Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Why does the Church celebrate Christmas with greater solemnity than the Annunciation?


And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we saw his glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
The mystery of the Incarnation was effected by the Annunciation, nine months before Our Savior’s Nativity. The Word was made flesh with our Lady’s fiat, and at that moment humanity was joined to divinity in a personal union. The Child conceived is already a perfect man, meriting the salvation of the whole world, praying in our behalf and offering to God perfect worship. Further, Blessed Mary was already the “Mother of God” at the Annunciation, for women are mothers from conception even before giving birth.
Why, then, does the Church celebrate the Birth of our Savior with greater solemnity than the Incarnation itself (at the Feast of the Annunciation on March 25th)?

Christ was conceived a perfect man, lacking in nothing
We have already discussed [in an article last week, here] that the Christ Child was conceived as a perfect man – thus were fulfilled the words of Jeremiah: A WOMAN SHALL COMPASS A MAN (Jeremiah 31:22). The Incarnation was already perfected and fully accomplished at the moment of Jesus’ conception of the Virgin by the power of the Holy Spirit.
There was nothing lacking to the Annunciation, there was no delay or gradual assumption of nature – but, all at once, in an instant, the second Person of the Most Holy Trinity assumed a human nature to himself. Certainly, the body of the Child needed to grow and be formed in the womb of his Mother (we presume, according to the natural process of gestation), but the human nature itself did not gradually grow, but was wholly complete at the moment it was assumed.
The point here is that, as in all men, Christ did not slowly become human over the weeks of gestation in the womb, nor did he become man only after his birth, but rather he was fully human from the moment of his conception. [and it is worth noting that even St. Thomas and St. Augustine, who thought (due to faulty science) that ordinarily a baby is not truly human until several days after conception, held that Christ was fully and wholly man in the first instant of Mary’s fiat at the Annunciation]
Our point here in stressing this is to say that the Incarnation was already complete even before the Nativity of our Lord. Christmas is not truly the feast of the Incarnation; rather, the Word became flesh at the Annunciation. Why, then, does the Church celebrate Christmas with greater solemnity than the Annunciation?
Christmas is not a response to pagan holidays
Some may claim that Christmas is celebrated so solemnly as an historical response to certain pagan holidays. Whether the pagan feast of “Saturnalia” or that of “The Birthday of the Unconquered Son”, it has become stylish to say that the December 25th Christmas celebration was simply adopted as a practical means of Christianizing Rome.
Dr. Taylor Marshall has recently posted an excellent article which utterly destroys these pop-theories [read it, here] and has shown also that the Church Father’s had adopted a December 25th Christmas even before the pagan holidays existed! [read the second article, here]
The main point is that the pagan feast of Saturnalia was celebrated at the Winter Solstice which cannot even fall on December 25th (the latest is December 23rd) – hence, if Christmas was to replace the Solstice feast, it would have been celebrated at least a few days earlier.
Regarding the “Feast of the Unconquered Sun” – this pagan feast was not created or popularized until after Rome had been Christianized. It is quite ironic, this pagan feast was created under the anti-Christian Emperor Julian the Apostate as a means to Paganize the Christian feast in a last effort to return the now Christian Rome to its pagan roots. Thus, the history is the exact opposite of what the pop-theory claims!
Therefore, as we can see, Christmas has not come to its high degree of prominence in the Church calendar as a mere response to pagan feasts. There must be a theological reason why Christmas is celebrated so solemnly, and with even greater honor than the Annunciation.
The Nativity is the manifestation of the Incarnation
Here I will give a speculative answer to this question – I do not claim this as a dogmatic certainty, but I offer at least two reasons why the Nativity is celebrated with greater solemnity than the Annunciation.
When St. Thomas Aquinas discusses infant baptism, he asks whether the Church should make a practice of regularly baptizing children while in the womb before birth [cf. ST III, q.68, a.11 - here]. Obviously, in cases of emergency, St. Thomas says that (if possible) the child should be baptized – though there certainly technical difficulties, since the child would be contained in the womb and could scarcely be reached to be baptized [cf. ST III, q.68, a.11, ad 4].
St. Thomas says that, ordinarily, children in the womb ought not to be baptized not only because of the objective difficulty (indeed, the near impossibility) of applying water to a child in the womb of his mother, but because “children while in the mother’s womb have not yet come forth into the world to live among other men.” [ad 1] The point here is that there is a real sense in which a child in the womb is not yet “in the world” in the way that other men are “in the world” – of course, children are fully human from the moment of conception, but St. Thomas holds to this idea that the union of child and mother in pregnancy makes a real difference in the way the child relates to the world.
Indeed, while a child is in the womb, he relates to the world through the medium of his mother. Unborn children are not “among men” in the way that others are. Certainly, they are in the world, but only insofar as their mother is in the world. Thus, an unborn child is not manifested to the world in himself, but through his mother.
Now, from this, we turn to the mystery of Christ’s Nativity. Jesus, while in the womb, certainly was praying for us and was meriting our salvation. Still, there is a real sense in which Christ came into the world to live among other men only in his birth. While in the womb, Christ’s manifest relation to others was only through his Virgin Mother – thus, St. John the Baptist was sanctified through Mary’s words. When Jesus was born, he was manifest to others and lived among men in his own right – though, certainly, he still maintained this close union with his Mother and she remained united to him in his work of redemption.
If we maintain that children only manifestly come into the world to live among other men at their birth, then we say the same also for the Christ Child. Thus, while it is true that the Word was made flesh at the Annunciation, there is a real sense in which he dwelt among us after his Nativity. Certainly, we saw his glory only after his birth into the world.
And this is one reason why the Church celebrates Christmas with greater solemnity than the Annunciation – though Christ was fully man at the Incarnation effected at the Annunciation – for there is a real sense in which Christ dwelt among us manifestly only after his miraculous Birth.
The Birth from Mary, the Birth from the Father
Briefly, we point out another reason why the Nativity is so solemn a feast. The mystery of the Nativity does not point simply to the temporal birth of Christ from his Mother Mary, but also gives us to consider the mystery of his eternal birth from the Father. As Jesus was born of Mary in time (without any harm to her virginal integrity), so too is he born of the Father in eternity (without any harm to or division of the divine Essence).
Thus again, we look to the words of the Evangelist: And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we saw his glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)
At the Annunciation, with Mary’s fiat and the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, the Word was made flesh – for the Eternal Word, at that moment, became man and assumed a human nature to himself.
At the Nativity, when Christ was born of Mary and came forth into the world to live among other men, he dwelt among us, and we saw his glory.
Finally, when meditating on Jesus’ birth of Mary, we come to understand something of the mystery of his eternal birth from the Father – we saw his glory, the glory as it were of the only begotten of the Father.
And for many reasons besides, the Church celebrates the Nativity of our Lord with the highest solemnity.

