March 25, 2019
Today the Church marks the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, the day when the Archangel Gabriel appeared to a young (probably 14 or 15 years old) Jewish girl in the obscure town of Nazareth in Galilee, and announced the beginning of the Greatest Story Ever Told. If you’re not fully familiar with the details, it’s all set forth by St. Luke in Chapter 1, verses 26-38 of his Gospel.
Strictly speaking, what we celebrate is really three separate events: (1) the Annunciation by Gabriel to Mary of the unique role for which God had chosen her, (2) Mary’s assent to that role (a/k/a her “fiat”), and (3) the Incarnation (conception) in Mary’s womb of the Word made flesh, our Lord Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit. Because God in His infinite love gave all human beings free will, (and any of our Calvinist brethren who believe in “double predestination” are welcome to comment and explain their view, which essentially denies free will), the incarnation did not take place until Mary said “yes.”
I learned from some quick research that in various Church documents and liturgical books as far back as the fifth century, this feast was referred to, and properly in my view, as that of the “Annunciation and Incarnation.” For reasons I’ve not yet discovered, the common reference was at some point shortened to Annunciation, which can be somewhat confusing since, as noted, the Annunciation and Incarnation, both events of awesome significance to the world, were not one and the same occurrence.
For Catholics in the USA, unfortunately, the confusion was heightened by the way the original International Committee on English in the Liturgy (ICEL) handled the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed* back around 1970, when the Roman Missal was being translated into English for the first time. ICEL at that time took the “dynamic equivalence translation” approach, for reasons too complex to discuss here in any depth, and one of the results was what I view as a poor translation of the following line from the Latin:
"Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine, et homo factus est."
Until the beginning of Advent in 2011, when the English translation of the Third Edition of the (Novus Ordo) Roman Missal was finally** put to use in parishes in the United States, this line was translated as follows:
“…and by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary and became Man.”
“Incarnatus est”, which means “was incarnate”, had been changed to “was born.” Since medical science as well as theology both indicate the Incarnation would have occurred at the moment Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, this was simply wrong. Jesus became man, i.e. a human being with a soul, nine months before he was born, not on Christmas Day itself. In addition, the original translation seemed to go against the long-standing teaching of the Church with respect to both contraception and abortion. If a person doesn’t “become man” (or woman) until they are born, what’s all the fuss about, anyway? So, at the stroke of a pen, so to speak, a very important change was made in language Christians had been reciting since the fourth century, when the Creed was first compiled by the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople.
Well, since we now have a new translation done by the “formal correspondence” method, which seeks to make the English words more closely resemble the original Latin, it’s fair to say the Holy See agreed that the previous English translations had a lot of problems (not just in the Creed). We now say “…was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man”, which gets us back to what the Latin text has always said.
Now that we have that cleared up, my primary point here is, as stated in the title of this post, to make the case that ALL Christians ought to celebrate this day in some fashion. At present, in addition to Roman and Eastern Rite Catholics and our Orthodox brethren, I believe only the Anglican/Episcopal and Lutheran traditions make any formal reference at all to this world-changing event, and it may not be done in all the various subsets of Lutheranism. Individual ministers may well commemorate the Annunciation/Incarnation in various denominations or “non-denominational” congregations, but it’s not uniform because, of course, they lack either liturgical worship or a central teaching authority, or both.
I think this is not only a sad symptom of the divisions that have existed among followers of Christ for about the past 500 years, but is also rather un-Biblical. The Gospel of Luke belongs to all of us, and its account of the Annunciation and Incarnation of Jesus Christ couldn’t be any more obvious in its significance. Human biology being what it is, if we celebrate Christmas on December 25, then March 25 is as good a day as any to recognize the day Christ “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant” (Phil 2:7). So why is it all but ignored by so many? Heck, even if you’re a Double Predestination Calvinist, you have to concede that God came into the world when Jesus was conceived in Mary’s womb. You don’t even have to pay attention to the fact that God waited for Mary to give her consent before it happened. For those of our separated brethren who bristle at the mere thought of giving any sort of honor or veneration to the Mother of the Lord (see Lk 1:43), fine; you don’t have to do that, either. The Word just became flesh, people! (Jn 1:14). We should act like it!
Before I close, let me note that tomorrow, March 26, is the fourteenth anniversary of my entry into Holy Mother Church, at the Easter Vigil of 2005. Thank you, Lord, for calling me back from my secular ways and bestowing on me the immeasurable grace of a life of faith in Jesus Christ, and for leading me to the fullness of Christian truth in the Catholic Church.
Laudamus Te, Jesus Christus!
* More commonly called the “Nicene Creed.” I think you should get some kind of indulgence if you can pronounce that full name without hesitation, but since I’m not the Pope, I can’t give it to you. His address is pretty easy to find, though.
** The Third Edition came out in Latin in 2000. So it took ICEL and the Bishops’ Conferences of the English-speaking countries “only” eleven years to get the translation done. If you’re interested in a nearly play-by-play account of that arduous process, go to the website of the Adoremus Society and dig around in their archives. It’s actually fascinating, if you’re into that sort of thing. Lots of Church politics involved, too. Whee!