In addition to being celebrated as a religious feast, for centuries the March 25th "Annunciation Day" was also observed as New Year's Day by most European countries and the British colonies in America. This changed in the late 16th century when Roman Catholic nations adopted the Gregorian calendar which returned to the old Roman practice of celebrating New Year's on January first. Scotland switched to the Gregorian calendar in 1600, followed by Germany, Denmark and Sweden around 1700. England continued to observe the Annunciation as the beginning of the New Year until 1752 (the change caused the previous year of 1751 to be cut short, losing what would have been the remaining months of January, February, and the first 24 days of March). Source: "New Year’s Day," Microsoft® Encarta® Encyclopedia 2000. © 1993-1999
The Annunciation is listed at or near the top of the most frequently depicted subjects in the history of Western art. In 1887 Rev. I.T. Hecker wrote of the Annunciation: “Such is the narrative…which has inspired countless tomes of exposition from the pens of doctors, pontiffs, theologians, and has inspired, too, more representations than any other event, unless the Crucifixion, from the hand of Christian masters.” Source: “The Annunciation in Art,” Catholic World, Vol. XLV, Apr. 1887, No.265
Pope Francis elected in 2013 (the former Cardinal Bergoglio) is from Argentina, the country that began the movement to declare the March 25 Annunciation feast date as the Day of the Unborn Child in 1998. As cardinal he wrote the introduction to a book on devotion to the unborn Christ in the womb of Mary ("María , el primer Sagrario" by J. de Mouriño), and spoke on the significance of the Annunciation as Day of the Unborn Child. Links to two of his quotes about the book, and a March 25th 2004 homily he gave, are given below -- all are in Spanish. Please note that although free translation sites like Google Translation Tools are available to give a rough translation, there will be some inaccuracies. Click here to read his comments on the book -- the longer quotation, which includes a reference to March 25th, will begin a paragraph down from the top of the page with the title, " El DÍA DE LA ENCARNACIÓN..." -- scroll down several pages to his underlined name (Card. Jorge Mario Bergoglio s.j.) for the shorter quote which begins, "El Sí de María abre la puerta." Click here for his March 25, 2004 homily on the Day of the Unborn Child.
In England, this feast day still determines the end of the tax year for income tax payments -- April 5, which is March 25th if one subtracts the eleven extra days added with the adoption of the Gregorian calendar. Until the mid-18th century, England used a version of the Julian calendar, in which the March 25th Annunciation feast was the first day of the civil New Year.
The date of March 25th was chosen by Pope John Paul II to promulgate his 1995 “Evangelium Vitae” (Gospel of Life) upholding the teaching on the sanctity of all human life, especially the unborn.
One beautiful Annunciation custom from Russia is to release white pigeons or doves (symbolic of the Holy Spirit) on the feast day to represent the Incarnation's liberation of humanity. See Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill's Annunciation Day dove release in Moscow on April 7th (equivalent to March 25th on the Western calendar) here. Visit this site for more, or this direct link to the video. Click here for a lovely photo of a Russian altar boy holding a dove and here to read more.
An ancient practice of the papal curia--the executive office of the Roman Catholic Church -- is to use the March 25th Annunciation feast date as the start of the year for all their official documents and communications, adding a designation near the date that reads, "Year of the Incarnation." Most civil governments followed suit, using this day to start their New Year, until the adoption of the Gregorian calendar. Sources: CatholicCulture.org which cites "The Holyday Book" by Francis X. Weiser, S.J., Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc., New York, 1956
In yet another instance proving that awareness of the Annunciation and its pro-life import is spreading, CatholicVote.org sent out a 1/14/2013 e-mail subscriber update with subject "a coincidence?" noting the intriguing irony of Supreme Court arguments scheduled to begin on the life-affirming March 25th Annunciation feast in the religious liberty cases brought by for-profit corporations challenging the HHS mandate to force employers to fund employee health plans that cover anti-life abortifacients--it read as follows: "Last week the Supreme Court released the official date for oral arguments in the cases brought by for-profit corporations challenging the HHS mandate. Can you guess the date when the Justices will hear arguments about the foundational right to religious liberty--and freedom of every American to uphold the dignity of human life from conception….March 25. Yes indeed–the Solemnity of the Annunciation–the day Catholics around the world celebrate the conception of Our Lord in the womb of the Blessed Mother. Soon-to-be-saint John Paul II said in 1982: 'In the designs of Providence there are no mere coincidences.' The fate of the HHS mandate for thousands of business owners will soon be decided by the nine Justices of the Supreme Court. But I can’t help but think God is reminding us that we are not powerless–that we actually have a very important role to play. That's why CV will not only be filing our own amicus brief in the case, we are planning to lead a nationwide prayer campaign leading up to the Feast of the Annunciation. We call on all Catholics–and all people of good will–to join us in praying for an end to this attack on human life and religious liberty. Nothing is more powerful than prayer. A coincidence? I don’t think so." Visit the link with the e-mail text here.
