The Baker-woman in her humble lodge
Received a grain of wheat from God.
For nine whole months the grain she stored
Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
Make us the bread, Mary, Mary
We need to be fed…
Traditional hymn, translated from the French by Hubert Richards.
Theotokos is the Greek term used to describe Mary, Mother of God. The Madonna God’s instrument in redemption; the virgin-mother who fulfils Isaiah 7:14 and links heaven and earth.
The central focus of this feast is the Incarnation of God Made Man, of whom it was said “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” [John 15:13]. The Gospel of Luke tells us that Archangel Gabriel proclaimed to Mary that she had been chosen to be the mother of the Christ. Since it is practical to presume that Jesus was conceived then, immediately after this.
We celebrate the Annunciation nine months before Christmas Day, on 25 March. The word is from the Latin annuntiare, to announce.
We are all encouraged to emulate Mary, Mother of God – and yet sometimes, we are discouraged from doing so because we know we can never be as holy, as blessed, as at one with God. But the point is that just as Mary gave her “fiat” (let Your will be done) and consented to do God’s will, so must we be “handmaidens of the Lord”.
“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 forever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:31-34)
Jesus, the second Person of the Holy Trinity, became the Logos (“Word”), and dwelt among us. This is why in the Nicene Creed we say by the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary and became man.
Mary and Joseph were not yet married; so she asked Gabriel how that would come to pass. He replied that the Holy Spirit and the power of God would descend upon her, and that the child to be born would be called Holy; the “Son of God.”
Gabriel had another surprise; he told Mary that in her old age, her cousin Elizabeth had also conceived a son in her old age; for God, “nothing is impossible”.
In the Annunciation, which is not a Holy Day of Obligation, we remember both that Jesus was made man to save us, and also that Mary said yes to God. Most of the paintings of the Annunciation present the occasion as one of prayerful joy, with the angel on the left side and Mary looking towards him in wonder, or in prayer.
In some pictures, Mary is kneeling – in others, she is seated on a chair that looks like a throne, to show her high holy status.
Sometimes, Mary is spinning yarn of a red hue, recalling the curtain of the Temple in Jerusalem. In some other pictures, Mary’s hand is raised, to indicate that she has accepted the blessing, and the invitation to become the Mother of the Saviour.
Different paintings give different interpretations of the Annunciation – it is interesting to note how in some of them Gabriel appears to be running, as if he is in a hurry to spread the Good News. Sometimes, however, the Archangel is presented kneeling, and his right hand and that of the Virgin Mary reach out to one another, but do not touch.
When we see the Archangel holding a staff, it is to indicate that he is a messenger – if he holds a lily, it symbolises the purity of Mary. When the right hand of the angel extends toward Mary, it signifies that he is passing on God’s blessing. Sometimes, the angel’s hand is raised, his finger pointing towards heaven.
The Annunciation is usually the first of The Seven Joys of the Virgin, which date from medieval devotional literature and art. However, different lists give different instances in the life of Our Lady. It is noted that originally, there were five joys of Mary; later lists had seven, nine, and even fifteen.
Mother Church teaches that the divine nature of the Jesus remained distinct from His human nature; He was God and man simultaneously. Saint Athanasius taught that Jesus was the incarnation (“made flesh”) of the second person of the Trinity.
The First Council of Nicaea (AD 325); the Council of Ephesus (AD 431); and the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451). These councils affirmed that Jesus Christ was begotten from, but not created by, the Father; and fully man, and that He took His human nature from His Mother. In layman’s terms, Jesus is Son of God on his paternal side and Son of Man from his maternal side. The essential nature of Jesus Christ is that in which the divine and the human are hypostatic, and the Son of God became a man so that he could save us from our sins.
Many people still abstain from meat during all of Lent, and not just on Fridays. This brings us to the question of whether, especially if the Annunciation and Saint Joseph’s Day fall on a Friday, it would be permissible to eat meat.
The Annunciation (also known as Lady Day) is a solemnity, like Easter, Pentecost Sunday, and Christmas, Trinity Sunday, the Feasts of Saint John the Baptist, Saints Peter and Paul, and Saint Joseph, as well as other feasts of our Lord and the Blessed Virgin Mary.
A solemnity, for which the Liturgical Vestments are generally white, is the highest-ranking of any feast in the Catholic liturgical calendar, considered as important as a Sunday, which is never a day of abstinence or fasting. Indeed, the Code of Canon Law (Can. 1251) states that:
Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday.
The Angelus reminds us of the Incarnation. The name of the prayer is derived from its opening words.
V. Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariæ.
R. Et concepit de Spiritu Sancto.
Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Iesus.
Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in hora mortis nostræ. Amen.
V. Ecce Ancilla Domini.
R. Fiat mihi secundum Verbum tuum.
V. Et Verbum caro factum est.
R. Et habitavit in nobis.
V. Ora pro nobis, Sancta Dei Genetrix.
R. Ut digni efficiamur promissionibus Christi.
Oremus: Gratiam tuam quæsumus, Domine,
mentibus nostris infunde;
ut qui, angelo nuntiante,
Christi Filii tui Incarnationem cognovimus,
per passionem eius et crucem,
ad resurrectionis gloriam perducamur.
Per eumdem Christum Dominum nostrum. Amen.
V. The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.
R. And she conceived by the power of Holy Spirit.
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
V. Behold the handmaid of the Lord.
R. Be it done unto me according to your Word.
V. And the Word was made flesh.
R. And dwelt among us.
V. Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God.
R. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
Let us pray: Pour forth, we beseech thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts, that we to whom the incarnation of Christ Thy Son was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His resurrection; through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.