This special Solemnity is usually celebrated on March 25th, exactly nine months before the birth of Jesus. This date, and its importance, comes down to us from the apostolic age. St. Irenaeus, a second century Bishop, received the tradition from disciples of the Apostles themselves. This year we celebrate the Solemnity on April 4th because March 25th of this year was Good Friday. Think about that, this year March 25th was the date of the conception of Jesus, as well as the date of His death. Since both of these events show the great Mercy of God, it is quite appropriate that this falls during the Year of Mercy as declared by Pope Francis. The Church moves celebrating this Solemnity whenever it falls during Holy Week. It is moved to the Monday following the Octave of Easter. While this is not a Holy Day of Obligation, it is an important Feast that needs to receive special attention. At the end of this article, I will look at several ways we can do that.
I had the privilege, of visiting the actual place where our tradition holds that the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary. This is in the child hood home that Mary occupied in Nazareth. Today there is a beautiful large Basilica built over the spot that has within it two previous churches built around the house. The first church is from the Byzantine era (4th Century) and the second church is from the Crusaders era (12th Century). The pictures that I took above show ruins from both churches. The free standing pillars were brought from Rome by St. Helene, the mother of the Emperor Constantine in the early 300’s. If you look inside the two churches you will see the actual home itself. Behind the altar are stairs that led up to the street. Outside of the Basilica you can see excavations down to the street level of Mary’s time. You can see the entrance to her home. The Basilica itself was built in 1964 and is quite large with several areas for Mass and prayer. Around the inside of the Basilica you see mosaics and pictures from all over the world that depict the Annunciation and other Marian devotions. There are more pictures outside that go around the courtyard. It is a most beautiful, and holy, place to visit. It is quite interesting to see how so many various cultures of the world depict Mary.
St. Luke, in his Gospel account (Luke 1: 26-38), tells us that the Angel Gabriel was sent from God to a virgin, name Mary, in Nazareth of Galilee. Gabriel tells Mary of God’s plan and that she was being asked to become the Mother of Jesus. She certainly had questions about this mind blowing revelation, but she quickly said YES to God. You cannot help but to think back to the Garden of Eden account where Eve said No to what God had asked. This new Eve, Mary, now says a big resounding “be it done to me according to thy will”. Oh how the Devil must have cringed at Mary’s consent! What a gift this young woman was to God’s plan of salvation. The incarnation of the Savior could now happen because of Mary’s yes. Satan saw the beginning of his defeat by the words of Mary. The Word became flesh because the word of a young, female human consented. No wonder the Church has always given Mary such a special place. No wonder that Satan seems to flee when Mary is brought present.
So how do we celebrate this great Solemnity? Going to mass is certainly a great start. Praying the Rosary is another great thing. Praying the Divine Mercy prayers is another. Try praying the Angelus prayers and making a habit of it, especially at noon time. I would certainly recommend that every family read the Gospel account, as listed above, together as a family, and then discuss what God has done through Mary and through the gift of the Incarnation. Also, you can prepare (or purchase) an Angel food cake for dessert or snack and talk about the gift that God has given us in Angels. Think about a friend or family member that is pregnant and give them a call. Lend support to a Pro-Life group by giving prayers, actions or donations. All of these are great ways to celebrate the YES of Mary.
The Angelus: The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary, And she conceived of the Holy Spirit. (say the Hail Mary). Behold the handmaid of the Lord, Be it done to me according to Your Word. (say the Hail Mary). And the Word was made flesh, And dwelt among us. (say the Hail Mary). Pray for us O Holy Mother of God. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. LET US PRAY – Pour forth, we beseech Thee O Lord, Thy Grace into our hearts, that we to whom the Incarnation of Christ Thy Son was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection. Through the same Christ Our Lord. Amen