Irritations of Modern Liturgical Accommodations: Today is March 25th, Annunciation, except here
I’m not really sure when it got changed, but I know it’s been since the ’60s, because all the texts I have pre-Vatican II reference that the Feast of the Annunciation is on March 25th. Period. End of story… unless you live in modern America, where date magic and moving immovable feasts has become a cancer of the liturgical calendar. There is a fascination here of screwing with mathematic certainty of when certain events are commemorated: 40 days afters Easter, Our Lord Ascended into Heaven (40 days is exact, given in Luke, Mark, and Acts). 40 days from a Sunday is a Thursday. Hence, Ascension Thursday (not Sunday). It makes sense. Celebrating it 43 days later than Easter does not make sense. There is a consistency being lost because of this tinkering, and Annunciation got the axe this year.
Nine months prior to December 25 is March 25.
Fixing the date of the Incarnation, which occurred at Mary’s acceptance of God’s proposal that she be the Mother of God was a simple matter of common sense. Saint Irenaeus (who lived in the first and second centuries) already wrote of the celebration of the Annunciation on March 25. He went so far as to tie the ideas together: Annunciation is the beginning of salvation, and the passion is its culmination. It followed that the two would coincide. It makes sense that Annunciation and Holy week are intertwined because they are the beginning and the end of the task of Jesus’s work of salvation. Thus, for the feast of the Annunciation to fall during holy week is not a problem, at least not to anyone paying attention.
March 25 had deeper meaning to the Passover of the actual Pascha.
In the fourth century, St. Ephrem the Syrian, who actually paid attention to math and the meaning of the days, wrote that “the date of the conception of Jesus Christ fell on 10 Nisan on the Hebrew Calendar, the day in which the passover lamb was selected according to Exodus 12.” 10 Nissan fell on March 25. Jesus is THE passover lamb for all time. March 25 is therefore another symbolic and actual bridge between the old testament and the new in Jesus. To move this feast willy-nilly breaks these little details that make our faith so rich with meaning. Arrgh!
The history of the feast being universal being fixed on March 25 goes back to pre-Constantinople. Dionysius Exiguus, in 525, was the first to reckon from the Annunciation of Our Lady, i.e., the conception of Christ, on March 25. He had attempted to state the year to begin with this say. In 656, the Council of Toledo mentions the celebration of the Feast of the Annunciation as celebrated universally. A few years later, the Council of Constantinople, in 692, forbade the celebration of festivals during lent, except for the celebration of Annunciation on March 25, and the Lord’s Day (every Sunday).
In more sensible times, Holy Week did not cause Annunciation to move, nor Easter week.
The old rules for priests tell us the Annunciation used to be celebrated during Holy Week. Prior to the new Mass rules, and by decree of Pope Innocent III, priests were only allowed to say one Mass per day. Additionally, no priest was permitted to say Mass on Good Friday. On Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday only one solemn Mass was to be celebrated in the parish church. The only exception to this rule was made: “when the feast of the Annunciation falls on Thursday in Holy Week.” That means the priest was permitted to say two Masses that day — one for Annunciation and another for Maundy Thursday. Two Masses means Annunciation was not moved but celebrated on the day.
The only exception was one of practical import: no Masses on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, thus if Annunciation “falls on Good Friday or Holy Saturday, it is transferred to the Monday in Low Week.” Note that the feast was moved to the next possible day.
[Update #3: I’d like to highlight this part of the rule for those who have written me and insist that it was “always the case” that Holy Week preempted Annunciation. It can’t be, as there was explicit exemption to the one-Mass-per-day rule for the case where Annunciation on Holy Thursday (then the priest could have two solemn Masses in the parish Church, one for Annunciation, and the other for Holy Thursday) Note also, that Annunciation got moved to Easter Monday only in the instance where it fell on Good Friday or Holy Saturday. So it wasn’t “always” — apparently it changed fairly recently. I think we should change it back.]
So much for those rules, however.
It’s irritating to see the calendar tinkered with so arbitrarily and against what appears to be clear tradition. However, most of you reading this will encounter the feast as having been moved to April 8th. I can’t understand that logic and the import of having moved it irritates me to no end. Today is March 25th. Today is the day when Our Lord took flesh so that he may have His Passion. Today.
Fortunately for me, my Eastern parish celebrates it correctly: today.
Maybe I am not seeing something here and would welcome your corrections in the comments! Tell me I’m wrong if I am, but I just don’t understand why the immovable feast was moved so far away.
P.S. — I am also irritated because the TAN “Saints Calendar” lists Annunciation on April 8th for both the modern and the traditional calendars… too bad. TAN used to get it right.
Nailing down precisely when this rule was changed from the rule to keep the feast immovablestated above (which I quoted from a Catechism text published in 1920), has been difficult. I was under the impression, given that the date of the catechism printing was 1920, that it had been the same in the U.S. up until 1920 and presumably beyond. That isn’t exactly clear from other sources, though. According to the article on new advent, it was made something less of a feast day of obligation starting in France and then the United States, though:
“This feast was always a holy day of obligation in the Universal Church. As such it was abrogated first for France and the French dependencies, 9 April, 1802; and for the United States, by the Third Council of Baltimore, in 1884. By a decree of the S.R.C., 23 April, 1895, the rank of the feast was raised from a double of the second class to a double of the first class. If this feast falls within Holy Week or Easter Week, its office is transferred to the Monday after the octave of Easter. In some German churches it was the custom to keep its office the Saturday before Palm Sunday if the 25th of March fell in Holy Week.”
That doesn’t help much, but it lets us blame the French for being first to break the obligation of the feast. It would appear to be no coincidence that they did this abrogation of the feast of the Annunciation only after the warnings of the Sacred Heart to St. Margaret Mary expired in 1789. The United States was dumb to follow suit at whatever point. The New Advent article still doesn’t make it clear when the movement of the feast was enabled, though. According to my catechism, that was after 1920.
So, it would be appreciated if any decretists with skill in finding exactly when they changed the rules of how this feast gets moved could comment below. Thanks!
I have it from an authority far more authoritarian on the subject than I that this was changed with the 1969 reform of the calendar post-Vatican II. Some claim it was done in the 1962 missal, but other accounts conflict.
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This article, Irritations of Modern Liturgical Accommodations: Today is March 25th, Annunciation, except here is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
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