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.