Note: The featured image is the actual cave of the Annunciation. The words on this altar are, “Verbum caro hic factum est.” Translated they are, [hic: this is where] the Word became flesh.”
When I go to Rome, my favorite place to say Mass is over the tomb of St. John Paul the Great in St. Peter’s Basilica. Being inspired by him and having had the opportunity to meet him make that altar particularly important to me.
In my years of priesthood I have been blessed to celebrate Mass in many important holy places. I have said Mass near the tombs of Saints Peter and Paul and in the room where St. Catherine of Sienna died. I have prayed Mass at the tomb of Jesus in Jerusalem, near the cave where he was born in Bethlehem, not to mention in Fatima, Portugal, Lourdes, France and various churches in Duluth, including, presently, St. Elizabeth and St. James where I am the pastor.
But no experience of saying Mass in a holy place has quite matched the experience I had of celebrating the Sacred Mysteries in the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth in Israel.
Nazareth, the town where Jesus spent most of his earthly life, was so insignificant that it is not even mentioned in the Old Testament. In fact Scripture scholars say that during the time of Jesus it had a population of only 180 to 220 people, all from the same tribe. The Church of the Annunciation, which is built over the site of ancient Nazareth, actually covers the entire area of the town from the time of Jesus.
Today things are a little different in Nazareth. It is one of the largest towns in northern Israel at over 80,000 inhabitants. Sixty-nine percent of them are Muslim; 30 percent are Christian.
Like many expansive churches, the Church of the Annunciation has many altars on its three different levels, but it is the one in the crypt that is most important. In the lowest level of the church is a simple altar placed in the midst of an archaeological site. Surrounded by ancient, excavated walls that are 2,000 years old, the altar stands at the very site of the Annunciation, standing in the exact location where God leaped down from heaven to earth, the very site of the Incarnation.
Year in and year out, my weekday Mass crowd hears me say the same thing every March 25th: If I were pope for a day I would make the feast of the Annunciation a holy day of obligation, because it is the precise moment God became man. Unfortunately, this most important commemoration of our faith tends to get lost because of its close proximity to Holy Week. In fact it often falls right on Good Friday, which is actually poetic, since Jesus came to earth to suffer and die for us.
Second only to the crucifixion, the Annunciation is portrayed more in art than any other historical event in human history, and for good reason. It is the most important historical event in human history. The very moment Mary responded to the angel, “Let it be done to me according to thy word.” Jesus Christ was conceived in her womb.
This is where Mary receives the title “Ark of the Covenant,” since in the Old Testament the Ark of the Covenant was thought to be the very presence of God on Earth. Now Mary is the new Ark of the Covenant, because though the Old Testament version of the ark was lost 600 years prior to Jesus, now God becomes present in a much more wonderful way, not in a fancy gold box but in the human womb of a virgin .
I love reading the Annunciation passage in the Bible (Luke 1:26-39), but it is the last line of the story which sends a shiver down my spine when reading it.
After Mary agrees to this daunting privilege, the text says, “And the angel departed from her.” There is no sadness in the angel’s departure, because now heaven is present in the person of Jesus Christ—God the Son in her very self. She indeed is the new Ark of the Covenant.
This is our Christian faith. This is the faith that we hold to be true as inspired by God in this beautiful and most solemn feast day that we will celebrate in March, but, indeed, today as well.
Here also lies one of the more compelling arguments against the atrocity of abortion. The Christian faith has always made the clear profession that Christ’s life on earth began at the moment Mary agreed to receive him. The precise moment of his conception in the womb was the precise moment of the Incarnation. It is a no-brainer to see how this affirms our Catholic understanding of human life’s beginning as well: at the moment of conception.
How can one argue against that? The Annunciation is not only the moment of the Incarnation, it is also the clearest case for human life.
May our faith be that of the Virgin Mary’s in accepting God’s divine will in our lives, accepting God’s will above our own.
–Father Richard Kunst
The Birth of Jesus Foretold
26 In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, 27 to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. 28 The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”
29 Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. 30 But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
34 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?”
35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called[a] the Son of God. 36 Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. 37 For no word from God will ever fail.”
38 “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
The Birth of Jesus the Messiah
4th Sunday of Advent, 2022
Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be pregnant from the Holy Spirit. 19 Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to divorce her quietly. 20 But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
23 “Look, the virgin shall become pregnant and give birth to a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.” 24 When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife into his home.