We celebrate the feast of the Annunciation on an unusual date this year, owing to the date of Easter. We are accustomed to marking the appearance of the angel Gabriel to Mary on March 25th, but this year Palm Sunday falls on that date. Since Palm Sunday forms an intimate part of the Paschal mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection and is the launching point for Holy Week it has a greater place in the Church’s worship than the Annunciation, and so the Annunciation is moved to the nearest date after the Octave of Easter, which in 2018 happens to be April 9th.
The Church in no way shows a lack of respect for Mary by doing this; on the contrary we focus on the mystery of Christ in all of our liturgical commemorations, and by marking the Annunciation—the moment of the incarnation of Christ—so closely after Easter we highlight the bond between the two feasts and the union between the Church’s reverence for Mary and its worship of Christ. To better understand this we might consider that the events which are marked by the feast of the Annunciation and those remembered during Holy Week and the Easter season are all part of the same mystery of Christ’s person.
The Annunciation marks the moment when the God’s “Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14) in the womb of the Virgin Mary. This is indeed something extraordinary to celebrate since, as our Church has long taught, “human nature as [Christ] assumed it was not annulled, by that very fact it has been raised up to a divine dignity in our respect too.” This means that “by His incarnation the Son of God has united Himself in some fashion with every man. He worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart. Born of the Virgin Mary, He has truly been made one of us, like us in all things except sin” (Gaudium et Spes 22).
Holy Week and the Easter season, for their part, re-present liturgically the culmination of Christ’s earthly life. In the process they teach us that the mystery of his person which begins to unfold for us through the Annunciation and incarnation comes to its fullness in the events of his passion, death, and glorious resurrection.
In a certain way the prophet Isaiah anticipates this mystery of God uniting with humanity, as we hear in today’s first reading: “the Lord himself will give you this sign: the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel, which means ‘God is with us!’” (Isa 7:14; 8:10). Emmanuel, “God is with us,” is the name of the awaited messiah of Israel, and represents his sharing in our human joys and sorrows. The union of divinity and humanity forecast by Isaiah is then recognized by the archangel Gabriel in the Gospel when he says to Mary: “the child born to you will be called holy, the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).
To bring our celebration of the Annunciation during the Easter season full circle we note that the opening prayer for mass today offers a reminder of how we will one day share in the union of divinity and humanity prophesied by Isaiah, recognized within the Virgin Mary, and seen perfectly in Jesus Christ. We pray: “O God, who willed that your Word should take on the reality of human flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary, grant that we, who confess our Redeemer to be God and man, may merit to become partakers even in his divine nature.” On this joyful feast of Mary let us remember that her glory is her son Jesus Christ and she ever-faithfully leads us to participate in his divine life.
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.