Quick Facts and Stats
- Summary: Christian celebration of the Angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary to tell her she is pregnant with Jesus.
- 2020 Date: March 25
- Celebrated by: Christians
- Linked Holidays: Epiphany, Christmas, Pentecost.
Background and Theological Significance
The theological significance of the festival for Christians is twofold. The first is the fact that Mary willingly agrees, despite the personal sacrifice. This is symbolic of humanity’s acceptance of God’s Word, literally, into the world. Humanity, in the person of Mary, becomes the vehicle by which God is known in the world. The salvation of reality starts here with Mary.
This acceptance, and the Annunciation itself, also has further significance in how it mirrors an earlier event in the Biblical narrative; that of Eve being tempted in the Garden. At that time we saw humanity, personified in a woman, accepting the offering of the serpent which was compounded by the actions of a man, Adam, and resulted in the corruption of reality. Here we have a woman accepting the offer of God which allows for her to bring forth a new man, a new Adam, which results in the salvation of reality.
This leads us to the specifics of what this willing consent allows for: the Incarnation. For Christians Jesus represents God Incarnate, literally translated as ‘Made Flesh’. Jesus is the meeting point of divinity and humanity for Christians, and it is through Jesus that salvation is enacted. All of this is impossible without the Annunciation.
While the first official records of the festival date to the 600s, the symbolic significance of the event for the earliest Christian communities can be seen in artwork that dates back much earlier. The scene of the Angel appearing to Mary, and the words that describe it in scripture have become foundational in Christian art and liturgy. The words “Hail Mary, Full of Grace…” and the latin equivalent “Ave Maria, gratia plena…” have become so famous that the are known and encountered widely outside of Christian contexts.
More recently there has been more than a little controversy about the message that the Annunciation sends about gender relations in Christianity. More critically, writers have argued that the festival pushes women into a role of passive acceptance; their only role being to have (male) children who can do the work for them. Simone de Beauvoir wrote the following:
‘For the first time in human history the mother kneels before her son: she freely accepts her inferiority. This is the supreme masculine victory, consummated in the cult of the Virgin.’Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex, 1952
Others, however, point firstly to the emphasis on Mary’s response, she decides freely to be not just a vessel, but an active initiator in the work of salvation when she could have done otherwise. Secondly, it has been pointed out that Mary is alone in this. Unlike the Fall narrative, which this one mirrors, where Eve and Adam set the ground for the destruction together, no man is present at the Annunciation. Neither Mary nor God think it is necessary to even inform Joseph, let alone ask his permission. The union that brings forth salvation is between God and a Woman.
The Annunciation is one of the principal feast days of all the major Christian Churches. These Churches do not celebrate the feast on the same day, but the way it is celebrated is in line with most days that hold this significance to Christian communities. The Day is marked by many with a visit to Church where Communion is taken. During the service specific readings, prayers, and hymns are likely to be spoken and sung.
The Feast of the Annunciation is significant to many because of the importance and focus that it places upon Mary herself. Second perhaps only to Jesus, Mary is the focus of devotion for many millions of Christians around the world. This Feast, and its significance,
speak to the unique role that she plays in Christian theology and Christian communities worldwide.