Monday, March 26, 2007

The Solemnity of the Annunciation

Along with questions about how to calculate the 40 days of Lent, I get a lot of questions about the Annunciation, or conception of our Lord on or around 8 December, which is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, when people observe "How could the Lord Jesus have been conceived on 8 December and be born on 25 December?" This is a good question and one with a perfectly reasonable answer. The Immaculate Conception has to do with the conception of Mary, the Mother of God (Theotokos), not the conception of her son, which we commemorate on the Solemnity of the Annunciation, about which we read in St. Luke's Gospel, chapter one, verses twenty-six through thirty-five.

The reason for bringing this up is that 25 March marks the commemoration of the angel Gabriel announcing to Miriam of Nazareth that she is to bear a child who "will be called Son of the Most High" (Lk 1,32). Since 25 March fell on Sunday this year, the solemnity is transferred to Monday. Therefore, it is not a Holy Day of Obligation. Nonetheless, attendance at Mass is fitting and highly encouraged. What is important to note about 25 March, in light of the question often asked, is that it is nine months before 25 December. So, just as the mystery of the Most Blessed Trinity is not a mathematical error (i.e, How does 3 somehow-magically- equal 1?), neither is the calculation on the liturgical calendar of our Lord's conception and birth a matter of faith contradicting reason.

It is also important to note, however, lest we get too literal-minded about these things, that we do not know the actual date of the birth of our Lord. Besides, he was born when time was marked by a wholly different calendar and scripture gives us little or no insight into the matter. Of course, it is easy enough to research and learn for oneself how we came to commemorate the Lord's birth on 25 December. This then becomes axiomatic for the calculation of his conception, which also uses the normal gestation period for an in utero human being.

As to the meaning of appropriation of this necessary event in salvation history, we turn to His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI, from his catechesis prior to yesterday's Angelus (courtesy of Rocco over at Whispers):

"'Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done unto me according to your Word.' The response of Mary to the Angel is carried forth in the Church, called to render Christ present in history, offering its own availability that God might continue to visit humanity with his mercy. The 'yes' of Jesus and of Mary so renews itself in the 'yes' of the saints, especially the martyrs, who've been killed for the cause of the Gospel. I underscore this by recalling that yesterday, 24 March, the anniversary of the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador, the Day of prayer and fasting for missionary martyrs was celebrated: bishops, priests, religious men and women and laity taken down in the exercise of their mission of evangelization and human advancement. These missionary martyrs, as this year's theme says, are 'hope for the world,' as they testify that the love of Christ is stronger than violence and hatred. They didn't seek martyrdom, but were ready to give their lives to remain faithful to the Gospel. Christian martyrdom only justifies itself as the supreme act of love to God and to one's brothers." (underlined and emboldened emphasis mine). Let us pray that the Holy Father's singling out of Archbishop Romero will further his canonization as a martyr!

Today also marks the fortieth anniversary of the landmark encyclical of Pope Paul VI, Populorum Progresso.

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