Monthly Archives: March 2022

On the Annunciation (2022) – and Mary “shrinking back”

One view of the Annunciation. by Johann Schröder. Compare that with Rossetti‘s view, below…

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Friday, March 25, is the Feast of the Annunciation. (The full title is “The Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary.”) In past posts I’ve said this feast was an example of “back dating;” in other words a kind of metaphor for how the early Church “figured it backwards.”

It all started with the birth of Jesus. First, the early Church Fathers decided that the celebration of His birth would be on December 25. (For reasons explained in the notes.Then they figured backwards nine months. Since they said Jesus was born on December 25, He had to have been “conceived” on the previous March 25. And that’s where the Annunciation comes in. It celebrates “the announcement by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary that she would conceive and become the mother of Jesus, the Son of God, marking his Incarnation.”  

By the way, I gleaned the bulk of this post from 2015’s The Annunciation “gets the ball rolling,” and 2016’s An Annunciation-Good Friday anomaly. Then too, in 2019 – before the COVID hit – I posted “On to Jerusalem!” That talked about my three-week pilgrimage to Israel, based in Jerusalem, with side trips to Nazareth, the Dead Sea, Jacob’s Well and other highlights.

Now back to “Ball rolling” and the Annunciation. As it turns out, Christmas is centered around the winter solstice, and the Annunciation is centered around the vernal (spring) equinox:

An equinox occurs twice a year, around 20 March and 22 September. The word itself has several related definitions. The oldest meaning is the day when daytime and night are of approximately equal duration. The word equinox comes from this definition, derived from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night)

So the Annunciation is celebrated about the time of the vernal equinox. (Vernal is from the Latin word for “spring,” and BTW: The summer solstice is the longest day of the year.)

All of which brings up the matter of the Incarnation. As Wikipedia put it, the Incarnation is the belief that Jesus became flesh by being conceived in the womb of Mary. (Which either preceded or coincided with the Annunciation itself; “it’s a mystery.”) The idea is that the “Son of God took on a human body and nature and became both man and God.”

On that note see John 1:14: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” And while Christ’s Incarnation is mainly commemorated and celebrated each year at Christmas, it also refers back to the Annunciation itself. In other words, Christmas and the Annunciation celebrate “different aspects of the mystery of the Incarnation.” (See also Liturgical year – Wikipedia. ) 

All of which is part of this-worldly’s “Christian pilgrimage.” (Exemplified by my May 2019 trip to Jerusalem.) Which brings up the liturgical year – the church’s calendar year – which begins in Advent (December 1 or so), and goes through next November. (When it starts all over again.) 

But it could be argued that the liturgical year properly starts with the Annunciation. That’s the first moment when it became obvious that God would intervene on our behalf, by and through the birth, life and death of Jesus. More to the point, the church year “sets out to attune the life of the Christian to the life of Jesus.” (It’s not an “arbitrary arrangement of ancient holy days”):

It is an excursion into life from the Christian perspective [and] proposes to help us to year after year immerse ourselves into the sense and substance of the Christian life…  It is an adventure in human growth;  it is an exercise in spiritual ripening.

Note the focus on “exercise” and “adventure.” That’s a reminder that as a good and proper Christian, “It is to vigor, not comfort that you are called.

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Which brings up how Mary probably reacted to the “good news” here. Consider what Garry Wills said about it: “For me, the most convincing pictures or sculptures of the Annunciation to Mary show her in a state of panic … shrinking off from the angel, looking cornered by him.” He noted especially some 14th century paintings, “where Mary is made so faint by the angel’s words that she sways back and must grab a pillar to keep herself upright.”

See also Luke 1:29. Most translations indicate that Mary was “deeply troubled” by the angel’s announcement. Other translations have her “confused and disturbed,” or agitated, perplexed or alarmed. Which led Wills to ask – about Mary’s hearing that she had “found favor” with God – “Did she know already how dangerous is such a favor? God’s chosen people are commonly chosen to suffer.” (Which is certainly a sobering thought for good and proper Christians.)

