The Annunciation: A Matter of Life and Death

There’s an ancient Jewish tradition which holds that March 25, the day on which the Catholic Church celebrates the moment when our Lord and Savior took on our human nature in the womb of the Virgin Mary, is also the day on which God began the original masterpiece of His Creation.

How fitting it is to have these two historical events side by side. fra_angelico_-_the_annunciation_-_wga00555Through the Annunciation, the Spirit of the Lord, which once hovered over the waters, now comes down upon the face of the earth once more. Whereas God once spoke and there was light, now the True Light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it. Additionally, man is given, not just biological life, but supernatural life. God comes to walk with mankind in friendship in a new and profoundly intimate way. Finally, the New Adam and New Eve live a life of filial obedience to the Father. michelangelo_-_creation_of_adam_28cropped29The New Adam, through the words of Scripture, says, As it written of me in the scroll, behold, I come to do your will, O God. The New Eve, responded to the Archangel Gabriel’s declaration, professes, Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done unto me according to your word. Now, logically, this leads us to another feast in the Liturgical Year, Christmas, which takes place nine months to the day from this one.

There is, however, another tradition which says this is the day on which Abraham offered his son Isaac in sacrifice; it is also honored as the day of the Passover in Egypt, and the day on which our Lord was crucified for our salvation… another fitting connection. In the Passion, the Heavenly Father offers His Son as the only acceptable sacrifice that takes away sin. giovanni_battista_pittoni_-_sacrifice_of_isaac_-_wga17977Abraham’s prediction that God would provide the lamb is fulfilled; this Lamb is perfect, not just in body but in soul. By this offering, the People of God are truly and definitively freed from slavery to sin and the dominion of Devil.

While each of these pairings are appropriate in their own right, it might seem like a jarring disruption to put them together, to celebrate the Annunciation in Lent. The sequence of overlapping events, however, sends a clear message to us: the New Creation which God intends to effect will only come about through the Cross. This is the framework for the life of every disciple of Christ, for everyone one who claims to follow our Lord and Savior. If we are to live authentically in imitation of Christ, we must die. Calling of the Apostles Domenico Ghirlandaio, 1481Consider the Rite of Baptism, the moment of new life in Christ; it begins with our being claimed for Christ with sign of the Cross, a sign of death. At the moment of our new birth in which we are washed clean of the stain of original sin, we are buried – literally or symbolically – in water, symbolizing a death, that, as St. Paul wrote, …those who live might live no longer for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised (2Cor5:15). At Confirmation, the candidate enters a new stage of life in Christ and is sealed with the Holy Spirit through the sign of the Cross. The last words of instruction which the bishop speaks to a newly-ordained priest in the Mass of Ordination is: Conform your life to the mystery of the Lord’s Cross.Thus, celebrating this day on which God began His work of New Creation in Christ, we cannot forget that its completion requires dying to self, that we may truly live. We must put to death, execute our disordered inclinations and sinful desires in order to enter into that new life which God desires for us, the New Life, which God began so many centuries ago on this very day.

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