Pope John Paul II also chose this date of March 25th in 2003 to personally sign and grant a pro-life Apostolic Blessing to the Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy and all the faithful who join them in reciting the Divine Mercy Chaplet to end abortion, euthanasia, cloning and embryonic stem cell research. Interestingly, in the papal blessing the feast is referred to by an alternate title similar to the old Latin name "Festum Incarnationis": it reads "Solemnity of the Incarnation of The Divine Word." Pope John Paul II had previously said in his 1/13/88 General Audience, "It may be said that the Incarnation is the 'miracle of miracles,' the radical and permanent 'miracle' of the new order of creation." The Summer 2014 Eucharistic Apostles of The Divine Mercy Newsletter "Rays of Merciful Love" included the following quote in the pg. 2 article "Praying for the Sick and Dying" by Bryan Thatcher, MD: "[O]n the feast of the Annunciation (Incarnation) on March 25, 2003, Pope John Paul II imparted a Special Apostolic Blessing to all the faithful worldwide who pray the chaplet at any time and any place for pro-life causes: for mothers contemplating abortion; for infants dying in the womb; for victims of stem cell research, genetic manipulation, euthanasia; and for all elected officials that they promote a culture of life."
In J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings" the date of March 25th was used symbolically to allude to the central Christian theme of the story -- it is the day the ring, representing original sin, is destroyed. Author Joseph Pearce in his televised April 2011 EWTN special "Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings: A Catholic Worldview" gives a fascinating explanation of the day's significance both in the fictional trilogy and historical Christendom: "But now it's time to reveal the secret that unlocks the fundamentally religious dimension of the whole work. The fact is, that Tolkien hides a key within the story, a key that once discovered, allows us to unlock the deepest Christian theology at the heart of the drama. What is the key? It's to be found in the date on which Tolkien tells us that the ring is destroyed or unmade. That date is March the 25th -- a date that every Catholic knows is perhaps the most significant and important date on the whole Christian calendar. March the 25th is the Feast of the Annunciation, the day on which the archangel Gabriel appears to the Blessed Virgin, and more important, it is the day on which Jesus is conceived in his mother's womb. It is the day on which the Word is made flesh -- the day on which God becomes man. It is a more important date than Christmas, because life begins at conception, not at birth. God did not become man at Christmas, but at the Annunciation. The Incarnation happens at the Annunciation. It happens on March the 25th -- the date on which the ring is destroyed. And that's not all. Many medievals believed that the crucifixion also happened on March the 25th. Of course, we celebrate Good Friday as a movable feast. It is celebrated on a different day each year. But the crucifixion as an historical event happened once on a particular day in history. That day, so the medievals believed, was March the 25th, thus connecting Christ's death to his Incarnation. And what do these two events signify taken together with the Resurrection? They signify man's redemption from original sin. And what is original sin? It is the one sin to rule them all and in the darkness bind them, just as the one ring is the one ring to rule them all and in the darkness bind them. The one ring is the same as the one sin, and they're both destroyed or unmade on the same day -- March the 25th. This is no coincidence, but is the very key that unlocks the deep theology and deepest meaning of the Lord of the Rings…. So Frodo and his loyal companion Samwise Gamgee walk through the Valley of Death to Mount Doom carrying the cross in mythological imitation of Christ himself. And, as we have seen, the climax on Mt. Doom is united with Christ's crucifixion on Golgotha through the key date of March the 25th." NOTE: Passages in "The Return of the King" (Part 3 of the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy) also refer to March 25 not only as an important date but as the start of the new year--Tolkien's selection of March 25 as a New Year's Day for his fictional world mirrors reality as this date known as Annunciation Day began the New Year in the real world before the adoption of the Gregorian calendar: In the chapter entitled "The Field of Cormallen" Gandalf tells Sam: "But in Gondor the New Year will always now begin upon the twenty-fifth of March when Sauron fell, and when you were brought out of the fire to the King." Appendix B (The Great Years) also mentions the destruction of the ring and the evil Sauron in the entry for March 25: "Gollum seizes the Ring and falls in the Cracks of Doom. Downfall of Barad-dur and passing of Sauron." Toward the end of Appendix D (The Calendars) there are several references: "March 25, the date of the downfall of the Barad-dur….The date was, however, March 25 in both Kings' and Stewards' Reckoning….In the New Reckoning the year began on March 25 old style, in commemoration of the fall of Sauron and the deeds of the Ring-bearers….Fourth Age 1 was the year that began according to the New Reckoning in March 25, 3021, old style." Tolkien also chose March 25th for a life-affirming event at the end of "The Lord of the Rings." Despite the length of the three volumes, in a trilogy centering on war the birth of babies is remarkably absent. But in the last few pages of the story we find: "The first of Sam and Rosie's children was born on the twenty-fifth of March, a date that Sam noted."