And as indicated when Mary presented the newborn Jesus to the Temple.* That’s when she heard Simeon say, “you, Mary, will suffer as though you had been stabbed by a dagger.” (Luke 2:35.*) Or that “a sword will run through this woman’s heart.” Thus in some views, Mary’s “look almost of horror at what she has just been told.” Which brings up Dante Gabriel Rossetti‘s interpretation of the event, shown below. You might meditate on that during this Lent 2022, if you feel alarmed, agitated or perplexed at the world events going on around us.

Just know that you are in good company…

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The upper image is courtesy of Annunciation – Wikipedia. The caption:  “The Annunciation – Johann Christian Schröder.” 

“Book of Common Prayer.” The passage is at page 339, Holy Eucharist Rite I post-communion prayer.

Re: Feast days. The link is to Wikipedia’s Calendar of saints. “The calendar of saints is the traditional Christian method of organizing a liturgical year by associating each day with one or more saints and referring to the day as the feast day or feast of said saint. The word ‘feast’ in this context does not mean ‘a large meal, typically a celebratory one,’ but instead ‘an annual religious celebration, a day dedicated to a particular saint.'”

Re: “In past posts,” that is, in past posts on the early church figuring it backwards. I originally cited On the readings for December 21, and also The original St. Nicholas.

Re: How and why the early Church Fathers picked December 25 as the date of Jesus’ birth. See the full story at 2015’s The Annunciation “gets the ball rolling,” but basically, people back in the olden days didn’t know the winter solstice came – and went – every year. So around every December 22 they’d worry that the days would keep getting shorter and shorter, “until there was nothing but eternal night.” But then the days started getting a bit longer, and the Church basically adopted the Roman festival of Saturnalia, a “time of raucous celebration.” (Again, see the full story at “ball rolling.”)

Re: Vernal equinox. For us that would be the one in the northern hemisphere.

Re: “To vigor, not comfort.” An allusion to this full quote on the life of a new Christian:

Hearing now and again the mysterious piping of the Shepherd, you realize your own perpetual forward movement. . .  Do not suppose from this that your new career is to be perpetually supported by agreeable spiritual contacts, or occupy itself in the mild contemplation of the great world through which you move. True, it is said of the Shepherd that he carries the lambs in his bosom; but the sheep are expected to walk, and to put up with the bunts and blunders of the flock. It is to vigour rather than comfort that you are called.

From Evelyn Underhill’s Practical Mysticism, Ariel Press, 1914, at page 177.

Re: “What Garry Wills said.” See What Jesus Meant: Wills, the 2007 book, an “illuminating analysis for believers and nonbelievers alike … a brilliant addition to our national conversation on religion.” (Said Goodreads.) The quote is from page 1 of my Penguin Books edition, “The Hidden Years.”

Re: “When Mary presented the newborn Jesus…” See the most recent post, On the Presentation of Jesus – 2/2/22. We celebrate the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple on February 2. The custom of presenting Jesus – “as a baby, 40 days after Christmas – followed a 1,000-year-old custom that began with Moses. In Exodus 13:2, God said, ‘Consecrate to me every firstborn male:’”

Counting forward from December 25 as Day One [for Jesus], we find that Day Forty is February 2. A Jewish woman is in semi-seclusion for 40 days after giving birth to a son, and accordingly it is on February 2 that we celebrate the coming of Mary and Joseph with the infant Jesus to the Temple at Jerusalem.

Re: Luke 2:35. The “sword will run through this woman’s heart” quote came from the translation Wills used. Most other “Bible Hub” translations say the sword will pierce Mary’s “own soul;” that includes the King James Bible. (The one God uses.) As to feeling alarmed, agitated or perplexed at world events, see 1st Corinthians 10:13, “The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure.” (Well, almost “no different from what others experience.” Mary was after all in a class by herself.)

