Q: I think that the solemnity of the Annunciation on March 25 seems out of place during Lent. Do you agree?
A: The Gospel reading on the solemnity of the Annunciation is Luke 1:26-38, a Gospel that we hear during Advent.
Doesn’t it seem a bit strange to read this Gospel midway through Lent? Isn’t the solemnity of the Annunciation just a fine example of theological obstetrics: nine months from its usual date, March 25, is guess what? Isn’t this day really an intrusion and distraction as we observe Lent and prepare for Easter?
No to all of the above!
The solemnity of the Annunciation is really a good Lenten feast. It helps us to observe Lent by placing before us the sacred name of the Son announced to Mary by the Archangel Gabriel: “You shall give him the name Jesus.” Jesus — Savior. Jesus is the one sent by God to save us from our sins. And if this isn’t a good Lenten theme, I don’t know what is.
The great announcement
The angel’s message is really a foretelling of Christ’s saving death and resurrection. This is the great announcement we need to hear over and over again every Lent. This is the great announcement that leads the Eastern church to call this feast “The Evangelizing of the Mother of God.”
Mary was the first human being to be evangelized with the good news of the Savior’s coming; she had to hear and receive the Word of God in her heart before she could accept the incarnation of that Word in her womb. We, too, are invited to hear and receive the Word of life, so that it can become flesh in our lives.
God became one of us to save us from our sins. How rightly the Eastern church places an icon of the Annunciation on the holy doors leading to the sanctuary: it is through the mystery of God becoming one of us, the mystery announced to Mary at the Annunciation, that we enter upon our salvation and glory.
Mary’s “yes” to God in the Annunciation was matched by her son’s “yes” to God on the cross; we make memorial of Christ’s “yes” every time we celebrate the Eucharist.
St. Augustine declared that “Christ had nothing to hang upon the cross except the body he received from us,” that is, from Mary, our mother. Now he shares that body and blood with us to save us from our sins. Such is the Lord’s best announcement to us.
Sense of awe
When Brother Placid Stuckenschneider, my artist-confrere at St. John’s Abbey, died 10 years ago, a print of the Annunciation from his collection appeared in the abbey “free store.”
The artwork was not by him, but by the 15th-century Flemish artist Robert Campin. The art is in the form of a triptych, that is, three panels.
In the center, the Archangel Gabriel, with a gracious smile, is ready to greet the Blessed Virgin Mary, who is wearing a long red dress and reading a book. Her home is comfortably furnished. On the right, St. Joseph is in the workshop of his home, busily drilling holes in a piece of wood, something like a giant cribbage board. Of course, he doesn’t know about what is happening in the middle scene.
And, on the left, the wealthy man who commissioned this piece of art and his wife kneel humbly and look through the open door to Mary’s house, the door through which Gabriel has just passed.
In a sense, the solemnity of the Annunciation lets us glimpse the moment when the Word of God, Jesus Christ, became flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Notice that God didn’t demand the world’s full attention at that moment and then thunder the news of the incarnation, loud and clear for all to hear, a kind of divine “breaking news” bulletin on CNN.
But the awe seen in the posture and faces of the onlookers in the painting I have described become ours, too: awe that the Son of God took a body like ours to live a life like ours and die a death like ours, all in obedience to his almighty Father.
Lent is our privileged time to bend our wills more closely to God’s will, to say wholeheartedly, as Mary did: “May it be done to me according to your word.”
Benedictine Father Michael Kwatera, a monk of St. John’s Abbey in Collegeville, serves as the abbey’s director of liturgy. Please send your questions on liturgy to him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at St. John’s Abbey, P.O. Box 2015, Collegeville, MN 56321-2015.