Several hospitals in Hungary announced they would stop aborting children on March 25th and other holy days after an interdenominational group of bishops led by the Alfa Alliance’s Imre Teglasy held prayer vigils outside, placing special emphasis on the March 25th Annunciation and the December 28th feast of the Holy Innocents.
Leo Severino, producer of the pro-life themed film Bella noted the "providential" significance of the film's milestones coinciding with important religious feast dates. Severino said that although not planned, Bella's "first public showing was on the Feast of the Annunciation." Quote from October 18, 2007 televised interview with Severino on EWTN's Life on the Rock
Pope John Paul II specifically chose Nazareth and the March 25th Annunciation feast as the place and time to celebrate the Great Jubilee in 2000 during his week-long pilgrimage to the Holy Land -- he did so to bring the message of the Incarnation to the world via celebration of a public Mass click here to read about his visit (bottom of web page) and his homily is reprinted here. Several years earlier he had released the document Tertio Millennio Adveniente announcing plans for the Great Jubilee celebrations in the Holy Land and stressing the importance of understanding the Incarnation in preparation for the new millennium.
Most Christians asked where the Incarnation took place would answer incorrectly--citing the place of the Nativity rather than the site of the Annunciation; this is what the insightful pro-life Christian writer Randy Alcorn, head of Eternal Perspective Ministries, contends in his comprehensive work "ProLife Answers to ProChoice Arguments" (Multnomah Pub.). Toward the end of the book's 2000 edition in the “Sanctity of Life Message” he states that 99 percent of Christians will answer Bethlehem, rather than correctly identify the location as Nazareth. Alcorn on his EPM.org website posted his introduction to an interesting Christianity Today article that included his quotes on the Annunciation's importance as a day to observe -- the article poses the provocative question of why among Protestants (even those who are strongly pro-life) only a small segment of believers will acknowledge and highlight its import (as Alcorn does) or suggest it be celebrated (as does Lutherans For Life) -- the intro and a link to the full article which includes quotes both pro- and con- can be found at http://www.epm.org/blog/2010/Mar/26/the-annunciation-and-its-prolife-implications -- but readers should note that in all fairness an even more thought-provoking article could have asked that question of the Christian community as a whole. As Alcorn's book points out in addressing the problem of understanding where the Incarnation took place -- it's a general problem among Christians. Annunciation Day often slips by unnoticed or under-appreciated even among fervent and pro-life Catholics who've inherited a long Annunciation history and who are perfectly comfortable discussing Mary as Mother of God and the pre-ministry life of Christ including his born and unborn infancy -- so an omission is not always deliberate and can't be ascribed merely to sectarian traditions or theological differences, though these certainly have a strong influence. Today there are a variety of factors involved -- including general loss of tradition as well as mundane matters of time-pressures and distractions that can seem far more urgent, and these problems affect us all, including those of us already committed to celebrating the Annunciation. All too often it is not our eternal perspective but our daily pragmatism that decides what we'll make room for on our calendars and what falls by the wayside -- thus the need to promote this day honoring Christ's conception to all Christians as the commemoration of the moment of Incarnation, and to promote it to the wider world as a day to remember the unborn.
The Annunciation is also known as the "Feast of Swallows" in central Europe because the birds return on or near this day every year. This may be why medieval Europeans thought of swallows as holy birds, taking care not to harm swallows or their nests, and calling them "God's birds" in Hungary. In Germany they were called "Mary's birds"~likewise in Austria, the land that gave birth to a very old rhyme: "When Gabriel does the message bring, return the swallows, comes the spring." Click here for a photo of this lovely bird. Sources: CatholicCulture.org which cites "The Holyday Book" by Francis X. Weiser, S.J., Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc., New York, 1956
Pope John Paul II made the collegial consecration of the world to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin Mary on the Feast of the Annunciation/Incarnation on March 25th, 1984 (also known as the Consecration of all Individuals and Peoples of the World to the Immaculate Heart of Mary) and pointedly commented on it in 2004 exactly two decades later when he highlighted the Incarnational import of the selection of this date: According to a Catholic World News report of March 24, 2004, Pope John Paul II, at his weekly public audience on this eve of the collegial consecration’s 20-year anniversary, began his reflection on that act by reminding those attending that March 25th is the Feast of the Annunciation, which, in his words, “allows us to contemplate the Incarnation of the Eternal Word, made man in Mary's womb."