The lower image is courtesy of Rossetti Annunciation – Image Results. See also The Annunciation by Dante Gabriel Rossetti – my daily art display:

Take a while and look at Mary’s expression. How do you read Rossetti’s depiction of this young woman? Look at her facial expression. This is not one of acquiescence or pleasure. This is a look almost of horror at what she has just been told. This terrified look adds a great deal of power to Rossetti’s  painting. Mary herself in Rossetti’s painting looks much younger than we are used to seeing in similar scenes. She exudes a youthful beauty but only seems to be a mere adolescent with her long un-brushed auburn hair contrasting sharply with her white dress. She is painfully thin and her hesitance and sad look tinged with fear endears her to us. 

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On St. Joseph’s Day – 2022

Saint Joseph, “with the Infant Jesus.” His feast day is coming up on March 19

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This Saturday, March 19, we celebrate the Feast of St Joseph, “earthly” father-figure of the infant Jesus. Two days before that, on Thursday, March 17, we celebrate another saint, St. Patrick, and it seems that a whole lot more people know and celebrate his day, complete with Green Beer.

I wrote about these two saints in 2015’s St. Paddy and St. Joe, and 2016’s St. Joseph and the “Passover Plot.” One cited Apostles, Major Saints and Feast Days, which had St. Joseph third on the list of important figures with Feast days. (Third only to Jesus and Mary.) “St. Patrick on the other hand didn’t even make that list,” but his Feast Day “far overshadows that of ‘St. Joe:’” 

Christian tradition places Joseph as Jesus‘ foster father… Joseph is not mentioned [at] the Wedding at Cana at the beginning of Jesus’ mission, nor at the Passion at the end. If he had been present at the Crucifixion, he would under Jewish custom have been expected to take charge of Jesus’ body, but this role is instead performed by Joseph of Arimathea

Which makes you wonder, “Whatever happened to St. Joseph?” For some possible answers, check out Question of Faith: What happened to St. Joseph – Catholic Telegraph, or – for a lot of Bible passages on the issue – What ever happened to Joseph, Jesus’ stepfather? One thing we do know: Joseph is the patron saint of workers – specifically, carpenters – along with fathers in general and “the dying.” (Those at or approaching death.)

In the meantime, the 2016 post St. Joseph and the “Passover Plot” had a review of the 1965 book by Hugh Schonfield. It’s thesis was that the Crucifixion was part of a “conscious attempt by Jesus to fulfill the Messianic expectations [but] that the plan went unexpectedly wrong.”  

In this version, Jesus planned for His crucifixion by taking a drug that would simulate death. After His unconscious body was placed in the tomb, a religious sect known as the Zealots would secretly steal Christ’s body from the tomb, then spread the rumor that He had risen, thus fulfilling Biblical prophecy. 

Needless to say, the book was controversial, not least of all because in 1976 it was made into a movie. For more see The Passover Plot – Wikipedia, or you can search “passover plot book controversy.” But we’re ranging far afield here, so I’ll just say that for part of my Lenten discipline, I’ll do another post on the book, reviewing it again from a perspective “five years later.”

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Now about St. Patrick. No one can say when he was born, but he is said to have died on March 17, now celebrated as his Feast Day.  In Irish his name would be Padraig, and that’s often shortened to “Paddy.” In turn, it’s seen as a derogatory term for Irish men. See Saint Patrick – Wikipedia, and also The Free Dictionary. That in turn  gave rise to the “Paddy wagon:”

The name came from the New York Draft riots of 1863. The Irish at the time were the poorest people in the city. When the draft was implemented it had a provision for wealthier people to buy a waiver. The Irish rioted, and the term Paddy wagon was coined.

See Urban Dictionary: paddy wagon, about the “police vehicle used to transport prisoners.” But back to St. Patrick. According to legend, he was born in Britain but at 16 captured by Irish pirates. Taken as a slave back to Ireland, he lived there for six years before escaping. He got back to his family, then studied became a cleric, and in the fullness of time returned to Ireland. Legend further says Patrick used the native shamrock to illustrate the Holy Trinity to the Irish. 

