March 25th - The Solemnity of the Annunciation
The story of the Annunciation, meaning the announcing, from the Latin annuntiare, is told in Luke's gospel. At the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel announces to Mary that she will conceive a Son, and his name will be Jesus. His greeting, "Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you" has echoed down through the ages in many prayers, and is known as the "Hail Mary." Mary is initially confused as to how she will bear God's Son, seeing as she is a virgin. The angel then explains that the Holy Spirit will come upon on her. This is why when we recite the Nicene creed we say "by the power of the Holy Spirit, [Jesus] was born of the Virgin Mary and became man." The Apostles Creed likewise affirms that Jesus was "conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit." Thus, the Feast of the Annunciation is the beginning of Jesus' miraculous life, and it begins with the theotokos conceiving Jesus by the Holy Spirit's power.
Mary's response to the angel, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word," (Latin: ecce ancilla Domini; fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum) is a statement of humble faith, and a model for how we are to respond when God calls us to do what seems impossible. This response is called Mary's fiat, from the Latin word meaning "let it be done." The Catechism addresses the significance of Mary's faith in relation to her role as Christ's mother:
By pronouncing her "fiat" at the Annunciation and giving her consent to the Incarnation, Mary was already collaborating with the whole work her Son was to accomplish. She is mother wherever he is Savior and head of the Mystical Body (973).
The Feast of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary dates back to at least the 6th century, and is mentioned between AD 530 and 533 in a sermon by Abraham of Ephesus. In the West, the first authentic reference is in the Gelasian Sacramentary in the 7th century. The tenth Synod of Toledo (AD 656), and Trullan Synod (AD 692) speak of the Annunciation feast as universally celebrated in the Catholic Church. In the Acts of the latter council, the feast is exempted from the Lenten fast.
The oldest observance of the day is on March 25, although in Spain the feast was at times celebrated on December 19 to avoid any chance of the date falling during the Lenten season. March 25 is obviously 9 months before Christmas, the birth of Jesus. Scholars are not completely sure whether the date of the Annunciation influenced the date of Christmas, or vice-versa. Before the Church adopted fixed days of celebration, early Christians speculated on the dates of major events in Jesus' life. Second-century Latin Christians in Rome and North Africa tried to find the day in which Jesus died. By the time of Tertullian (d. AD 225) they had concluded that he died on Friday, March 25, AD 29 (incidentally, this is an impossibility, since March 25 in the year AD 29 was not a Friday). How does the day of Jesus' death relate to the day of his conception? It comes from the Jewish concept of the "integral age" of the great Jewish prophets. This is the notion that the prophets of Israel died on the same dates as their birth or conception. Therefore, if Jesus died on March 25, he was also conceived that day. The pseudo-(John)Chrysostomic work de solstitia et aequinoctia conceptionis et nativitatis nostri Iesu Christi et Iohannis Baptistae accepts the same calculation. St. Augustine mentions it as well. Other ancient Christians believed Jesus was conceived on March 25th for another reason: they believed (based on Jewish calculations of the period) that the creation of the world occurred that day. Thus, it was fitting that the one who makes us new creations was conceived on the day the world was created.