The names of the months September, October, November, and December can help to remind us of the March 25th Annunciation's former status as New Year's Day, as the numerical meaning of these words only matches the calendar if the year begins in March. These ancient names refer to month 7, 8, 9, and 10 respectively, but they all appear to be two months off -- the final month of December being the 12th, yet named for the 10th. But when you recall that March 25th was once the start of the year, they make perfect sense -- September (meaning 7) would have been the seventh month in the old calendar, and the same for October (8), November (9), and December (10). Source: Personal reflection of Fr. Frank Pavone (Priests for Life) at the Summit Life Outreach banquet, Niagara Falls, NY 9/27/14.
Apparitions in Betania, Venezuela were reported on March 25, 1984--the same day Pope John Paul II consecrated the world to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. The events were detailed in Ch.17, (pg. 242-260) of "Those Who Saw Her" (1995 Rev. Ed.) by Catherine M. Odell: At a farmhouse in a town named Betania (meaning Bethany), flowers had been placed to decorate a man-made grotto for the Annunciation feast date gathering, and several times that day over 100 people (including atheists and agnostics) reported seeing an image of Mary (who some saw holding the infant Christ) above a nearby waterfall. The farm's owner, Maria Esperanza de Bianchini, from childhood had been having visitations from Mary who at one point told her she would appear to her for the first time at this site on the Annunciation feast--March 25, 1976. That year she reported the message about the impending March 25th apparition to Bishop Bernal of their diocese who assigned priests to celebrate Mass and Reconciliation there. One year after that first apparition, on March 25, 1977, Mary again appeared at the farm to 15 people, and later Esperanza learned from Mary that more would see the next March 25 apparition, and that sacramental preparation for the poorest of their community should be accomplished before March 25th--the apparition occurred on the usual Annunciation feast date which in 1978 was also Holy Saturday. In the early 1980s Mary told Esperanza that many people would see her on March 25, 1984 (which occurred on the same day Pope John Paul II made the collegial consecration). That well-documented and investigated apparition (approved by Bishop Pio Ricardo of the Los Teques diocese in 1987) plus the healings and miraculous occurrences that followed drew crowds as large as thirty-thousand people to the little nearby village--on the 25th of each month.
For St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, the first U.S. born person to be canonized a saint, March 25th would figure importantly in her faith journey on several occasions. After converting to Catholicism she received her first Holy Communion on the March 25th Feast of the Annunciation in 1805. Then in 1809 she founded the Daughters of Charity and made her first profession of vows on the Annunciation feast day of March 25. After 1813 she and the Sisters of Charity made their annual vows on the March 25th Annunciation feast date.
Pope John Paul II speaking on the significance of the Incarnation said: "The most radical and elevating affirmation of the value of every human being was made by the Son of God in his becoming man in the womb of a woman…" Source: Christifideles Laici
In 2004 on the March 25th feast of the Annunciation, Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York established the Sisters of Life as a religious institute (click & scroll halfway down to read more) of diocesan right. This was done at the direction of the Vatican's Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life.
An interest in fostering devotion to the unborn Christ child has developed in conjunction with renewed interest in celebrating the Annunciation Feast of Christ's conception -- most often explicitly undertaken as positive approaches toward building a "culture of life." The importance of these allied initiatives was highlighted in a televised interview with Mother Agnes Donovan, SV (Superior General of the Sisters of Life) on Fr. Benedict's Groeschel's program Sunday Night Live (05/03/09) in which they discussed the importance of devotion to the Annunciation and the Unborn Christ: Mother Agnes opened the topic when she said, "I'm hoping that in our day, there'll be a new devotion--a devotion to Jesus unborn--the unborn Jesus in Mary, by way of devotion to the Annunciation of the Lord. You know we are so in need of a devotion to the Unborn Jesus, I think even just because we need to be reminded that we are precious in the eyes of God before we do anything to make ourselves worthy of his love. He loves us unborn, silent, unconscious in the womb. And I really hope that is going to be at least part of the work of the Sisters of Life to bring that devotion forward." Fr. Groeschel expressed his agreement, adding, "And that devotion is also linked with the devotion of Our Lady of Guadalupe...and of course the picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe--she's expecting the Christ Child--that's the Annunciation."
At the 2008 Solemn Papal Mass of Pope Benedict XVI in Nationals Park, Washington, D.C., the Archbishop of that diocese, Most Rev. Donald W. Wuerl, included the following anecdote concerning the March 25th arrival of Catholic colonists in Maryland in his opening address to the Holy Father: "Not all that far from here, in 1634, the first Catholics arrived in the colonies that later formed the United States. The celebration of Mass at St. Clements Island, March 25th 1634, marked the beginning of an unbroken line of continuity in faith and worship that we hope is made manifest is so many ways during your visit with us." [March 25th was made a legal holiday in Maryland.]
