On the coincidence of the Annunciation and the original Good Friday (a poem from 1608)
Published 29th of March 2018
On Sunday, four days ago, Catholics around the world noted with dismay that the annual memorial and feast day of the Annunciation of the Lord had been eclipsed by the higher ranking celebration of Palm Sunday of the Passion of the Lord, which marks the beginning of the Christian celebration of Holy Week. The Annunciation, which falls precisely nine months before the great festival of the Nativity of Christ (when Christ appeared among mortal men), marks the moment of his conception in the womb of the Blessed Virgin. Naturally, this Incarnation of the God-man within the womb of the Holy Mother is a turning point in human history, and marks the beginning of the ministry of Christ to mankind. It is a major event in the Church's calendar and consequently has been moved liturgically past the many events of Holy Week and the Easter octave to the 9th of April. We shall not quite miss it, then. But such a magnificent anniversary gets us to think every so often and in every century, apparently. Some people know that the great Catholic author and story-teller, J. R. R. Tolkien, based the turning point of his mythological Middle-Earth, the fall of the demon Sauron, on just this date, when the fate of mankind was reversed. Additionally, according to English tradition, the original Good Friday, 2000 years or so ago, was also simultaneous with the 25th of March. Hence, probably, this poem by John Donne, from a different era, but also considering the Annunciation and an impact between the fixed Church calendar of feasts and memorials the movable Church calendar of Easter and its associated events. The text highlighted in a bold font has been so highlighted for the purposes of this post. Here then is a reflection on the Annunciation and Passion falling upon a single day:
Tamely, frail body, abstain to-day; to-day
My soul eats twice, Christ hither and away.
She sees Him man, so like God made in this,
That of them both a circle emblem is,
Whose first and last concur; this doubtful day
Of feast or fast, Christ came, and went away.
She sees Him nothing, twice at once, who's all;
She sees a Cedar plant itself, and fall;
Her Maker put to making, and the Head
Of life, at once, not yet alive, yet dead.
She sees at once the Virgin Mother stay
Reclused at home, public at Golgotha;
Sad and rejoiced she's seen at once, and seen
At almost fifty, and at scarce fifteen.
At once a Son is promised her, and gone;
Gabriell gives Christ to her, He her to John;
Not fully a mother, She's in orbity;
At once receiver and the legacy.
All this, and all between, this day hath shown,
Th' abridgement of Christ's story, which makes one
(As in plain maps, the furthest west is east)
Of th' angels Ave, and Consummatum est.
How well the Church, God's Court of Faculties
Deals, in sometimes, and seldom joining these!
As by the self-fix'd Pole we never do
Direct our course, but the next star thereto,
Which shows where th'other is, and which we say
(Because it strays not far) doth never stray;
So God by His Church, nearest to Him, we know
And stand firm, if we by her motion go;
His Spirit, as His fiery pillar, doth
Leade, and His Church, as cloud; to one end both.
This Church, by letting those days join, hath shown
Death and conception in mankind is one;
Or 'twas in Him the same humility,
That He would be a man, and leave to be;
Or as creation He hath made, as God,
With the last judgement, but one period,
His imitating Spouse would join in one
Manhood's extremes: He shall come, He is gone;
Or as though one blood drop, which thence did fall,
Accepted, would have served, He yet shed all,
So though the least of His pains, deeds, or words,
Would busy a life, she all this day affords;
This treasure then, in gross, my soul, uplay,
And in my life retail it every day.
As to the highlighted texts, then, some quick notes: that the circle represents a whole and so conveniently the person of Christ, both fully God and fully man; that the Head of Life not yet born is already doomed in a way to die for love of mankind; that the knowledge of the Mother that the Son given her must be gone sooner than she may expect is brought to life by the calendar impact of that year; that the calendar impact shows that Christ's arrival and departure form one in the mystery of his arrival and stay among us, and; that we must take such treasures of the Church's liturgical cycle with us for the rest of the year, or of our lives.