Annunciation of the Lord
The Archangel Gabriel and the Virgin Annunciate
1494-97, Tempera on wood,
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice
Readings and Collect:
O God, who willed that your Word
should take on the reality of human flesh
in the womb of the Virgin Mary,
grant, we pray,
that we, who confess our Redeemer to be God and man,
may merit to become partakers even in his divine nature.
Who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. +Amen.
First Reading: Isaiah 7:10-14; 8:10
Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, "Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven." But Ahaz said, "I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test." And Isaiah said, "Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanu-el. Take counsel together, but it will come to nought; speak a word, but it will not stand, for God is with us.
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 40:7-8a, 8b-9, 10, 11
R. Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.
Sacrifice and offering thou dost not desire;
but thou hast given me an open ear.
Burnt offering and sin offering thou hast not required.
Then I said, "Lo, I come;
R. Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.
In the roll of the book it is written of me;
I delight to do thy will,
O my God; thy law is within my heart."
R. Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.
I have told the glad news of deliverance in the great congregation;
lo, I have not restrained my lips, as thou knowest, O LORD.
R. Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.
I have not hid thy saving help within my heart,
I have spoken of thy faithfulness and thy salvation;
I have not concealed thy steadfast love
and thy faithfulness from the great congregation.
R. Here I am, Lord; I come to do your will.
Second Reading: Hebrews 10:4-10
For it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins.
Consequently, when Christ came into the world, He said, "Sacrifices and offerings Thou hast not desired, but a body hast Thou prepared for Me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings Thou hast taken no pleasure. Then I said, 'Lo, I have come to do Thy will, O God', as it is written of Me in the roll of the book." When He said above, "Thou hast neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings" (these are offered according to the law), then He added, "Lo, I have come to do Thy will." He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
Gospel Reading: Luke 1:26-38
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!" But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of His kingdom there will be no end." And Mary said to the angel, "How shall this be, since I have no husband?" And the angel said to her, "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. And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For with God nothing will be impossible." And Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word." And the angel departed from her.
The Feast of the Annunciation, March 25, is one of the most important in the Church calendar. It celebrates the actual Incarnation of Our Savior the Word made flesh in the womb of His mother, Mary.
The biblical account of the Annunciation is in the first chapter of the Gospel of Saint Luke, 26-56. Saint Luke describes the annunciation given by the angel Gabriel to Mary that she was to become the mother of the Incarnation of God.
Here is recorded the "angelic salutation" of Gabriel to Mary, 'Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee" (Ave, gratia plena, Dominus tecum - Lk 1:28), and Mary's response to God's will, "Let it be done to me according to thy word" (fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum) (v. 38)
This "angelic salutation" is the origin of the "Hail Mary" prayer of the Rosary and the Angelus (the second part of the prayer comes from the words of salutation of Elizabeth to Mary at the Visitation).
The Angelus, a devotion that daily commemmorates the Annunciation, consists of three Hail Marys separated by short versicles. It is said three times a day -- morning, noon and evening -- traditionally at the sound of a bell. The Angelus derives its name from the first word of the versicles, Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariae (The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary).
Mary's exultant hymn, the Magnificat, found in Luke 1:46-55, has been part of the Church's Liturgy of the Hours, at Vespers (evening prayer), and has been repeated nightly in churches, convents and monasteries for more than a thousand years.
The Church's celebration of the Annunciation is believed to date to the early 5th century, possibly originating at about the time of the Council of Ephesus (c 431). Earlier names for the Feast were Festum Incarnationis, and Conceptio Christi, and in the Eastern Churches, the Annunciation is a feast of Christ, but in the Latin Church it is a feast of Mary. The Annunciation has always been celebrated on March 25, exactly nine months before Christmas Day.
Two other feasts honoring Our Lord's mother, the Assumption (August 15), and the Immaculate Conception (December 8), are celebrated as Holy Days of Obligation in the United States and many other countries. New Year's Day, January 1, is observed as a Solemnity of Mary. The Annunciation was a Holy Day throughout the Universal Church until the early 20th century. Many Catholics who are deeply concerned with the defense of the life of unborn children believe it would be fitting if the Feast of the Annunciation were restored to this status. Although it seems unlikely that it will be added to the Church calendar as a Holy Day of Obligation, we can certainly take on the "obligation" ourselves to attend Mass. In any case, it is most appropriate that we encourage special celebrations in the "Domestic Church".