Mother Angelica, often considered the most influential Catholic woman in the modern U.S., was named after the Annunciation under remarkable circumstances--the feast became her "name-day" and she urged its wider celebration: The full religious name of Mother Angelica, founder of EWTN Catholic television network, is "Sister Mary Angelica of the Annunciation." She explained the personal, religious, and also the pro-life significance of the day on the March 24th 1998 broadcast of Mother Angelica Live (rebroadcast as an episode of Mother Angelica Classics on March 26, 2011)--a show devoted to the topic of the Annunciation: "Tomorrow is the 25th of March...and it's the Annunciation. It happens to be my name-day. I don't know how my abbess ever decided on that, but she did. It's a very special, special name-day for me, because ordinarily, in an order--religious order, monastic order--your name-day is the feast that your name is. For example, with Isadore it would be the Feast of St. Isadore. With mine being Angelica it was supposed to be the feast of the Holy Angels which is in October....But anyway, all she said to me was, 'I've decided that your name-day will be the Annunciation,' and I thought 'Wow.' And the reason I was so surprised and pleased is because I made the consecration to Our Lady, the DeMontfort Consecration, on March 25th, 1942 I think, and I entered in '44. It's a very, very, special, special day for me. So--tomorrow. So often we kind of omit special days for the simple reason we don't know they're special." After highlighting the pro-life implications of Christ's conception (remarking on the fact that the newly-conceived Jesus sanctified the unborn John the Baptist as the angel Gabriel foretold before the conception of John and the Incarnation of Christ) she exhorted the audience: "So tomorrow, we celebrate that moment....let us rejoice, celebrate somehow; go buy yourself a soda if you can't do anything else. Do something!"
Chapter two of Anthony DeStefano’s book “Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To” cites the Annunciation and Incarnation in Nazareth as the most dramatic example of how even the most profound encounters with God inspire an immediate reaching out toward others rather than a turning inward in what we might naturally expect to be a prolonged period of personal meditation: “In the history of the world, no one has ever had a more profound encounter with God than Mary did at that moment. The Gospel says that the Holy Spirit literally ‘overshadowed her’ and that Jesus Christ--the second person of the Holy Trinity--was conceived in her womb. Now what did Mary do after this experience? Did she go off on a spiritual retreat? Did she lock herself in her room and meditate?….She would have been more than justified to take a few weeks to mull things over in her mind, to pray intensely and try to come to grips with the mystery of what had happened to her. But no, she didn’t do any of these things. Instead Mary left Nazareth immediately and rushed to the side of her cousin in order to help her. And she stayed at her side for three months, until Elizabeth’s baby was born.”
The most prominent theory of the origin of April Fool’s Day proposes it as a vestige of the change from the March 25th New Year to January 1st: In the older tradition March 25th began an eight-day New Year’s celebration extending through April 1st. When the new calendar was introduced, not everyone wanted New Year’s Day moved to January, and those who insisted on keeping the old New Year and preserving the long celebration of it into the first day of April were called “April Fools”--thus April 1st became April Fool’s Day.
During the course of the 1858 Lourdes apparitions of Mary (approved by the Catholic Church), it was on the March 25th Feast of the Annunciation that “the lady” revealed her identity to the young Bernadette Soubirous (later to become canonized as a saint). At the request of Pope Pius XII one of the churches built at the site (the Basilica of St. Pius X) was consecrated on March 25, 1958 -- one hundred years after the apparitions -- by the Patriarch of Venezia, cardinal Angelo Roncalli, the future Pope John XXIII. Marlene Watkins, foundress of North American Lourdes Volunteers noted that the annual Lourdes pilgrimage season begins on or near March 25th (from interview on the 5/15/2011 EWTN airing of "Sunday Night Prime with Fr. Groeschel").
St. Therese of Liseux’s earnestly desired early entrance into religious life (for which she sought a Papal audience in Rome) was finally achieved during the community’s celebration of the Feast of the Annunciation in 1888. (She had hoped it would happen on the previous Christmas Day, but later realized that many graces came to her in the interim delay.) The actual date of her entrance into the Carmel convent was April 9th--she notes in the first line of chapter 7 in her autobiography “Story of a Soul,” that the feast was “transferred because of Lent.” This saint, known as “The Little Flower,” also makes a passing reference in her autobiography to the continuity of Jesus's pre- and post-natal childhood and Mary's maternal relationship with Him: "…Mary had carried Jesus in her arms, having carried Him in her Virginal womb." From Chapter 6 of "A Story of a Soul," 3rd ed., trans. from the original manuscripts by John Clarke, O.C.D.
