The Annunciation and Good Friday

In the following article by Fr. John Saward from his text The Mysteries of March: Hans Urs von Balthasar on the Incarnation and Easter, the author underscores the patristic tradition of the Annunciation and Good Friday both taking place on March 25th, and the theological and liturgical complementarity of these two great liturgical events. Indeed, Mary’s “fiat” at the Annunciation is also the yes which leads to the Redemption of the world and to her role as Co-redemptrix at the foot of the Cross on that “Good” Friday. – Ed.

There are years when, by date, the Annunciation falls during Holy Week, even on Easter Sunday; in 1989, for example, the twenty-fifth of March was Holy Saturday. In the Latin Church the problem of such double booking is solved by transferring the feast to a day outside the privileged Paschal period. However, in the Churches of the Byzantine rite, the solemnity of the Incarnation Stands its ground alongside the commemoration of the Lord’s Passion and Resurrection. If the Annunciation coincides with “Great Friday” or “Great Saturday,” these cease to be the two days of the year when the Eucharist is not celebrated; the divine liturgy is served in honor of the Incarnation, and there is a hectic duplication of offices. This custom may look like just another example of oriental delight in complication, but it is much more than that.

First, it reflects a tradition going back at least as far as Tertullian, according to which Our Lord died on the Cross on the eighth day before the Calends of April, that is to say, the twenty-fifth of March, the very day on which, by a later reckoning, he had been conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin. (1) Secondly, both the eastern liturgical practice and the calendrical tradition upon which it is based express an intuition of faith, the Church’s sense that the “mysteries of March”—the Incarnation, the Cross, and the Resurrection—are inseparably connected. Christian poets have always loved to entwine them. For example, St Ephrem, the fourth century Syriac writer, speaks of the new and everlasting springtime inaugurated by the coincidences of the month to which he gives the Semitic name of “Nisan.”

In the month of Nisan, when the seed sprouts in the warm air, the Sheaf sowed itself in the earth. Death reaped and swallowed it up in Sheol, but the medicine of life, hidden within, burst Sheol open. In Nisan, when lambs bleat in the meadow, the Paschal Lamb entered His Mother’s womb. (2)

In 1608 the Annunciation also fell on Good Friday and in England inspired one of John Donne’s finest Divine Poems. Donne looks at the Virgin Mother, “Reclus’d at home, Publique at Golgotha,” and considers the strange simultaneity of conception and crucifixion:

At once a Sonne is promis’d her, He her to John;

Not fully a mother, Shee’s in Orbitie,

At once receiver and the legacie.

All this, and all betweene, this day hath showne,

Th’Abridgement of Christ’s story, which makes one

(As in plaine Maps, the furthest West is East)

Of the Angel’s Ave and Consummatum est. (3)

The mysteries of March meet in Mary, the Virgin Mother of God. At the Annunciation she says Yes to the Incarnation of God the Son in her womb. On Calvary she consents to the Sacrifice he offers for the sins of the world. When he rises in glory from the tomb, her fiat flows into a