The Challenge of March 25

“The Annunciation to Mary inaugurates ‘the fullness of time’,the time of the fulfillment of God's promises and preparations.” (CCC 484)

Sandro Botticelli, ‘The Annunciation’, 1490
Sandro Botticelli, ‘The Annunciation’, 1490 (photo: Register Files)

Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to remember and celebrate all the wonderful events of Saturday, March 25. In the middle of errands, and shopping, and chores, you could honor great liturgical, historical, and literary milestones of Catholic culture and faith.

Here’s a guide to this tremendous day and some suggestions for our grateful response to all the Father has given us, starting with His Son.


The Solemnity of the Annunciation of Our Lord

Today we celebrate the Incarnation of Our Lord in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is a Solemnity so the Gloria and the Creed will be recited or sung at Mass. Going to Mass today would be a great way to celebrate; praying the Joyful Mysteries of the Holy Rosary would be another if you can’t get to Mass. You could also read the account of the Annunciation in St. Luke’s Gospel and pray the Angelus at 6:00 a.m., Noon, and 6:00 p.m.

As Pope Benedict XVI said in a homily on March 25, 2006, this feast is essential:

In the Incarnation of the Son of God, in fact, we recognize the origins of the Church. Everything began from there.

Every historical realization of the Church and every one of her institutions must be shaped by that primordial wellspring. They must be shaped by Christ, the incarnate Word of God. It is he that we are constantly celebrating: Emmanuel, God-with-us, through whom the saving will of God the Father has been accomplished.

And yet - today of all days we contemplate this aspect of the Mystery - the divine wellspring flows through a privileged channel:  the Virgin Mary. . . . From generation to generation, the wonder evoked by this ineffable mystery never ceases.


Two Good Friday Saints: St. Dismas and St. Margaret Clitherow

There are also two saints to remember today: St. Dimas or Dismas, the Good Thief of St. Luke’s Gospel, and St. Margaret Clitherow.

While all four Gospels mention that two thieves were crucified with Jesus, only St. Luke tells us about Jesus promising salvation to the Good Thief in chapter 23, verses 32-43:

Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with [Jesus]. . . . One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise’.

The apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus names this man Dismas. The Church has not canonized him, but Jesus promised him Heaven, so he is a saint. The Eastern Orthodox Church honors St. Dismas in their iconography, in which he is shown with Jesus at the Gates of Paradise. He is also part of their Holy Friday prayers, with this hymn being sung at Morning Prayer: "The Wise Thief didst Thou make worthy of Paradise, in a single moment, O Lord. By the wood of thy Cross illumine me as well, and save me."

For more about St. Margaret Clitherow, one of the Forty Martyrs of England and Wales canonized in 1970 by Pope Paul VI, read this article from last year, when Good Friday was on March 25, a rare occurrence on the liturgical calendar.


The Ark and The Dove Land

For those of us concerned with issues of religious liberty, March 25 also marks an important anniversary: the landing of the Ark and the Dove on St. Clement’s Island in the Potomac River in 1634. The Ark and the Dove were two ships provisioned and sent to Maryland by Cecil Calvert, the Second Lord Baltimore fulfilling his father George’s dream to establish a colony in New England where religious toleration was possible.

Both Catholics and Protestants were aboard the ship. The Calverts’ vision was that both would worship and live their faith freely in this new land, without government interference or support. Since the day they landed was the feast of the Annunciation, Father Andrew White, a Jesuit priest sent as chaplain to the Catholics, celebrated Mass.

The course of religious freedom did not run smoothly through Maryland’s history, however. This was something new—the idea that a community could function united on the civil level and yet be divided in religious affiliation—and events in England influenced the colony.  But from 1660 to 1688, the Act of Toleration guaranteed religious freedom to all Christians in the colony.

From 1692 to 1776, however, Catholics in Maryland lived under Penal Laws that restricted their freedom of religion and taxed them, with everyone else, to support the Church of England. Maryland’s Catholic leaders, like Charles Carroll of Carrollton, would make great contributions to the American Revolution and the new United States of America.

If you are in Maryland, you could celebrate Maryland Day at an official event. If not, perhaps enjoy some Maryland style crab cakes or clam chowder — and pray for religious freedom!


Two Literary Anniversaries: Tolkien Reading Day and Flannery O’Connor

In The Lord of the Rings, Frodo and Sam reach Mount Doom on March 25 to destroy the Ring. Frodo and Gollum struggle for the Ring above the fiery Cracks of Doom. Gollum bites off Frodo’s finger to possess his Precious and falls to his death, destroying the Ring.

J.R.R. Tolkien chose that date on purpose. He wanted to make the connection between the Annunciation and the destruction of the Ring: both set their worlds free from the kingdom of death. The Annunciation fulfilled the promise of the Protoevangelicum in the Book of Genesis: Jesus, the offspring of the New Eve, will defeat Satan. With the destruction of the Ring, the power of Sauron is destroyed and Middle Earth is free of his evil.

March 25 is therefore Tolkien Reading Day, proclaimed by The Tolkien Society as an appropriate day for public readings of passages from The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit.

On March 25, 1925, Mary Flannery O’Connor was born in Savannah, Georgia. She would grow up to be a great writer of short stories and essays. She called herself a Catholic writer: she wrote the way she wrote because she was a Catholic. Recalling her birth brings us back to the great Solemnity we celebrate today. O’Connor believed in the Incarnation and the Word Made Flesh: the characters in her stories, just like all of us, live in a world that needed a Savior, needed the Son of God to become Man and redeem us:

Pour forth, we beseech you, O Lord, your grace into our hearts: that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ your Son was made known by the message of an Angel, may by his Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of his Resurrection. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen. (Prayer from the Angelus)