Writer and philosopher Dr. Alice von Hildebrand offered the following reflection regarding Christ’s Incarnation: "God in His infinite goodness sent us His son who was incarnated in the womb of a woman." She then describes the human womb as "an organ of unbelievable dignity because it has been the cradle of the Son of God for nine months." Source: "Man and Woman: Divine Invention"--2008 series airing on EWTN
"Lives of the Saints: For Every Day of the Year" points out that the March 25 "Annunciation of Our Lord" is a "double feast" celebrating both the angel's meeting with Mary and "the Incarnation of the Son of God" on this same occasion. "On this same day, God the Son, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, by the power of the Holy Spirit, assumed a human body and a human soul, and became the Son of Mary." Source: "Lives of the Saints: For Every Day of the Year--In Accord with the Norms and Principles of the New Roman Calendar" [Imprimatur] -- Rev. of the Original Ed. of Rev. Hugo Hoever, S.O.Cist., Ph.D., Catholic Book Pub. Co, N.Y., c. 1974-1955, p. 119 (entry for March 25).
In some countries the Feast of the Annunciation remains a Holy Day of Obligation for Catholics, a status that not only reinforces the centrality of the Incarnation but also the sanctity of human life before birth--a reality underscored by U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops president and Diocese of New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan: On the 12/19/10 broadcast of EWTN's "Sunday Night Live" in conversation with Fr. Benedict Groeschel, Archbishop Dolan began by commenting on the "He's On His Way--Christmas Starts With Christ" graphic showing a sonogram image of an unborn child with a halo. He said, "You know what I think--what it reminds me Fr. Benedict, when I see that--I've always thought that we as a church should celebrate with greater significance the Feast of the Annunciation on March 25th nine months before Christmas--the day that the second person of the most blessed Trinity, the Eternal Word, God the Son, became incarnate, conceived in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. That really is when our salvation began. That's when the Incarnation began--the Word took flesh in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary--and we should celebrate that more. I think in some parts of the world it's a holy day of obligation is it not? [Fr. Benedict replies, "Yet it is" and Archbishop Dolan continues:] "But that wouldn't be bad to reclaim, would it? For the whole pro-life movement--that Mary carried the only-begotten Son of God in her womb for nine months. It's a powerful feast day. At Christmas we celebrate the birth, we ought to celebrate the conception with equal fervor...."
On the subject of the Incarnation, Joseph Kung, President of the Cardinal Kung Foundation (dedicated to raising awareness of the persecuted underground Catholic Church in China), said that at Mary's "Yes" the eternal Son of God had "a new home in his mother's womb." Source: "Christmas 2013" newsletter, Cardinal Kung Foundation, Stamford, CT.
In 1999 a miraculous event was reported to have occurred in Cochabamba, Bolivia on March 25th of that year. In the home of Katya [Catalina] Rivas, multicolored crystals were seen to spontaneously appear (and were photographed) on an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe (an image associated with the Annunciation as it depicts Mary pregnant with the unborn Christ). The mysterious phenomenon was recorded on film because in 1998 reporter Michael Willesee began a documentary entitled "Signs from God -- Science Tests Faith" on stigmata of a woman named Katya Rivas. He and his film crew happened to be there on that Annunciation feast date of March 25th 1999. Pt. 1 of the video (6:10 min. mark) describes the event: "This is a simple framed print of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It hangs in Katya's hallway. But on March 25, 1999 something truly inexplicable occurred. We witnessed and filmed a gathering of thousand of colored crystals on the image bright and exquisite in their artistic formation -- and no evidence of the hand of man." Also in Pt.1 of "Signs From God--Science Tests Faith" is a quote referencing Christ's Incarnation in Mary's womb (at the 8:51 min. mark): "As we continued to visit Katya at her home the artistic glitter on the picture of Mary continued to grow and change. On the third night we noticed part of the image illuminated in the dark. We then bathed the image in a strong television light. The same area lit up into a brilliant phosphorus green. To us, a mystery but to Katya it was simple -- A gift from Jesus and a message: This was the womb of Mary where He became man." For more on these events, including photos and links to YouTube videos from the "Signs From God--Science Tests Faith" documentary, click here. Additional info on these happenings can be found at LoveAndMercy.org.
A charming image of a day in the active life of the unborn Christ is painted in one version of the unbiblical offbeat lyric of the Cherry Tree Carol dating back to circa 1400. In the song’s storyline, when the expectant Mary’s wish for cherries goes unfulfilled, “Jesus intervenes from the womb and the tree bows down to deliver the fruit to the Virgin Mary” at the divine infant’s command.
