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J.D. Long GarcíaMarch 25, 2024
Leonardo da Vinci's "Annunciation," dated to c. 1472–1476, depicts the scene narrated early in the Gospel according to Luke wherein the archangel Gabriel appears to Mary, seeking her Fiat for God's plan. (OSV News photo/JaneB, Pixabay)

Editor’s note: While the Solemnity of the Annunciation is usually celebrated on March 25—this year because of Holy Week and the Octave of Easter—the Roman Catholic Church will observe the feast on April 8.

Each Sunday, when Catholics recite the Creed, we make a profound bow at these words: “...by the power of the Holy Spirit, he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man.” That liturgical gesture is prescribed by the General Instruction of the Roman Missal.

It’s a big deal. With those words in the Creed, we express our belief in the profound mystery of the Incarnation—when all-powerful God took on the vulnerability of human flesh. It is the great Christian mystery that at once expresses both God’s glory and God’s love. In the fourth Gospel, we read, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us…” (Jn 1:14).

The Annunciation is the first of the joyful mysteries we contemplate when praying the rosary. It is the occasion for the Angelus prayer: “The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary/ And she conceived of the Holy Spirit.” On our calendars, we celebrate the Incarnation on March 25, the solemnity of the Annunciation—nine months before the Solemnity of the Nativity of the Lord.

Yet, for some reason, the Annunciation is not a holy day of obligation. But it should be.

As a reminder, in addition to Sunday, there are six holy days of obligation in the United States—and since we’re Catholic, there are always caveats. The six days are:

  • Jan. 1: Mary, Mother of God (unless it falls on a Saturday or Monday)
  • Thursday of the Sixth Week of Easter: The Ascension (unless you live in a diocese where they observe the Ascension on the nearest Sunday)
  • Aug. 15: The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (unless it falls on a Saturday or Monday)
  • Nov. 1: All Saints (unless it falls on a Saturday or Monday)
  • Dec. 8: The Immaculate Conception
  • Dec. 25: Christmas (The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ)

Here’s the thing: How is it that the church insists that the conception of Mary is a holy day of obligation when the conception of the Lord is not? I’m not arguing that we remove the Immaculate Conception. This is a “both/and” appeal. For heaven’s sake, shouldn’t we all be going to Mass on the day that marks when God took on human flesh?

We can learn so much from the Annunciation. For example, it marks the beginning of an unplanned pregnancy—a pregnancy Mary did not fully understand but nevertheless accepted as the will of God. Mary’s “fiat” (Lk 1:46-56) serves not only as a model for praising God, but also of how God works in the lives of everyday people.

“He has cast down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; and the rich he has sent away empty.”

God did not choose a wealthy woman from Jerusalem to be the Mother of God. God chose Mary, a poor, young, unmarried woman from Nazareth, a town that was looked down upon at the time. St. Joseph, to whom Mary was betrothed, considered quietly divorcing her so as not to “expose her to shame” (Mt 1:19). But Mary and Joseph welcomed it. It turns out that you don’t have to be well-off to receive and raise the Son of Man.

The pregnancy was inconvenient, to say the least. Every year, the church celebrates the moment Christ, our savior, was conceived. On top of everything else, it is a way for us to recognize the dignity of these early moments in the womb. This is when human life begins.

Equal parts mother and father, 23 chromosomes each, come together at conception to become a new, unique and unrepeatable human life. If all goes well, around nine months later the parents meet their child face to face. They savor the first breaths, the first tears, the first embraces. In a similar way, the Annunciation gives us a reason to contemplate how Jesus’ body formed in Mary’s womb before he took his first breath, cried his first tears and slept in the Blessed Mother’s warm embrace.

While it is sadly not always recognized in this country, life is sacred. Scripture and our tradition help us recognize that. Some of us who advocate for the end of the death penalty point to the unjust execution of Jesus on the cross. Some of us who advocate for immigrants remind Christians of the Holy Family’s perilous journey to Egypt. In the same way, might those of us who advocate for unborn children point to the sacred conception of Jesus?

On the Solemnity of the Annunciation, Catholics have a chance to attend Mass and recognize this unique moment in human history, when God chose to dwell among us. I understand that not all feast days can or should be holy days of obligation. And I understand that people lead busy lives. But the Annunciation is not just any feast day. In this moment, we should come together to pray, celebrate the Eucharist and recognize how Jesus Christ can sanctify everything on earth, including life in the womb.

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