Yesterday (March 25th) was the Annunciation. The Annunciation is when the angel Gabriel came to Mary and told Her that She was going to bear Christ Jesus. Because we don’t know the actual date it occurred on, it’s long been celebrated on March 25th because it coincides with Jesus’ Passion, roughly. The Jews had a tradition that the great prophets died on either their birthday day or day of conception, because it signalled a complete life. So symbolically, March 25 is as good a date as any — the date for Christmas was then set by moving the clock forward exactly nine months (granted, pregnancies aren’t actually exactly nine months, but they’re approximating here). On the old English calendar, this was called Lady Day (Old English for “Our Lady’s Day”), and was the start of the New Year (January 1st, in contrast, was awkwardly called Circumcision Day, because it’s the 8th day after Christmas, so the day Jesus would have been circumcised). The fact that Lady Day marked the New Year is significant, because it signaled that even way back then, people got it. Jesus came into the world when Mary conceived Him, not when He was born. His earthly life began on “Lady Day,” so it made for a good “new beginning” every year. It’s a good day to turn your life over, and in the modern context, a good day to pray for an end to abortion. (Update: Turns out, Fr. Dwight Longenecker has a very good post on this!)
On the subject of the liturgical year, the Holiest Season of the year starts next week. That’s right, this Sunday is already Palm Sunday (I’m amazed at how fast Lent went), Holy Week’s next week, and Thursday night to Sunday night are Triduum, the most sacred time of the liturgical year. If you’re not familiar, Triduum is three days based on the Jewish calendar, so the day begins at sunset:
- Thursday Night to Friday Night: This includes Maundy Thursday (the beginning of Christ’s Passion: the institution of the Eucharist, the washing of feet, the institution of the priesthood, the first three cups of the Passover meal, the Agony in the Garden) and Good Friday (Christ’s death on the Cross, including His famous “seven words”)
- Friday Night to Saturday Night: Holy Saturday. Christ is in the tomb, preaching to the souls in hell (note, at this time, there’s a hell of sufferring and a hell of waiting, since even the faithful departed couldn’t enter Heaven until Christ paid the price for their sins). To those on Earth, it seems that the Messiah is gone.
- Saturday night to Sunday Night: Easter! Easter Vigil is simply the most amazing Mass of the year. Normal weekday Masses have two readings (a reading from either the Old Testament or a New Testament epistle, and a Gospel reading), normal Sunday Masses have three (OT reading, NT epistle, and Gospel). Easter Vigil has SEVEN, plus numerous responsorial Psalms. Easter Vigil is where new Catholics are confirmed and (if need be) baptized, so the Vigil is set up to tell the story of salvation history from Genesis forwards, all through the Old Testament, up to the Resurrection of Christ. If you were to try and understand Catholic teaching from a single Mass, this would be the one.
As a preview for Good Friday next week, here’s an excellent homily delivered by Pope John Paul I when he was Patriarch of Venice in 1974, four years before his election to the papacy and his death. This is apparently the entire homily:
During the reading of John’s deeply compassionate account, I have contemplated him together with you: full of sorrows, nailed in his hands and suspended; nailed in his feet and immobilized. There I was, facing him: I who cannot bear obstacles, I who shrug off every annoyance, I who am drowning in ease. And yet I profess to be his disciple. I have a beautiful crucifix hanging on the wall of my study; another crucifix at the end of the rosary that I carry in my pocket; I make the sign of the Cross I don’t know how many times a day; every day I celebrate the Mass, the sacrifice of the Cross represented on the altar. In spite of all this, I am so afraid of crosses.
Reflecting on crosses, I have made a distinction. There are some that do not make us tremble. For example: the pain that is heavy, but which you have the strength to bear. Competition, which exhausts you and leaves you breathless, which makes you thirsty and wears you out, but at the same time, stimulates you to overcome your opponent and reach the finish line in glory. These are very small crosses.
The cross is a beam fastened to a crossbeam. It is, therefore, the road blocked in front of me. I thought I would be able to go on and someone stops me, unjustly blocking all of my hopes. I cherished legitimate desires and I see them destroyed from beginning to end. I wanted to keep my feet on the ground and I find myself separated from the earth, lifted up and nailed where I really didn’t want to be. And without any glory; the same people who sympathize with me outwardly for propriety’s sake, deep down are laughing at me. This really is a cross, this wounds the depths of the heart, it twists the soul, and makes this cry rise spontaneously to the lips: This I really didn’t want, Lord! Let this cup pass from me, Lord! Transeat, Lord!
Jesus too experienced this; in the garden he felt prostrated, annihilated, sorrowful unto death. He too, said: “Father, if it is possible let this cup pass from me.” Afterward, however, he accepted it heroically. Afterward, he said: “let not my will, but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
My brothers and sisters! Let us also try to say our Fiat and carry our daily cross. To us too, as to Christ, a little bit of strength will come from the Father. On our painful journey, there will also be some Simon of Cyrene to help us; a mother to suffer along with us and console us.
In any case, every cross is a passing thing; it is the road, not the goal. And no crosses without heaven in view. St. Peter wrote: “Rejoice in the measure that you share Christ’s sufferings. When his glory is revealed, you will rejoice exultantly” (1 Peter 4:13).