In 2012, the Annunciation feast was chosen as the day to announce the Vatican's approval of the publication of the "Rite for the Blessing of a Child in the Womb." A LifeNews.com article noted that the blessing, which can be offered both within and outside of Mass, "was prepared to support parents awaiting the birth of their child, to encourage parish prayers for and recognition of the precious gift of the child in the womb, and to foster respect for human life within society." On the significance of the date selected for the announcement, the article quoted Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, chairman of the Committee on Pro-Life Activities of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, who said, "I can think of no better day to announce this news than on the feast of the Annunciation, when we remember Mary’s 'yes' to God and the incarnation of that child in her the womb that saved the world." To read the full article click here. Source: Article by Steven Ertelt, "Vatican Approves New Blessing for Unborn Children" reported by LifeNews.com, 3/26/12, Washington, DC.
The companion guide to Mel Gibson's film The Passion of The Christ, entitled "Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions," points out in the first few pages the recent reawakening to the significance of the Annunciation as the beginning of Christ's life--the answer to the "Incarnation" question noted that increasingly the Feast of the Annunciation is being celebrated on March 25th in honor of that most important event of history.
In 2010 growing awareness of the Annunciation's import reached one of the most controversial arenas of politics via a videotaped press conference with the U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives: On July 29th a young reporter (Jane McGrath of CNSnews.com) asked Speaker Nancy Pelosi about what she had publicly stated (at a 5/6/10 Catholic Community Conference on Capitol Hill--read CNSnews.com's 5/31/10 report "Pelosi Says Her Policies Guided by the Values of Jesus") was her favorite "Word"--the Word made flesh. She pointedly asked Ms. Pelosi whether that occurred "at the Annunciation when Jesus was conceived" or at his birth, ending her question with a reference to the right-to-life implications of the self-evident answer. Click here for 8/2/10 CNSnews.com video report "Pelosi Won't Say When Jesus Christ Got the Right to Life" or read the August 3, 2010 CNSNews.com report by Jane McGrath entitled "Pelosi Won’t Say When Jesus Got the Right to Life" and the article "At the Annunciation or at the Nativity, Nancy?" (CNA 8/5/10). The story was reported via many media outlets and blogs, including Fox News and CNSNews.com--the latter did a follow-up article on 12/3/2010 by Terence P. Jeffrey entitled "Michele Bachmann: Jesus Had a Right to Life from the Moment of Conception" that contrasted the pro-life response of U.S. Congresswoman and Republican presidential primary candidate Michele Bachmann to that of Ms. Pelosi when asked the same question [Note: the link to the follow-up article on Bachmann includes a beautiful depiction of the Annunciation by the 17th Century Spanish artist Bartolomé Esteban Murillo.] Transcription Source: Video clips of both the May 6 and July 29, 2010 statements aired toward the end of the August 4, 2010 Glenn Beck program on Fox News, the segment transcribed as follows: (Begin video clips of 5/6/10 speech given by Nancy Pelosi)--"My favorite word is The Word--is The Word--and that is everything--it says it all for us. And you know the Biblical reference--you know the Gospel reference of The Word…[video ellipsis]…We have to give voice to what that means in terms of public policy that would be in keeping with the values of The Word…[video ellipsis]…Fill it in with anything you want but of course we know it means 'the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us.'"--(End video clip). (Beck's commentary):"…The point is she's talking about Jesus Christ here. It's beautiful and touching and I thought she meant it there for a while until a brave young reporter finally asked her about her 'favorite word.' Watch." (Begin 7/29/10 clip)--[CNSNews.com correspondent Jane McGrath asking a question of Ms. Pelosi]: "When was The Word made flesh? Was it at the Annunciation when Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit as the creed says, or was it at the Nativity when He was born of the Virgin Mary? And when did The Word get the right to life?"--[Pelosi's reply]: "Whenever it was, we bow our heads when we talk about it in church, and that's where I'd like to talk about that."--(End video clip). (Beck comments): "I'm sorry--what? You weren't in church the last time you brought it up. Nancy, why not address your 'favorite word?'….Clearly the Speaker was panic-stricken as to define the moment when the Word was made flesh--conception or at birth. Which is it? Kind of a good question since The Word defines her policy-making decisions she said later in that same speech--kind of makes it hard to understand her position on abortion."
The Institute of the Incarnate Word was founded on March 25th, 1984 in Argentina (the country that later began the tradition of celebrating the date as Day of the Unborn Child). This Catholic men's religious congregation, also known as "the IVE" from its title in Spanish, "Instituto del Verbo Encarnado" celebrates its anniversary on the Feast of the Annunciation, even when it is moved to a different date. For more info click here.
