“for nothing will be impossible for God”
It always has bothered me how poorly attended the Solemnity of the Annunciation is each year. It may be that this feast is somewhat shortchanged in our thinking due to the current list of Latin Rite Holy Days of Obligation which may include the feasts of St. Joseph and Sts. Peter and Paul but does not include the Annunciation. I don’t know, perhaps the list implicitly includes this feast as the prequel to Christmas, but that seems a rather poor explanation since these are truly two distinct even though most intimately related events in salvation history.
Having given this issue some thought over the past few years, I have gradually come to the conclusion that the Annunciation in fact should be seen as the greatest feast in the Church’s liturgical calendar, even if it’s not [yet] a holy day of obligation. The qualifying “fact” is that none of the other great obligatory feasts, including Christmas and Easter, would have been possible without what took place at the Annunciation. In order for the Word to be born (Christmas), and be raised from the dead (Easter), He obviously first had to be conceived, and that conception was without a doubt the greatest event to ever occur in creation and in man’s history, the actual moment in which the Word became flesh and dwelt among us in the womb of the Virgin Mary.
So is it not a fact, that without the event that took place at the Annunciation, none of these other events would’ve taken place at all? To repeat this fact, for the God-man to be born, He first has to be, be conceived as a man; for the God-man to suffer and die for our sins, He first has to exist as a man; for the God-man to rise from the dead …, you get the point. The event of the incarnation of God’s Son, His conception, is the ontological foundation for all these other events by which our salvation is accomplished in Him.
And it is the greatest of all events in time not only because it is the necessary foundation for all these other saving events we rejoice in on their feasts, but simply because it is in itself the greatest possible event of possible in this creation. That God should become man is the most astounding and magnificent of all of God’s external actions. That the infinite and utterly transcendent Being would become a part of his own creation, would become a finite creature, while always remaining God, utterly surpasses all that we can possibly comprehend or even imagine. Yet, this is precisely what happened at the Annunciation, as we pray in our creed, “and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate to the Virgin Mary, and became man.”
Think about that truth just for a moment, before it overwhelms the mind. Who is it precisely who became man? All the words that precede that stunning sentence in our Creed “by the Holy spirit was made Incarnate of the Virgin Mary” identify who it is: the only begotten son of God, born of the father before all ages, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, consubstantial with the father, through him all things were made. He it is who “was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man.”
This truth truly boggles the mind and our imagination. Most of the world does not believe this, and it’s clearly not something that’s easy to believe. Even with the gift of faith, one has to struggle mightily to be convinced that this can possibly take place. But then, thank God, we can recall what the Angel said to Mary, “for nothing will be impossible for God.” That Elizabeth should conceive in her old age seems impossible to man, that Mary should conceive without the cooperation of man but only by the descent of the Holy Spirit seems even more impossible, and, that the Eternal Son, the second Person in the one God, should become a true man seems totally impossible to the human reason, utterly fantastic. And so the Angel mercifully comes to our aid and insists that nothing will be impossible for God, not even that the infinite and absolute should become perfectly united to the finite, and anything but absolute, being that is man.
There are many wonderful aspects to this great Solemnity of our Lady and Our Lord. While most great liturgical solemnities focus mainly on the mysteries of the Lord with reference to our salvation, both Christmas and the Annunciation focus on the Mother and the Son in a special way. At the Annunciation, for instance, we see the perfect interrelationship between Christ and His Mother in the words of the Mass readings today. The response of Mary to the Angel’s message, “May it be done to me according to your word” is in perfect correspondence with the words of applied to Christ in Hebrews, “Behold, I come to do your will.” Mary says be done to me according to your word (God’s will) and Jesus describes his mission as “I come to do your will.” Perfect harmony of wills! That is perhaps why St. Augustine says Mary conceived Christ first in her soul, the location of the will, and then in her body.
Mary is the perfect response of man to this plan of God, the new Eve echoing the will of the New Adam, who is thus conceived in her flesh. All of this eventually touches us, but it is wonderful just to contemplate the mystery involving just the two of them, the Mother and Son, one in heart and one in submission to the Father. It all really began there in the heart of Mary, and the mystery continues forever.
God had a beginning as man, paradox of all paradoxes, but God will have no end as man, while always being God. Jesus is our very brother today and forever, and that is the most important and wonderful truth of our faith. God is with us forever and the most astounding way, as one of us, as for us, as in us. How could the Annunciation be anything less than the greatest Christian feasts?
Finally, I think this Solemnity should be given greater recognition in our day for one other reason. We live in an age that denies the truth that every human person begins his or her life at conception, and this denial is one of the bases for the killing of millions of unborn children. Feasts have their theological importance, but they also have an importance for the world we live in and a culture of life. Since Christ was conceived and was a personal being, a divine person incarnate to be sure, from that first instance, how can we doubt that every conception of a human being brings a person into being? Having two feasts, The Immaculate Conception of Mary and the Conception of Jesus at the Annunciation would strengthen the conclusion of right reason that the fruit of human conception is a person from the beginning and due all the respect and protection we owe to every person.
That testimony would never be the main reason for celebrating these feasts, which is rejoicing in the mysteries of Christ, but it would be a secondary blessing on humanity, teaching from the highest truth, that man is a creature unlike all others, and thus deserving of love and respect from conception, just as Jesus was, from His beginning in Mary’s womb.