One sign of the significance this Christian feast had throughout Western culture is that New Year's Day was for centuries celebrated on March 25. It was believed by some ancient Christian writers that God created the world on March 25, and that the fall of Adam and the Crucifixion also took place March 25. The secular calendar was changed to begin the year on January 1 (in 1752 in England and colonies, somewhat earlier on the continent).
Another remnant of the historic universality of Christianity in the West is the use of BC (before Christ) and AD (Anno Domini The Year of Our Lord) to denote periods of time in history. There has been an attempt in some circles to change BC to BCE (before the common era), and AD to CE (common era) -- and although it is true that the religious significance of our system of dating has been effectively obliterated -- nevertheless, Christians and non-Christians alike consent to the birth of Christ as the "fulcrum" of the dating the events of human history.
In families with young children, this feast would be a good time to begin teaching youngsters important lessons about the inestimable value God places on human life.
First, that He loved us so much that He chose to become one of us to take on our humanity so completely that He "became flesh", as utterly weak and dependent as any human infant is. Second, God became "like us in all things except sin" at the moment of His conception in Mary's womb, not at some later time. The Feast of the Annunciation is a celebration of the actual Incarnation of Jesus Christ.
Children may, quite naturally, think that the birth of Jesus is the time when Our Savior first "became Man", especially since Christmas has become the Christian holiday in our culture. We understand best what we can see, what is visible. The invisible, the hidden, is no less real for our lack of seeing it. (We think of the baby in its mother's womb, known and felt, though unseen, only to her.)
Even very young children can know the truth about the growth of a baby inside its mother's body, especially if the mother of the family (or an aunt, perhaps) happens to be pregnant on the holiday. The nine months' wait from March 25 to December 25 for the Baby to be born would be interesting to most children. (God made no special rules for His own bodily development!) What better way than the reading first chapter of Luke to gently begin teaching children about the beginning of each new human life?
Children should be told how important it is to every person that "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1), and parents can find this feast a valuable teaching moment.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church on Article 3 of the Creed: "He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, and was born of the Virgin Mary" (§436-511), should be read by parents. This will not only give adults a timely review of Catholic doctrine, but it can be a great help to us in transmitting important truths of the faith to our children. The summary at the end can help formulate points we want to emphasize. Excerpts from the Catechism could be read aloud to older children.
Some other lessons that can be drawn from this important feast on the Church's Calendar are:
Family Prayers and Readings
Have children draw an Annunciation scene, with the Trinity present Father, Son and Holy Spirit as well as Mary and the Angel Gabriel. Another idea would be to make the figures from clay or play-dough, and make a "tableau" using a shallow box to represent Mary's house.
Mention that Christianity is unique in recognizing the Incarnation of the God as Jesus Christ, the Son. God's taking on a human body, while being truly and fully divine, is the reason why artistic representations of Jesus, Mary, etc., are not "idols" or "graven images" prohibited by the First Commandment. (See Catechism § 476, 466). Catholics who properly reverence images of sacred figures are actually reverencing the Person whom the image represents, not the physical object painting or sculpture or medal or whatever.
Make a flower centerpiece for the dinner table using red carnations (symbolize "incarnation"), baby's breath (innocence, spirit) and ivy (eternal fidelity). Explain how the symbolism of the flowers reminds us of the Annunciation, and the appropriateness of the gift of real flowers for the occasion. Sprinkle the flowers with Holy Water (little children love to do this!), and explain that this consecrates, or sets apart, our gift to the worship of God.
Make a special Annunciation Candle. Use a fat pillar candle of white or blue. Carve a niche in the wax large enough to fit inside it a tiny image (or picture cut from a Christmas card) of the Infant Jesus. Fasten a "curtain", made from a small piece of white cloth, over the opening with pins pushed into the wax. The candle wax represents the purity of the Virgin. The Baby is "hidden" within the body of the candle. Light the candle when the Angelus or Rosary is said on this Feast. The same candle can be saved from year to year. It can also be used on other feast days and solemnities of the Blessed Virgin (Assumption, Immaculate Conception); as well as on Pro-life observances (e.g., January 22, in the US). On Christmas the little curtain would be removed from the niche so the Holy Infant can be seen.
