The feast of the Annunciation celebrates the angel Gabriel’s announcement to the Virgin Mary that she was to become the mother of the Messiah, and her willing submission to God’s will, whereupon the Word of God was conceived and made incarnate in her womb. The celebration of the feast probably began in the East in the fifth century and was introduced into the West in the sixth and seventh centuries. By the time of the Tenth Synod of Toledo in 656, it was celebrated nearly universally in the Church. While the feast falls exactly nine months before December 25, it is likely that the dating of the birth of Jesus depends on the dating of his conception, rather than the other way round. There was widespread belief amongst first century Jews in the “integral age” of prophets and other great men of God, like Abraham; that is, that their lives formed an integral whole, and that they died on the same dates as their birth or conception. Thus, from a presumed dating of the crucifixion to March 25, the angelic announcement to Mary and the conception of Jesus were dated to March 25, and the birth of Jesus to December 25, nine months later.
Gabriel announced to Mary that she would conceive and bear a Son who would be the Messiah, the Son of the Most High, whose name would be Jesus. Astounded, Mary asked how this could be so, since she was a virgin and as yet unmarried. The angel replied that the Holy Spirit would come upon her, and that the power of the Most High would overshadow her, and through this divine means she would conceive. “With God,” said Gabriel, “nothing is impossible.” The same God who had caused Mary’s elderly and barren cousin Elizabeth to conceive would also cause her to conceive without the agency of a man. ” The Messiah was to be born, “not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:13). Mary was chosen by the grace of God to be the mother of the Messiah, and so Gabriel called her “favored one”, and Mary’s assent to the angelic announcement opened the way for God to accomplish the salvation of the world, so that all generations call her “blessed” (Luke 1:48).
Cyril of Jerusalem was the first to use the title Theotokos, “God-bearer”, for the Blessed Virgin Mary, a title that was affirmed by the Council of Ephesus (the Third Ecumenical Council) in 431. In the mid-second century Justin Martyr wrote that Mary is “the new Eve”, and as the mother of the New Israel, Mary is the counterpart to Abraham, the father of the chosen people of God.
Although the festival has long been associated with the Mary (in England it is called “Lady Day”), it is a feast of our Lord – the feast of the Annunciation of our Lord, the commemoration and celebration of his conception in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In many parts of western Europe, throughout the Medieval period, the Renaissance and even into the eighteenth century, March 25 was considered the beginning of the new year, reflecting the idea that with the Lord’s conception a new age had begun. There was also a tradition that March 25 was the day on which the world was created, thus joining the first creation and the new creation in one day.
prepared from various sources, including
the New Book of Festivals & Commemorations and Lesser Feasts and Fasts
Pour your grace into our hearts, O Lord, that we who have known the incarnation of your Son Jesus Christ, announced by an angel to the Virgin Mary, may by his cross and passion be brought to the glory of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as Sheol or high as heaven.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, and I will not put the Lord to the test.” And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
Great things are they that you have done, O LORD my God!
how great your wonders and your plans for us! *
there is none who can be compared with you.
Oh, that I could make them known and tell them! *
but they are more than I can count.
In sacrifice and offering you take no pleasure *
(you have given me ears to hear you);
Burnt-offering and sin-offering you have not required, *
and so I said, “Behold, I come.
In the roll of the book it is written concerning me: *
‘I love to do your will, O my God;
your law is deep in my heart.”‘
I proclaimed righteousness in the great congregation; *
behold, I did not restrain my lips;
and that, O LORD, you know.
Your righteousness have I not hidden in my heart;
I have spoken of your faithfulness and your deliverance; *
I have not concealed your love and faithfulness from the great congregation.
For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said,
“Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired,
but a body have you prepared for me;
in burnt offerings and sin offerings
you have taken no pleasure.
Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God,
as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”
When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
The Song of Mary, Magnificat
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Savior; *
for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed: *
the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is his Name.
He has mercy on those who fear him *
in every generation.
He has shown the strength of his arm, *
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, *
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has come to the help of his servant Israel, *
for he has remembered his promise of mercy,
The promise he made to our fathers, *
to Abraham and his children for ever.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit;*
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever. Amen.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
The scripture texts for the Lesson, the Epistle, and Gospel are taken from the English Standard Version Bible. The Collect, Psalm, and Canticle are taken from the Book of Common Prayer (1979).