The Solemnity of the Conception of Jesus

Annunciation
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Whenever the Advent season approaches, our thoughts turn quite naturally toward Christmas and, with the urging of the Church, we rightly use the Advent season to prepare our souls for the coming of Our Lord. Christmas and Easter are probably the two most popular, and most solemn, Holy Days among Catholics and we rightly prepare for them with seasons of introspection and self-examination. Both Christmas and Easter are happy days, but in our culture, for a number of reasons (not all of them religious), Christmas seems to be the happier. It is the anniversary of the day on which, more than two thousand years ago, the Word became flesh—isn’t it?

Most Catholics probably accept that as a rhetorical question, needing no answer. Certainly, Christmas is the anniversary of the day on which we celebrate God’s becoming Man—the day on which the Word became flesh. How often have we heard that in sermons and homilies? Oh, there may be an academic dispute as to whether Jesus was really born on December 25th, or perhaps on some day in the spring, when shepherds would have been more likely to have been watching their flocks at night. But we have to settle on some day, and for whatever historical or cultural reasons, we have settled on December 25th as the day on which God became Man. So, it is just a rhetorical question, isn’t it?

A popular pilgrimage site for Catholics is the Holy House of Loreto in Italy. The Holy House is believed to be the very house in Nazareth where the Archangel Gabriel visited Mary and asked her to become the Mother of God. In the 13th century, the Holy House was removed from Nazareth (either by angels or by a merchant family named Angeli), and eventually found its way to its present home inside the Basilica della Santa Casa in Ancona, Italy. Some who visit the Holy House today are mildly surprised when they see the large inscription behind the altar. The inscription reads, “Hic Verbum caro factum est” (“Here the Word was made flesh”). The mild surprise disappears with a realization something like, “Oh, yes, of course. Jesus was conceived in Mary’s womb when Mary gave her consent to the angel, and it was then and there that He became flesh.”

Christmas Day may indeed be the anniversary of the birth of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, but it is not the anniversary of the day on which God became Man. It is not the day on which the Word became flesh. The anniversary of the day on which God became Man and the Word became flesh is, in our calendar, March 25th, the day on which we celebrate (if we do at all in these modernist times) the Solemnity of the Annunciation. It was at the moment of Mary’s “Yes” to the angel that the power of the Holy Spirit, her Divine Spouse, overshadowed her, and she conceived in her womb the God-Man. The Word became flesh at that moment.

Why do I mention this? Am I merely being hyper-technical or super fussy? A little thought will yield the reason for mentioning it. By virtually ignoring the Solemnity of the Annunciation—by even calling it the “Annunciation,” as if an “announcement” is all that occurred—an announcement of a future, and by implication, more important event—we have been sending a message to the world and to ourselves, and the message is a disturbing one. We have been telling the world that we regard the day of birth as being the important day. We have been telling the world every Advent that Jesus is “coming,” the implication being that, ceremonially, He is not yet among us but will be on Christmas Day. By not regarding the Solemnity of the Annunciation as a Holy Day at least on a par with Christmas—and by allowing Catholics thereby to virtually ignore it—our message to the world, and really to ourselves as well, is that conception is not the vital moment. Our message is that birth, not conception, is the moment when one really becomes a member of the human community. Subliminal messages like this determine an attitude.

We wonder why Catholics often vote for pro-abortion candidates in greater percentages than the general voting population. We wonder how it is that the majority of Catholic politicians (thank God for the pro-life minority) can so glibly and easily take a pro-abortion stance with no fear of any significant loss of support from Catholics. We’ve missed a great opportunity—and an even greater responsibility—to send a better (and truer) subliminal message to the world and to ourselves. We Catholics have undermined a prime tenet of our own Faith, judging by the pro-abortion candidates for whom the majority of American Catholics cast our votes, regularly and repeatedly. Why do Catholics vote for someone, anyone, who favors a right to kill God’s littlest children? 

The humble suggestion here is that the Catholic Church should elevate the Solemnity of the Annunciation to its rightful stature—as the anniversary of the day on which God became Man and the Word became flesh—by changing its name to the Solemnity of the Conception of Jesus, and by ordaining it as a Holy Day of Obligation. If we truly believe that one is a human being from the moment of conception, then why, in God’s Holy Name (literally “why, in God’s Holy Name”), do we virtually ignore the anniversary of the Conception of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ?

[Image Credit: The Annunciation by Leonardo da Vinci (Wikipedia Commons)]

Raymond B. Marcin

By

Raymond B. Marcin is a Professor of Law Emeritus at the Catholic University of America.

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