Good Friday and the Annunciation

Today, March 25, is Good Friday. It is also the Annunciation. This concurrence has long been held to be deeply significant, for obvious reasons. It last occurred in 2005, as St. John Paul was suffering tremendously in full view of the world, and the calendars show the next such concurrence in 2157. This connection between the Passion and Death of Our Lord and the Annunciation has deep, deep roots. Father Raymond De Souza explains,

“Astonishingly, the starting point for dating the birth of Christ was March 25th,” wrote Cardinal Ratzinger. “The decisive factor was the connection of creation and cross, of creation and Christ’s conception. These dates brought the cosmos into the picture.”

What is the connection between creation, cross and Christ’s conception?

“Jewish tradition gave the date of March 25 to Abraham’s sacrifice,” explained Cardinal Ratzinger. “This day was also regarded as the day of creation, the day when God’s word decreed: ‘Let there be light.’ It was also considered, very early on, as the day of Christ’s death and eventually as the day of his conception. The mysterious words in Revelation 13:8 about the ‘Lamb slain from the beginning of the world’ could also perhaps be interpreted in the same way. … These cosmic images enabled Christians to see, in an unprecedented way, the world-embracing meaning of Christ.”

So drawing upon March 25 as the traditional Jewish date of creation and Abraham’s sacrifice, the first Good Friday — which varies by date, according to the lunar cycle — was believed by early Christians to be March 25. From that intuition, the same date was assigned to the Incarnation — the Solemnity of the Annunciation. That is why, in the Roman Martyrology, both the Annunciation and the feast of the Good Thief are assigned to March 25. Feast days for saints are usually assigned on the day of death, the day of the Good Thief’s crucifixion. Because that is the solemn feast of the Annunciation, the Good Thief’s feast day is never observed — one might say that it is “stolen” from him every year. But it expresses liturgically that March 25 is the date of both the Annunciation and the Crucifixion, thereby bringing together in a unique way the merciful redemption and its Marian dimension.

(Emphasis supplied.)

At A Clerk of Oxford, the author explains in interesting detail the fascination the concurrence of Good Friday with the Annunciation held for medieval and Elizabethan authors. He also explains some of the deep roots of this connection:

This year Good Friday falls on Lady Day, the feast of the Annunciation. This is a rare occurrence and a special one, because it means that for once the day falls on its ‘true’ date: in patristic and medieval tradition, March 25 was considered to be the historical date of the Crucifixion. It happens only a handful of times in a century, and won’t occur again until 2157.

These days the church deals with such occasions by transferring the feast of the Annunciation to another day, but traditionally the conjunction of the two dates was considered to be both deliberate and profoundly meaningful. The date of the feast of the Annunciation was chosen to match the supposed historical date of the Crucifixion, as deduced from the Gospels, in order to underline the idea that Christ came into the world on the same day that he left it: his life formed a perfect circle. March 25 was both the first and the last day of his earthly life, the beginning and the completion of his work on earth. The idea goes back at least to the third century, and Augustine explained it in this way:

He is believed to have been conceived on the 25th of March, upon which day also he suffered; so the womb of the Virgin, in which he was conceived, where no one of mortals was begotten, corresponds to the new grave in which he was buried, wherein was never man laid, neither before him nor since.

This day was not only a conjunction of man-made calendars but also a meeting-place of solar, lunar, and natural cycles: both events were understood to have happened in the spring, when life returns to the earth, and at the vernal equinox, once the days begin to grow longer than the nights and light triumphs over the power of darkness.

(Emphasis supplied and hyperlink omitted.) Read the whole thing there.

This concurrence is a wonderful event, to say the least, and it provides a very concrete opportunity to meditate, even if briefly, upon the entire mystery of the Incarnation itself.