As to the day, see How America Invented St. Patrick’s Day | TIME:

The [St. Patrick’s day] holiday also spread by becoming a means for all Americans to become Irish for the day. The shared sense of being Irish, of wearing green and in some way marking March 17, has resulted in St. Patrick’s Day being observed in a similar fashion to July Fourth or Halloween. It’s the closest thing in America to National Immigrant Day, a tribute not only to the Irish, but to the idea that Americans are all part “other.” (E.A.)

Which is a pretty radical idea these days. But anyway, Here’s to You, St. Joseph, patron saint of workers and of the dying. And Here’s to You, St. Patrick, who – among other things – helped save Western Civilization from the barbarians. (See How the Irish Saved Civilization – Wikipedia.) All of which is a good excuse to go drink a tall, frosty mug of Green Beer!

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The upper image is courtesy of Saint Joseph – Wikipedia, which also noted that the “Pauline epistles make no reference to Jesus’ father; nor does the Gospel of Mark.”  The caption for the painting:  “Saint Joseph with the Infant JesusGuido Reni (c. 1635).”

Re: Jesus as first on the list of feast days. The link is to “Christ the King,” at an apparent Catholic website. See also Feast of Christ the King – Wikipedia, about the “feast in the liturgical year which emphasises the true kingship of Christ. The feast is a relatively recent addition to the liturgical calendar, instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI for the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church.” Other churches also observe the feast, though at different times, For example, “In the Church of England, the Feast of Christ the King falls on ‘the Sunday next before Advent,’ when ‘[t]he year that begins with the hope of the coming Messiah ends with the proclamation of his universal sovereignty.'” In the American Episcopal Church, Christ the King Sunday “is unofficially celebrated in some Episcopal parishes, but it is not mentioned in the Episcopal calendar of the church year.”

Re: Joseph as patron saint. See St. Joseph, Patron Saint of Carpenters and Dying and Fathers.

Re: St. Patrick. There’s also the legend he “drove all the snakes out of Ireland.” Some scholars doubt the legend, for reasons including – they say – there were no snakes in Ireland in the first place.

Re: Green beer. The link is to Why Do We Drink Green Beer On St. Patrick’s Day? (See also The story of green beer and St. Patrick’s Day.) Apparently the trend started in the early 1900s:

It is thought that actual green beer got it’s start in the early 1900’s in New York. A newspaper article from 1914 describes a New York social club serving green beer at a celebratory St. Patrick’s Day dinner. In the article, the drink is attributed to Dr. Curtin, a coroner’s physician who achieved the green beer effect by putting a drop of “wash blue” dye in his beer.

A couple side notes: One, “they used to call beer that wasn’t fermented long enough, ‘Green Beer’ because it caused stomach issues or as they called it in 1904 ‘biliousness.'” Two, that  wash blue was, “in fact, poison, an iron powder solution used to whiten clothes.” (I think I’ll pass this year.)

Re: Passover Plot. See also The Passover Plot – Wikipedia.

The lower image is courtesy of Green Beer St Patrick’s Day – Image Results.

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On Ash Wednesday – 2022

Tuesday, March 2, is Mardi Gras, or “Fat Tuesday.” Next day is Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent…

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March 2, 2022, is Ash Wednesday. It marks the beginning of Lent, and I last wrote about it on February 25, 2020, in Ash Wednesday and the start of Lent – 2020. I said the next Feast Day (after St Matthias, Apostle), was Ash Wednesday, which that year came on February 26.

Note that two weeks after that 2020 Ash Wednesday, the COVID pandemic hit:

…to me, “the pandemic hit full swing – the ‘stuff really hit the fan’ – back on Thursday, March 12,” when the ACC basketball tournament got cancelled, along with other major sports. “So my definition of the ‘First Full Week of the Covid-19 Pandemic’ has it starting on Sunday, March 15 and ending on Saturday the 21st.”