Substitute the regular bedtime story with looking at and talking about pictures of the Annunciation in books. There are many beautifully printed art books containing masterworks of Catholic art that can be borrowed from any public library -- or you may have some in your home library. There you may find reproduced paintings of the Annunciation by Fra Angelico, Roger van der Weyden, and others.
Make a household shrine. A statue or picture of Mary could be placed on a small table in a special place in the house. Or a picture or sculpture of Mary could be hung on the wall over a shelf or cabinet containing the Bible, prayer books and other devotional books, rosaries, &c.
On Marian feasts, especially the Feast of the Annunciation, decorate the "shrine" to "highly favored" Mary with real flowers, if possible. Carnations, roses or lilies in bud would be ideal.
If real flowers are impossible, children could make flowers symbolizing attributes of Mary from tissue or colored paper, etc. (See section on "Mary's flowers" below.) These flowers could be made into a wreath to be hung on the door or placed on a table with a statue or picture of Mary, or to surround the Annunciation Candle.
Plant seeds of marigold (named in honor of Mary) in little pots on a window sill; wait to see them sprout and grow. While you and the children are planting these, talk about the importance of "hidden" work. As a baby grows unseen within the mother's womb, and as the sprouting seed invisibly grows under the soil, so is much essential and vital work that people do -- not visible to most people, and perhaps never known except to God.
Transplant the seedlings to the flower bed outside when the weather permits. There's also a lesson here in the need to grow strong in the faith before we can "flower" as God intends us to do; also the Parable of the Sower (Mark 4:2-20; Matt 13:3-23; Luke 8:4-15).
Bake a special
cake to celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation (perhaps a traditional
seed cake?), or make waffles (a Swedish tradition). An angelfood
cake would also be appropriate. It could be iced in pale blue,
the traditional color of Mary's mantle.
HOMILY OF JOHN PAUL II
MASS IN THE BASILICA OF THE ANNUNCIATION
Saturday, March 25, 2000
"Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to your word" (Angelus Prayer).
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
1. 25th March in the year 2000, the Solemnity of the Annunciation in the Year of the Great Jubilee: on this day the eyes of the whole Church turn to Nazareth. I have longed to come back to the town of Jesus, to feel once again, in contact with this place, the presence of the woman of whom Saint Augustine wrote: "He chose the mother he had created; he created the mother he had chosen" (Sermo 69, 3, 4). Here it is especially easy to understand why all generations call Mary blessed (cf. Lk 2:48).
I warmly greet Your Beatitude Patriarch Michel Sabbah, and thank you for your kind words of presentation. With Archbishop Boutros Mouallem and all of you Bishops, priests, religious women and men, and members of the laity I rejoice in the grace of this solemn celebration. I am happy to have this opportunity to greet the Franciscan Minister General, Father Giacomo Bini, who welcomed me on my arrival, and to express to the Custos, Father Giovanni Battistelli, and the Friars of the Custody the admiration of the whole Church for the devotion with which you carry out your unique vocation. With gratitude I pay tribute to your faithfulness to the charge given to you by Saint Francis himself and confirmed by the Popes down the centuries.
2. We are gathered to celebrate the great mystery accomplished here two thousand years ago. The Evangelist Luke situates the event clearly in time and place: "In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph. . . The virgin's name was Mary" (1:26-27). But in order to understand what took place in Nazareth two thousand years ago, we must return to the Reading from the Letter to the Hebrews. That text enables us, as it were, to listen to a conversation between the Father and the Son concerning God's purpose from all eternity. "You who wanted no sacrifice or oblation prepared a body for me. You took no pleasure in holocausts or sacrifices for sin. Then I said. . . ?God, here I am! I am coming to obey your will'" (10:5-7). The Letter to the Hebrews is telling us that, in obedience to the Father's will, the Eternal Word comes among us to offer the sacrifice which surpasses all the sacrifices offered under the former Covenant. His is the eternal and perfect sacrifice which redeems the world.
