March 22, 2013

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Year of Faith: The feast of the Annunciation of the Lord

John F. FinkOn March 25, the Catholic Church ordinarily celebrates each year the events described in verses 26 to 38 in the first chapter of St. Luke’s Gospel—the appearance of the angel Gabriel to Mary to ask her to be the mother of Jesus. It is the feast of the Annunciation of the Lord.

This year, this great feast has been moved to April 8 because March 25 falls within Holy Week. Ordinarily, feasts on the Church’s liturgical calendar that fall within Holy Week and the week after Easter are not celebrated at all. The Church views the Annunciation as so important, however, that it continues to observe it and simply moves it to a later date.

It is a feast for all Bible-believing Christians because it celebrates one of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity—the Incarnation. It is the belief that the eternal Son of God assumed a complete human nature and was conceived within the womb of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit—just as it says in the Bible verses referred to above.

It has long seemed strange to me that the feast to be celebrated Monday is called the Annunciation because far more happened during the Annunciation than just an announcement.

By observing the feast of the Annunciation nine months before Christmas, the Catholic Church celebrates the fact that God became human when Mary agreed to be his mother, not nine months later in Bethlehem.

Those 13 verses in Luke’s Gospel are packed with Christian doctrine. First is the doctrine that angels exist. Luke certainly believed in angels. This was the second time an angel appeared in his Gospel, and it is still the first chapter. Earlier, the angel appeared to Zechariah.

The second doctrine is that of the virgin birth. The story starts out like others in the Bible—the four women who were told they would conceive after they were past the usual age for childbearing. We had stories of Sarah and Isaac, Samson’s mother and Samson, Hannah and Samuel, and Elizabeth and John. But those four women were old and barren. Mary was a young woman.

Isn’t Mary’s question a bit odd: How is this to happen? You’d expect the angel to say something like, “What a strange question, Mary. After all, you are betrothed to Joseph. It’s going to happen the way children are usually conceived.” Isaac, Samson, Samuel and John were all conceived naturally. But the angel doesn’t say that. Instead, he says, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you ” (Lk 1:35).

We learn about the Trinity. Verse 35 mentions all three persons of the Trinity. We have to wonder what Mary, a Jewish girl, thought about that, but there it is: “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” (Lk 1:35).

This was the second time that Gabriel said that Jesus was divine, the Son of God. But he was also fully human. Not only was he to be born of a human mother, but Gabriel also said that God would “give him the throne of David his father ” (Lk 1:32).

We must also consider Mary’s fiat: “I am the maidservant of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to your will” (Lk 1:38). It is the perfect prayer—“Thy will be done.” Jesus taught it as part of the Lord’s Prayer years later, but Mary prayed it first—and probably taught it to Jesus. †

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