26 comments:

Ted K said...

I appreciate your attempts at trying to justify the current practice of the Latin Church, but theologically the Incarnation is more important than the Nativity in the history of salvation in so far as without the Incarnation there would be neither Nativity or Resurrection. The miracle of God becoming man is fundamental to Christian belief.
In the East, it is the Pascal Resurrection that is the most important feast, while the 12 other Great feasts are more equally celebrated. So the problem as I see it is not that the Nativity is the more important Feast, but rather that the Incarnation is not celebrated with great enough solemnity in the Latin Church. The reason for this is likely because the feast of the Incarnation tends to fall around Easter time and in the West it was toned down in order not to eclipse Easter. However, in very early times, both the Incarnation and the death of Our Lord were celebrated on the same day, on Good Friday but eventually, the two commemorations became separate. It was only much later that the Nativity was added to the liturgical calendar, earlier in the West for some reason. Nevertheless, the Nativity, the adoration by the Magi, the Baptism, and the first miracle at Cana are festivals grouped close together that have traditionally celebrated the manifestation of Christ's divinity to the world. It is sad that the Latins only celebrate the Miracle at Cana every three years, a clear break with the ancient tradition of the Church.

Pelegrinus said...

VERY THOUGHTFUL. THANKS. I think, nevertheless, that Catholics need to emphasize the feast of the incarnation because of changed circumstances due to widespread abortion. Emphasizing and celebrating conception is the message we need to spread in today's culture of death. It's challenging because of the multiple sensitive issues, but special circumstances require special responses. Pelegrinus. Joe@pelegrinus.com

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Ted K,
The distinction between the East and West is not nearly so clear as you make it out to be.
Easter is still the most solemn day in the West ... just as it is in the East.
Also, even in the East, the events surrounding the Nativity (birth, epiphany, etc) are celebrated with greater solemnity than the Annunciation per se.

Regarding the Miracle at Cana ... the Western Church still commemorates that together with the Epiphany (which is three mysteries: The Wise Men, the Baptism, the Wedding Feast).
The mere fact that we don't always read that Gospel does not change this reality ... the Liturgy of the Hours makes it clear that Cana is part of Epiphany.

Well ... I just don't understand why some people have to speak so negatively about the Latin Church ... as though everything in the East is perfect and the West is stumbling along aimlessly.

