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.

Icon of The Annunciation

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.
Do not repost the entire article without written permission. Reasonable excerpts may be reposted so long as it is linked to this page.

John B. Manos

John B. Manos, Esq. is an attorney and chemical engineer. He has a dog, Fyo, and likes photography, astronomy, and dusty old books published by Benziger Brothers. He is the President of the Bellarmine Forum.
  • Anne says:

    Our family celebrated the Feast today, even if it passed by most people. After all, isn’t the Incarnation the greatest mystery in the universe?! It hardly seems a coincidence that our rapidly-becoming-repaganized world has ditched this awesome feast.

  • John Flaherty says:

    I rather disagree with the view stated in this posting. I’d say it DOES make more sense to celebrate Annunciation about 8 April, not 25 March.

    First of all, we don’t know beyond a doubt that Christ WAS born on exactly 25 Dec as our calendar shows it. I’ve long understood that to have been the date that the Church’s Fathers generally agreed upon for the date when we’d celebrate his birth. It wasn’t precisely intended as an exact, documented occasion. I generally understand that such concerns weren’t AS important in that era.

    Secondly, given that nine months from conception to birth has always been rather more a general estimate than a written-in-stone fact of life, I can’t agree that we MUST have Annunciation exactly 9 months before Christmas. Precisely when he wound up being conceived also was not AS important as the fact that he was conceived at all. Thus, a week or so after His Resurrection makes as much sense as 4 days before His death.

    I also take issue with the idea that we need to have both the beginning and the end represented in one week. We DO have a liturgical calendar in both forms for a reason. Both recognize Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter seasons. We already DO celebrate the anticipation of His coming, His birth, anticipation of His death, the death itself, and Resurrection.

    I think it actually makes more more sense to celebrate His conception on April 8th because we’re celebrating His resurrection by then. Celebrating His beginning makes more sense when He has risen from the grave.

  • Rev Patrick Fenton says:

    Actually, as far back as 1935 (the oldest Breviary I have ) the weekdays of Holy Week take precedence over the Annunciation. Today is Monday of Holy Week, period! Any Feasts of the First Class (then called Doubles of the First Class; now called Solemnities, in the Ordinary Form), which occur between Palm Sunday and The Octave Day of Easter are transferred to Monday after the Octave of Easter (April 8 this year). Nothing is celebrated during Holy Week or Easter Week other than the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In 2007 both the Feast of St Joseph and the Annunciation were transferred.

    • John B. Manos says:

      Thank you Fr. Fenton! I appreciate the comment with more information! Even if it goes back to 1935, what caused it to change from the rule enunciated in the 1930 catechism that had it moved only in the case that it fell on Good Friday or Holy Saturday? What about the prior exception to the rule of only one Mass per day unless for Annunciation if it fell on Holy Thursday? It would appear that the universal change for the Roman rite happened with the calendar reform in 1969.

      This is turning into a bit of a fun little problem of history. Was it the case that the Baltimore convention did change it in the U.S. and my Catechism Explained refused to acknowledge it (perhaps taking the traditional view of the prior millennia?).

      Why did they change it?

  • Marietta says:

    I agree with you. The Incarnation is a most important event and the Anunciation should have been a holy day of obligation – or at least a Commemoration, if it falls within the Holy Week.

    On the other hand, all of Gaudete week just before Christmas is devoted to the great event of the Incarnation of Our Lord. So perhaps, in keeping with the season, Holy Week has been reserved for celebrating the Passion and Death of Our Lord, and the Third Sunday on till Christmas Day and beyond for His Incarnation. Makes sense.

  • Thom says:

    This is not an issue in the Orthodox Church. Annunciation is one of the Great Feasts and trumps everything except Pascha (Easter) for us. So, the only time in our tradition that liturgy can be served on Good and Holy Friday is if Good Friday coincides with Annunciation. If Pascha and Annunciation fall on the same day, as they will in 2035 for us, is called Kyriopascha. I have never been around for one of these occurences, but from what I read, it’s going to be amazing!

  • Marie says:

    I live in Rome, where March 25 was not the Feast of the Annunciation. So I don’t know why you would suggest that everywhere else in the world, “unless you live in modern America,” the Feast of the Annunciation is observed on March 25. This IS the Pope’s diocese, after all, not exactly insignificant… and I have no reason to believe that the rest of the Italian Episcopal Conference has a different calendar from ours, because we ordinarily do everything the same.

    Additionally, my old missal, printed “in accord with the New Code of Rubrics effective January 1, 1961” according to the title page, notes for March 25 that “if this Feast falls in Holy Week or Easter Week, it is celebrated on the Monday after Low Sunday.”

    Seems like a bit of fact-checking would’ve been helpful prior to posting?

    And regarding your update, it’s quite bizarre to “blame the French for being first to break the obligation of this feast” (whatever that means?). The fact is, nobody had the authority to change the liturgical calendar unless that authority was given to them by Rome. So if you’re so anxious to affix blame, it would be far more accurate to write “blame the Pope,” okay?

    • John B. Manos says:

      Marie, Thank you for the reply and further information. I did, however, fact check well enough to show that the Mass rules had not always been the same, since as late as 1930, Annunciation was still part of the Roman calendar even in Holy Week, also showing that the exception to the one-solemn-Mass-per-day rules for parish churches included an exception to the rule if Annunciation fell on Holy Thursday. Moreover, the only time this immovable feast would be moved was in the case where it happened on Good Friday or Holy Saturday (apparently because no Masses are said at all during that time) and even then it would be moved to Low Monday (not moved two weeks later). That was the case in 1930. You’ve written that you have a Missal from 1961 with the new modern interoperation of moving this traditionally understood to be “immovable feast”. Are you aware of what changed between 1930 and 1961? I’d like to know the answer, too!

      As far as blaming the French, yes, I think my tongue in cheek comment above has some merit beyond my tongue in cheek for the reasons I stated there: namely, that the French were the first to do something that abrogated the feast’s connection to Holy Week. I think it is a misunderstanding to think that the Annunciation is not directly connected to Holy Week and Easter — apparently, St. John thought the same as he made it so prominently part of the Last Gospel.

      Meanwhile, I would like to know what changed from 1930 to 1961. For now, this movement of an immovable feast makes no sense to me and the interpretations and sentiments I’ve heard expressed on the matter don’t seem to account well for when, why, and how.

  • […] on March 25, I wrote an article pertaining to irritations of the moving of what used to be known as an …. In the course of that article, I had wondered what precisely changed between 1930 and today that […]

  • […] Annunciation, an immovable feast, was moved all the way from March 25 to April 8th, this past Monday, then that must mean that any […]

  • Robert says:

    I guess this is probably a typo, but you say just above update #3:

    … if Annunciation “falls on Good Friday or Holy Saturday, it is transferred to the Monday in Low Week.”

    and then within update #3 you say: ‘Note also, that Annunciation got moved to Easter Monday only in the instance where it fell on Good Friday or Holy Saturday.’ That contradicts the first statement – Easter Monday is the day after Easter Day. Monday in Low Week is a week later.

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