Mary’s Fiat: How To Celebrate the Solemnity of the Annunciation
This week we come upon one of the greatest mysteries of our faith: the Annunciation. Although Christmas is primarily associated with God the Son becoming man, the first instant of the Incarnation happened at the Annunciation. The universal Church has celebrated this feast since the earliest days.
Celebrating the Feast
The feast day falls during Lent every year, but that does not mean we celebrate with sackcloth and ashes. Sara and Justin Kraft have some great ideas on celebrating during Lent.
My new favorite way to celebrate a liturgical feast is with waffles. In Sweden, the Annunciation is “Our Lady’s Day,” with waffles being a traditional meal. Waffles for dinner? Piety my friends, piety.
Another way to mark the Annunciation is to renew the consecration to Mary. Here’s a guide and some notes. Never consecrated yourself to Our Lady? I highly recommend it! Both St. Louis de Montfort’s 33-day program and Fr. Michael Gaitley’s 33 Days to Morning Glory have daily readings and prayers toward that end (see also Fr. Gaitley’s video series on Formed.org).
One final way to honor the feast is to read some of the great spiritual works to draw the mind closer to God. Try St. Leo the Great’s famous Tome—the letter he sent by a representative to the Council of Chalcedon (449 A.D.) on the two natures of Christ. Or pick up Fr. Don Calloway’s Champions of the Rosary, Caryll Houselander’s Reed of God, Fulton Sheen’s The World’s First Love, or one of the many books listed here.
The Start of the New Testament
Pope Benedict XVI noted in Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives a seemingly small detail about St. Gabriel’s greeting to Mary. Catholics repeat this very greeting every time we say the Hail Mary. Yet the word that we translate as “hail” (Luke 1:28) comes from a Greek word that also means “rejoice.” A normal Hebrew greeting would have been shalom, “peace be with you.” For the English-speaking world, the word “hail” brings forth many different images, none of which directly involve joy. “This exclamation from the angel—we could say—marks the true beginning of the New Testament… [it] then resounds throughout the entire life of the Church” (pg. 26-27). The message of salvation brought by Jesus to humanity, and the message sent out to the world through the apostles and their successors, has a fundamental basis of joy. Even before Our Lord preached the good news of salvation, joy was already present!
Mother of God
In Greek, the title of Theotokos (God-bearer, or more commonly, Mother of God) was formally ascribed to the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Council of Ephesus (431 A.D.). Mary was central to the discussion, but the controversy was actually Christological. Can Jesus be split neatly into a human half and a divine half, so that Mary only birthed the human half? That introduces all sorts of problems when we try to mold Jesus into something less than He is.
The council fathers at Ephesus did more than merely reject heresy. Affirming the dogma of the Theotokos means embracing all the promises of the New Covenant. St. John Henry Newman illustrates this well:
"And what can be more consoling and joyful than the wonderful promises which follow from this truth, that Mary is the Mother of God?—the great wonder, namely, that we become the brethren of our God; that, if we live well, and die in the grace of God, we shall all of us hereafter be taken up by our Incarnate God to that place where angels dwell; that our bodies shall be raised from the dust, and be taken to Heaven; that we shall be really united to God; that we shall be partakers of the Divine nature; that each of us, soul and body, shall be plunged into the abyss of glory which surrounds the Almighty; that we shall see Him, and share His blessedness, according to the text, 'Whosoever shall do the will of My Father that is in Heaven, the same is My brother, and sister, and mother.'" -"On the Annunciation: Mater Creatoris" Newman Reader - Meditations and Devotions - Part 1
Saying Yes to A Son – and a Family
The predominant interpretation of Mary’s “yes” or fiat (“let it be done” in Latin) is an act of faith in the face of uncertainty. Without any real details to the upcoming events, she said yes. Usually we focus on that uncertainty and the future sufferings in terms of Mary’s fiat. All of that is true, and I fully agree that assertions of faith always open the door to suffering. Her faith was incredible and this is one of the many reasons we venerate Our Lady.
Let’s look at this from the benefit of history. What did Mary say “yes” to, in hindsight? No, she didn't know the full implications of the suffering in store, but neither was she told about the unimaginable grace being offered to humanity. God could have restored the preternatural state of Adam and Eve before the fall. No, He went even further: the Father invited us into His family, into an intimate union with the Holy Trinity. Mary the new Eve—mother of all those born of water and the Spirit (John 3:5)—said yes on behalf of all humanity.
We can rejoice in hindsight with the Archangel Gabriel in the love of the Holy Trinity poured out upon us. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are” (1 John 3:1). All three divine Persons are present at the Annunciation: the will of the Father, the conception of the Son, and the power of the Holy Spirit. Thanks to Mary’s fiat, we are children of the Father, brothers and sisters of the Son, all the while partaking in the love of the Holy Spirit.
On this feast day, spend some time with Our Lord to reflect on this great mystery—the mystery that encapsulates salvation history in Our Lady’s womb.