paschal mystery.
Beginning with the Easter Triduum as its source of light, the new age of the Resurrection fills the whole liturgical year with its brilliance. Gradually, on either side of this source, the year is transfigured by the liturgy. It really is a “year of the Lord’s favor.” The economy of salvation is at work within the framework of time, but since its fulfillment in the Passover of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the culmination of history is anticipated “as a foretaste,” and the kingdom of God enters into our time, such as at the Annunciation of the Lord.
The Feast of the Annunciation goes back to the fourth or fifth century. Its central focus is the Incarnation: God has become one of us. From all eternity God had decided that the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity should become human. Now, as Luke 1:26-38 tells us, the decision is being realized. The God-Man embraces all humanity, indeed all creation, to bring it to God in one great act of love. Because human beings have rejected God, Jesus will accept a life of suffering and an agonizing death: “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).
In his role as annunciator, Gabriel declares the coming of the birth of Christ to Mary. Luke describes the encounter between Gabriel and Mary: Gabriel appears to her, tells her she has found favor with God, and she will become pregnant with a son who is to be named Jesus. When Mary wonders how this can happen, since she is a virgin, Gabriel tells her the Holy Spirit will come upon her, and the child will be holy. When she consents (“Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done unto me according to your word”) the angel departs.
Mary is the virgin-mother who fulfills Isaiah 7:14 in a way that Isaiah could not have imagined. She is united with her son in carrying out the will of God (see Psalm 40:8-9; Hebrews 10:7-9; Luke 1:38). Together with Jesus, the privileged and graced Mary is the link between heaven and earth. She is the human being who, after Jesus, best exemplifies the possibilities of human existence. With the Annunciation, she received into her lowliness the infinite love of God.
Mary shows how an ordinary human being can reflect God in the ordinary circumstances of life and exemplifies what the church and every member of the church are meant to become. She is the ultimate product of the creative and redemptive power of God. She manifests what the Incarnation is meant to accomplish for all of us.
Sometimes spiritual writers are accused of putting Mary on a pedestal and thereby discouraging ordinary humans from imitating her. Perhaps such an observation is misguided. God did put Mary on a pedestal and has put all human beings on a pedestal. We have scarcely begun to realize the magnificence of divine grace, at the wonder of God’s freely given love. The marvel of Mary—even in the midst of her very ordinary life—is God’s shout to us to wake up to the marvelous creatures that we all are by divine design.
Catholic Church. Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd ed. Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2000.
Foley, Leonard, O.F.M., and Pat McCloskey, O.F.M. “Saint of the Day-Updated and Expanded.” Cincinnati: Franciscan Media, 2013.
Guiley, Rosemary Ellen. “The Encyclopedia of Saints.” New York, NY: Checkmark Books, 2001.
Featured Image: Annunciation by Bartolome Esteban Murillo