Everywhere we look, there’s news. Televised broadcasts, online articles, nicely printed papers like this one—countless voices crying out, “You need to know this.” Sometimes a piece of news divides our lives in two: before and after. That is the story of the Annunciation. Commemorated on March 25, this feast commemorates the angel Gabriel’s announcement of the Incarnation to Mary, resulting in the most bizarre headline of all time—God becomes Man.
Unfortunately for journalists everywhere, this singular most newsworthy event in history happened about 2,000 years ago. Fortunately for journalists (and for everyone) this event has not lost any significance over time, so that every minute between us and Christ has been fresh with the joy of Gabriel’s news.
Ever since Adam and Eve’s sin, the world had been waiting for restoration. And every generation, from Abraham to David to St. Joseph, was another step towards God’s supreme act of mercy. With the Annunciation, the moment has finally arrived. Until that point, all of human history—which any Boston College scholar could tell you was quite a long time—had been crying the words of Psalm 13: “How long, LORD?” And with Mary’s cooperation, the answer came: “No longer.”
Mary’s cooperation is a key component of this feast. In fact, the Church’s celebration of the Annunciation tells you a lot about its celebration of Mary in general. Catholics believe that she was conceived without sin (“full of grace,” as Gabriel says), since this was the only kind of woman fit to bear Christ. Still, though she never sinned, Mary did not have to accept her role as the Mother of God. A more perfect human being would have more perfect freedom of choice—and while grace certainly gave her strength to submit to God’s will, a merciful God would not force her into compliance. That’s one of the reasons why Catholics honor Mary as much as they do, that faced with this task, she placed herself entirely in God’s hands.
In this way, the Annunciation becomes a day to honor both the Incarnation and Mary’s humility. This feast gives Christians a flawless picture of their faith: Christ humbles Himself, and we humble ourselves in response, like Mary. Before Christ is even born, we have the perfect example of how to react to Him. Thousands of saints have reiterated what Mary first showed us: that the Christian life is a series of responses to the real presence of God.
If we struggle with God’s will, we should take comfort in the fact that Mary faced the same challenges of disbelief. Luke’s Gospel tells us that Mary was “greatly troubled” by Gabriel’s greeting, and that she asked him how the Incarnation could be possible (Lk 1:26). There is nothing sinful about confusion in the face of God’s works—we should probably be suspicious of ourselves if we aren’t confused. But after Gabriel has answered her question to the extent she can understand it, Mary submits. There is still much she doesn’t know, but she submits.
March 25 marks nine months before Christmas. One can imagine that, for Mary, those nine months brought much distress and difficulty. But as we see when she visits Elizabeth, there is joy interspersed with the challenges, and at the end of her waiting, she sees God’s face.
With Christians around the world, we remember the Annunciation and the beginning of Christ’s life on earth. We also honor Mary’s unfathomable trust, asking her for strength to carry out God’s will so that we may see the face she saw on the Nativity.