Von Trapp Follow-Along: As stated in the previous blog post, Maria makes almost no mention of this period.
The Annunciation is one of the oldest Christian commemorations, being a bit younger than Easter and a bit older than Christmas and Candlemas, possibly around the same age as Passiontide but older than Palm Sunday. This makes it possibly the second-oldest Christian commemoration of all. Specifically, it commemorates the announcement Gabriel made to Mary that she would conceive and bear the Messiah. Therefore, it specifically commemorates the date Jesus was conceived.
The Feast (or Solemnity) of the Annunciation is observed on 25 March every year, regardless of the day of the week. Because Easter may occur as early as 22 March or as late as 25 April, the Annunciation may occur after Easter or, more commonly, during Lent or Passiontide. This year, it falls during Passiontide, which runs from 22 March to 4 April. Specifically, it falls during the first week of Passiontide, known as Passion Week. I personally think this is very fitting because the Annunciation, which commemorates Mary learning that she would bear the Messiah, falls on 25 March while the Friday of Sorrows, which commemorates Mary’s sorrow at Jesus’ death, falls on 27 March.
The Annunciation commemorates Gabriel’s announcement to Mary that she was to bear the Messiah: “Fear not, Mary: for you have found favor with God. And, behold, you shall conceive in your womb, and bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto Him the throne of His father David: and He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of His kingdom there shall be no end…. The Holy Ghost shall come upon you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God.” (See Luke 1:26-38.) Therefore, simultaneously, it commemorates Mary conceiving Jesus.
As I discussed in a previous blog post and will discuss in a future blog post (link to be added here when it is published; currently scheduled for 10 April 2015), Easter has been commemorated since the first century AD and possibly in the first year following Jesus’ death. The Bible makes it clear that Jesus died on Passover, which is 14 Nisan on the Jewish calendar. However, the Hebrew calendar is significantly different from the Roman calendar. As I will discuss in the future blog post mentioned above, there is good reason to believe that translates to 3 April, 30 AD. Nevertheless, Tertullian of Carthage (of the Western or Rome-associated Church) calculated in 200 AD that in the year of Jesus’ death, 14 Nisan correlated to 25 March and the Eastern (or Jerusalem-associated Church) calculated it to be 6 April. (Most likely, neither is correct because the Passover did not fall on either of those dates within 10 years of Jesus’ most likely year of death.) Therefore, the Western Church began to commemorate Easter on 25 March every year and the Eastern Church began to commemorate Easter on 6 April every year. Then in 221 AD, Julius Sextus Africanus suggested that Jesus entered the world (i.e., was conceived) and left the world (i.e., died) on the same day—therefore, that He was conceived on 25 March (per the Western Church) or 6 April (per the Eastern Church). Adding nine months to either date gives us 25 December (Western Church) or 6 January (Eastern Church) for His date of birth, which is when the respective churches now commemorate His birth. Nevertheless, the Annunciation has therefore been considered to have fallen on 25 March or 6 April since as early as 221 AD. When exactly Christians began annually commemorating it is unknown. The first mention of it as a Christian feast day dates to 656 AD, wherein it is stated that the feast was celebrated throughout the entire Church, so we know its commemoration is significantly older than the 600s AD.
(Side Note: This feast should not be confused with the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which is actually a commemoration of the Catholic sacred tradition belief that Mary was immaculately conceived as well. That is, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception commemorates Mary’s mother conceiving her, whereas the Feast of the Annunciation commemorates Mary conceiving Jesus.)
There are very few traditional or commemorative practices for the Annunciation. The first practice I found is an exemption from Lenten fasting, dating back to at least 1251 AD, wherein Solemnities are exempted from Lenten fasting, and the Annunciation is now considered a Solemnity. However, there’s some confusion about whether this actually applies to the Annunciation. Read here for more mind-numbing details. The only other practice I found is for farmers to pray for the success of the year’s crops due to the Annunciation’s coincidental occurrence close to the beginning of spring.
As a side note, if the Annunciation falls on Good Friday (whereupon it is transferred to the Monday following the Sunday after Easter Sunday), English folk tradition holds that it is a bad omen and bad luck will follow. The saying goes, “If Our Lord falls in Our Lady’s lap, England will meet with a great mishap.” In 2005, these dates occurred together and were followed by terrorist attacks on London’s subways. The next time these days will occur together is 2016.
This day commemorates Mary conceiving Jesus. In Luke 2, we read that immediately after Gabriel made this announcement to her, Mary set off to visit Elizabeth. Upon Mary greeting Elizabeth, the baby in Elizabeth’s womb (John the Baptist) leapt and Elizabeth made a prophecy and Mary responded with a song. The commemoration of this event, the Feast of the Visitation, is held on 30 March in the Eastern Church or 31 May in the Western Church.
There are few traditional practices for this feast day.
- Readings. The readings for today are:
- Isaiah 7:10-14
- Psalm 45
- Hebrews 10:4-10
- Luke 1:26-38
- Food. Today is an optional exemption from Lenten fasting. Technically, every Sunday of Lent, Laetare Sunday (or, Rose Sunday), and St. Patrick’s Day are all exemptions. My husband and I felt that the special character of Laetare Sunday as an exception to the rule due to its status as the halfway mark in Lent and changing the character of Lent to looking toward Easter would be lost if every Sunday, St. Patrick’s Day, and the Annunciation were all exceptions. Therefore, we chose to use only Laetare Sunday as an exemption. (We ended up also making a tiny exception on St. Patrick’s Day in spite of our plans.) However, it really is up to you whether you make exceptions or whether you even fast on Lent.
- Prayer. Traditionally, farmers pray for good crops on this day. If you live in the U.S., consider a prayer for our bees, which are responsible for much of our crops’ pollination (in fact, they’re necessary for pollination of 70 of our top 100 food crops, which supply about 90% of the world’s nutrition) and which were very hard-hit recently and have yet to recover. The number of bee colonies in the U.S. has declined by 90% since 1962, but colonies have died off in rates up to 60-90% in a single year in recent years. The two leading causes identified are loss of habitat (wild bees) and pesticides (wild and domesticated bees). Obviously, pesticides aren’t going away—they make our crop production much greater than without—but the effect on the bee population is very concerning. Other countries have found solutions suitable to their cultures and economies to stop or slow their bee population decline, but these solutions are generally rejected in the U.S. for various reasons. Consider a prayer that we can find a good solution to this issue that will save bees while preserving economic stability and implement it quickly.
- Hymns. Consider learning and singing an Annunciation Hymn. Below is an example called Troparion of the Annunciation:
- Today is the beginning of our salvation,
And the revelation of the eternal mystery!
The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin
As Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.
Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos:
Rejoice, O Full of Grace, :The Lord is with You!
- Today is the beginning of our salvation,
KNIT AND CROCHET ACTIVITIES
Because this day commemorates the angel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary, the project for today will be an angel.
- Knitting Projects. “Angel Choir Set” by Cindy Polfer (here) OR “Angel Ornament” by Edie Eckman (here) OR “Tiny Angel Doll” by Mama Bear (here).
- Crochet Projects. “Angel/Ängel” by Erika Olsson (here) OR “Angel in Flight Ornament” by Priscilla Hewitt (here) OR “Angel Bells” by Sue Childress (here)