Although Christians and Muslims have very different understandings of the Annunciation, the fact that both faiths agree that it was an important and blessed event inspired recent efforts in Lebanon to recognize it as an unprecedented joint national holiday for both faiths. On March 30, 2013 a Lebanon TV channel aired a special on this aspect of the Annunciation entitled: Kitab Edition Speciale - Islamic-Christian National Holiday (Program description: “From the Annunciation to the Resurrection a long path in faith and religion...The 25th of March, Feast of the Annunciation, an Islamic-Christian National Holiday"; thus becoming the first joint formal holiday in the history of these two religions). The article, "Lebanon: How the Annunciation came to be a joint Muslim-Christian national holiday" (by Marialaura Conte, 29.03.2010) includes an interview with Sheikh Mohamad Nokkari, a Sunni Muslim who began the initiative after discussions with a Christian friend. A 2/20/10 meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and the Prime Minister of Lebanon in which the matter was to be discussed is mentioned here in the article "Beirut, 'national' Islamic-Christian holiday in the name of the Annunciation of Mary" (by Fady Noun, 02/19/2010). The Catholic News Service article "Lebanese sheik helped get Annunciation recognized as national holiday" (by Doreen Abi Raad, Mar-24-2010) states that Lebanon's Prime Minister confirmed the decision to approve the holiday at that Vatican meeting. Click here for the Zenit article "Marian Feast Named Holiday for Muslims, Christians" (By Tony Assaf, March 01, 2010) -- toward the end are the remarks of secretary general of the Christian-Muslim Committee for Dialogue Mohammad Al-Sammak on his efforts to help establish the dual-faith holiday.
The Polish Association for Human Life Protection was registered on the 25th of March. The bottom of the www.pro-life.pl English translation page notes: "The Polish Association for Human Life Protection was registered on the 25th March" -- 25 marca -- 25 marzec -- "1999 in Local Court in Kraków Civil Department I."
One of the most famous and affecting depictions of The Annunciation was painted by an American artist -- Henry Ossawa Tanner -- in 1898 (click here to see the image): "The Philadelphia Museum of Art…has a magnificent and well articulated Catholic collection…and besides that, there is the most impressive picture of the Annunciation I've ever seen in my life, done by America's first great black artist, Henry Ossawa Tanner--his father was a bishop of the African Methodist-Episcopal Church….Did you ever see the picture of the Annunciation where the archangel is just a shaft of shimmering white light, and the Virgin is sitting there like this, and the appointments of the house are Mexican Indian--the rug, everything--and you say, "Why did he make it look Mexican?"--because if you go back and look at the face, it's the face of "Our Lady of Guadalupe," but wearing an expression, a slight expression. Tanner couldn't work in this country because of prejudice, and he worked in France--the name of this painting is La Anunciación--and "Our Lady of Guadalupe" was immensely popular among the Catholic intelligentsia before the First World War." Source: Side 2 of Tape 3 (entitled, "Why You Should Be Hopeful") of the four tape set "Exposing the Real Church Scandal" [talk given by Fr. Benedict Groeschel] published by Crisis (www.CrisisMagazine.com). Note: The work's alternate French title is, L'Annunciation.
For the first time on March 26th, 2011 a simultaneous pro-life march was held in four Romanian cities: Bucharest, Timisoara, Satu Mare, and Falticeni. All the prominent Christian denominations were represented to show solidarity on the issue~the featured banner read, "United for Life and Christian Family," at this gathering of mostly teenage participants. HLI Mission Report No. 319 July 2011 p.7 (Human Life International)
The Fleur-de-lis (Fleur de lys) symbol is often associated with and used in depictions of the Annunciation. Click here to view. The symbol is thought to be based on the shape of the lily (which often represents the purity, and therefore the Virgin Mary as well) and is also associated with the angel Gabriel in Annunciation art. Visit this site for more.
Several religious orders have been named for the Annunciation (Annunciades, Celestial Annunciades, Annunciates Of Lombardy, and Annunziata (mostly women religious except for the last of the four, which includes men as well). There is also a charitable "Archconfraternity of the Annunciation" in Rome dating back to the 1400s that has raised money for poor young women who want to marry or enter religious life (at one time in history the Pope presided over their annual ceremonies on March 25th presenting the award certificate). Click here for more.
One of the chivalric orders of knights was named for and dedicated to the Annunciation. The "Order of the Most Holy Annunciation" has its origins in the 1300s, making it the second most ancient of the surviving royal collar orders. The collar badge of the order depicts the Annunciation and is worn on the feast day. For more details and to see an image of the collar badge, click here.
In 1990 Art Garfunkel recorded a song called "The Annunciation" on an album with Amy Grant titled "The Animals' Christmas." Visit this webpage for audio samples.
[page updated 9/2014]