The divine plan is gradually revealed in the Old Testament, particularly in the words of the Prophet Isaiah which we have just heard: "The Lord himself will give you a sign. It is this: the virgin is with child and will soon give birth to a child whom she will call Emmanuel" (7:14). Emmanuel - God with us. In these words, the unique event that was to take place in Nazareth in the fullness of time is foretold, and it is this event that we are celebrating here with intense joy and happiness.
3. Our Jubilee Pilgrimage has been a journey in spirit, which began in the footsteps of Abraham, "our father in faith" (Roman Canon; cf. Rom 4:11-12). That journey has brought us today to Nazareth, where we meet Mary, the truest daughter of Abraham. It is Mary above all others who can teach us what it means to live the faith of "our father". In many ways, Mary is clearly different from Abraham; but in deeper ways "the friend of God" (cf. Is 41:8) and the young woman of Nazareth are very alike.
Both receive a wonderful promise from God. Abraham was to be the father of a son, from whom there would come a great nation. Mary is to be the Mother of a Son who would be the Messiah, the Anointed One. "Listen!", Gabriel says, " You are to conceive and bear a son. . . The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. . . and his reign will have no end" (Lk 1:31-33).
For both Abraham and Mary, the divine promise comes as something completely unexpected. God disrupts the daily course of their lives, overturning its settled rhythms and conventional expectations. For both Abraham and Mary, the promise seems impossible. Abraham's wife Sarah was barren, and Mary is not yet married: "How can this come about", she asks, "since I am a virgin?" (Lk 1:34).
4. Like Abraham, Mary is asked to say yes to something that has never happened before. Sarah is the first in the line of barren wives in the Bible who conceive by God's power, just as Elizabeth will be the last. Gabriel speaks of Elizabeth to reassure Mary: "Know this too: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived a son" (Lk 1:36).
Like Abraham, Mary must walk through darkness, in which she must simply trust the One who called her. Yet even her question, "How can this come about?", suggests that Mary is ready to say yes, despite her fears and uncertainties. Mary asks not whether the promise is possible, but only how it will be fulfilled. It comes as no surprise, therefore, when finally she utters her fiat: "I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let what you have said be done to me" (Lk 1:38). With these words, Mary shows herself the true daughter of Abraham, and she becomes the Mother of Christ and Mother of all believers.
5. In order to penetrate further into the mystery, let us look back to the moment of Abraham's journey when he received the promise. It was when he welcomed to his home three mysterious guests (cf. Gen 18:1-15), and offered them the adoration due to God: tres vidit et unum adoravit. That mysterious encounter foreshadows the Annunciation, when Mary is powerfully drawn into communion with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Through the fiat that Mary uttered in Nazareth, the Incarnation became the wondrous fulfilment of Abraham's encounter with God. So, following in the footsteps of Abraham, we have come to Nazareth to sing the praises of the woman "through whom the light rose over the earth" (Hymn Ave Regina Caelorum).
6. But we have also come to plead with her. What do we, pilgrims on our way into the Third Christian Millennium, ask of the Mother of God? Here in the town which Pope Paul VI, when he visited Nazareth, called "the school of the Gospel", where "we learn to look at and to listen to, to ponder and to penetrate the deep and mysterious meaning of the very simple, very humble and very beautiful appearing of the Son of God" (Address in Nazareth, 5 January 1964), I pray, first, for a great renewal of faith in all the children of the Church. A deep renewal of faith: not just as a general attitude of life, but as a conscious and courageous profession of the Creed: "Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine, et homo factus est."
In Nazareth, where Jesus "grew in wisdom and age and grace before God and men" (Lk 2:52), I ask the Holy Family to inspire all Christians to defend the family against so many present-day threats to its nature, its stability and its mission. To the Holy Family I entrust the efforts of Christians and of all people of good will to defend life and to promote respect for the dignity of every human being.
To Mary, the Theotókos, the great Mother of God, I consecrate the families of the Holy Land, the families of the world.
In Nazareth where Jesus began his public ministry, I ask Mary to help the Church everywhere to preach the "good news" to the poor, as he did (cf. Lk 4:18). In this "year of the Lord's favour", I ask her to teach us the way of humble and joyful obedience to the Gospel in the service of our brothers and sisters, without preferences and without prejudices.
"O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in your mercy hear and answer me. Amen" (Memorare).
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