But of course, Ash Wednesday comes right after “Fat Tuesday,” also called Mardi Gras, or “Pancake Day,” or Shrove Tuesday. (From the word shrive,* meaning “to administer the sacrament of confession to; to absolve.”) Which is a pretty good metaphor for the kind of absolution some people may feel we need – because of all the calamities that have befallen us since that long-ago Ash Wednesday, 2020. (That long-ago time of innocence, before “the stuff hit the fan.”)

On the other hand there’s Job 5:7, a reminder that “man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.” (And that before the COVID we had a pretty good run of “not so bad.”)

But back on topic, to wit: Ash Wednesday and the Season of Lent:

According to the canonical gospels of MatthewMark and LukeJesus Christ spent 40 days fasting in the desert, where he endured temptation by SatanLent originated as a mirroring of this, fasting 40 days as preparation for Easter.

See Wikipedia, and also On Ash Wednesday and Lent. The latter post explained a bit about the “Fight Between Carnival and Lent,” as shown in a famous painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. The point is, Ash Wednesday always comes after Fat Tuesday. And as an aside, the French term for Fat Tuesday is Mardi Gras, which has now become a generic term for “Let’s Party!!” 

As Wikipedia said, “Popular practices on Mardi Gras include wearing masks and costumes, overturning social conventions, dancing, sports competitions, parades, debauchery, etc.” But that debauchery is always – in the church calendar – followed by Lent. Lent in turn is a season devoted to “prayerpenancerepentance of sins, almsgivingatonement and self-denial.

And by the way, you do get days off in Lent. There are actually 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. Sundays don’t count in the calculation. They’re essentially “days off,” when you can still enjoy whatever it is you’ve “given up.” But back on topic…

As noted in My Lenten meditation – from 2016 – most people have traditional Lenten Disciplines that involve giving up something. (Preferably something they really enjoy.) On the other hand, some choose to add a discipline, a discipline that will “add to my spiritual life.”  

For example, I spent the 2016 Lenten period “contemplating on how and when Moses wrote those first five books;” that is, the first five books of the Bible, the Torah. But this Lent I’ll be going back and revising an eBook I published in 2018, “There’s No Such Thing as a Conservative Christian.” As you can tell by the title, it was way too militant. (As in having a “combative character; aggressive, especially in the service of a cause.)

I’ll be writing more about such Lenten practices in the near future. But for this Lenten 2022 discipline “adding to my spiritual life,” I’ll be revising and rewriting that 2018 book. It to be less militant, less confrontational, and “more Christian.” So wish me luck, but in the meantime:

Have a Happy Ash Wednesday!

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“Book of Common Prayer.” The passage is at page 339, Holy Eucharist Rite I post-communion prayer.

The upper image is courtesy of Mardi Gras – Wikipedia. Captioned: “Mardi Gras Day, New Orleans: Krewe of Kosmic Debris revelers on Frenchmen Street.”

Re: St. Matthias. See also St. Matthias, Zacchaeus, and the tough life of an Apostle.

Re, Full weeks of COVID. See On St. Philip and St. James – May, 2020, and also On Mary Magdalene, 2020 – and Week 19 of “the Covid,” from July 2020.

Re: “Shrive.” See also SHRIVE | meaning in the Cambridge English Dictionary, “(of a priest) to listen to someone’s confession about what they have done wrong, and offer forgiveness.”

Re: Painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. See The Fight Between Carnival and Lent.”

“46 days of Lent.” See Is Lent 40 or 46 Days Long and When Does it End? – Lent.

Re: “No such thing” book. The full title, “There’s No Such Thing as a Conservative Christian”: and Other Such Musings on the Faith of the Bible. But just for giggles and grins, you can also search “no such thing as a conservative Christian” for some interesting results.

The lower image is courtesy of Ash Wednesday – Wikipedia. Caption: “Ashes imposed on the forehead of a Christian on Ash Wednesday.”

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