The correlation between the conception of Christ and his death falling on the same day follows a doctrinal belief of the early Church, which proposed that many of the major events in the Bible coincided with the Spring Equinox. Events such as the creation of the Earth, the creation of Adam, the fall of Lucifer, and the crossing of the Red Sea are all purported to have occurred on March 25th. Calculations of this nature, which were popular during the Middle Ages in conjunction with the spread of Christianity in Northern Europe, underpin the observance of many Christian holy days during the solstice and equinox periods of the calendar year. The date for the celebration of the Annunciation proved advantageous for the Church in terms of incorporating more Christian theology among the pagan tribes of Europe.
History of the Annunciation
The origin of the feast can be traced back to the early fifth century. It began in the Eastern Church during the time of the council of Ephesus, in AD 431, and became an observance in the Western Church around AD 496. From its inception, there were major differences in the central theme of the feast. The Eastern Church centered the feast on the conception of Christ and His incarnation as the Son of God. The focus of the celebration was God's power as manifested through the Holy Spirit to birth the humanity of the Christ, a being free from the taint of sin. Christ, in turn, would begin a new generation of the children of God, born of the Spirit through the redemption of His sacrifice.
For the Western Church, the Annunciation is a feast honoring the Virgin Mary as the mother of Christ. The emphasis of the celebration is placed on her acceptance of this honor as the fulfillment of the prophecy written in Isaiah 7:14. It is from this feast that the "Hail Mary" recitation of the Rosary and the Magnificat of Vespers have become a steadfast part of Catholic tradition. For the Universal Church, the Annunciation was a feast of obligation until the early twentieth century, when it was relegated to Sunday Mass.
The Feast of the Annunciation held a particularly important aspect for western civilization. Since the early church believed that God created the earth in the spring, March 25th was also the observance of the New Year throughout much of the western world. During the Middle Ages, as the Church grew in power, the Ecclesiastical calendar often took precedence over the Julian calendar. As a result, a variety of time-marking styles developed, placing the New Year at different times throughout the ecclesiastical year.
One such style was the Annunciation Style, which was used in some parts of Europe, particularly in England, where the Feast of Annunciation was known as "Lady Day". These differing styles eventually created confusion when traveling from one region to another, prompting Pope Gregory XIII to initiate the Gregorian calendar in 1582. The Gregorian calendar adopted the Julian date of January 1st as the New Year. England and its colonies continued with the Annunciation Style of the ecclesiastical calendar until adopting the Gregorian in 1752.
In our time, the Feast of the Annunciation continues to be observed in the Catholic Church. However, with the requirement of obligation removed, many Catholics often do not pay tribute to the observance, except at Sunday Mass. For Christians everywhere, the Annunciation can be a reminder of the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers as we are transformed into a people filled and guided by spirit.