Regarding which feast is more ancient ... the Catholic Encyclopedia says that Christmas was a feast throughout the Church by the 4th century, while the Feast of the Annunciation came around a hundred years later near the time of the council of Ephesus (5th century) ... so I'd like to see a reference to justify your claim that "it was only MUCH LATER that the Nativity was added to the liturgical calendar" (i.e. that it was long after the feast of the Annunciation was prominent).


In any case, if you understood the Latin liturgy better ... you would not have said that we do not give enough solemnity to the mystery of the Incarnation.

Ted K said...

Fr Ryan:
Thanks for your response. The Annunciation is celebrated with greater solemnity in the East than it is in the West. Peligrinus's point above is today very important. I would go so far as to say that the Nativity celebration should be toned down. I wonder how many Catholics understand that Christmas is not the Feast of the Incarnation.
As for the Catholic Encyclopedia, it is a great work, but it is around 100 years old and some important historical facts have come to light in the interim. I would suggest folks read Thomas Tally's "The Origins of the Liturgical Year", which I do not think has been discredited yet. The Incarnation was celebrated a long time before Christmas ever was, and Christmas was part of that celebration of the divine manifestation of Our Lord to the world.
As things currently stand in the Latin Church, particularly with widespread usage of the Paul VI liturgy, we need to look to the East more.

Father S. said...

@ Father:

I think that the splitting up of "et verbum caro factum est" and "et habitavit in nobis" is a stretch and unnecessary. It makes for a nice idea, but it is not even implied by St. John. Further, from a devotional point of view, consider the Litany of Loreto. It is precisely Christ's "dwelling among us" that makes the Marian titles so telling. She is the "house of gold," "spiritul vessel," "arc of the coveneant," and "singular vessel of devotion" all precisely because Christ did dwell on earth within her blessed womb.

The reason why this parsing is unnecessary is that the answer to the difference in feasts is rather simple. Consider the birth of any child. Conception is something wonderful, indeed, but it is generally something private. On the other hand, a new birth is something very public. Any reasonable person will affirm that the conceptus is fully human (it certainly isn't anything else) but our joy comes when a child safely makes it to term. For a very large part of the world, conception is far more common than a healthy birth. People understand that excitement builds as the birth gets closer and closer.

It seems to me that our closeness to the very urgent issue of defending life is what makes this question so prominent. We live in a world that needs to hear the truth day in and day out, that all men, born and unborn, have dignity from God. There is a temptation to think that the difference in the rank of the feasts somehow is a less pro-life point of view. I think that we need to look at this distinction in a level manner. The difference in feasts mirrors our common practice as with any child.

To sum this now-too-lengthy comment with a very simple example, I'll say this: Even though fathers love their children from conception, they don't buy cigars for conception; they buy them for birth.

Kind Regards,
Father S.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Ted K,
I will have to look into Tally's work ... I'm not familiar with it myself ... I'm still skeptical as to whether the Annunciation is historically "much earlier" than Christmas, but I do thank you kindly for the citation ... and I look forward to reading more about this! :-)

While I prefer the Extraordinary Form, I just don't see such a radical disjunct with the Paul VI liturgy ... though I know Benedict XVI says it is a "banal fabrication".

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Peregrinus and Father S.,
I think it would be a huge mistake to change the way we celebrate the Feasts of the Lord in order to better serve the pro-life movement.

We must remember, the pro-life movement (as important as it is in our day) is serving only a natural good -- earthly life. How can we possibly change the liturgy (a supernatural good) to serve a natural good?

Yes, we must defend life ... but there is good theological and anthropological reason to say that children are not really "in the world as dwelling among men" until after their birth -- this doesn't deny the humanity of unborn children, but rather stresses the close union of the child with the mother in the pre-natal stage.

The mystery of the Annunciation is about something much greater than the pro-life movement ... we simply must not moralize the Faith.

What I mean to say is that the liturgy should be THEOlogical in focus, not ANTHROPOlogical ... and if we change the liturgy to fit the pro-life cause, we have lost our God-centered vision.


@Fr. S, I think you are on to something with the fact that we have cigars for birthdays ... but I would say it is because it is on that day that the child has come forth to live among men (though he was already human while in the womb).

yan said...

Hi Fr.,

An interesting reflection. Not to get too far afield, but in recent political news a Republican presidential candidate said something about implantation which was interpreted to mean that he was stating that life began at the point that a zygote implants in the uterine wall. The following day under tremendous pressure from his right he stated unequivocally his belief that life begins at conception. I mention this because your article shows clearly [to me at least] the importance of being born into this world. While there is no doubt that human beings are persons from the moment of conception, I think that to treat a person in the womb in the same manner as we treat someone outside the womb is not in accord with our legal traditions nor in accord with nature nor with common sense. It seems to me that candidate was attempting to grapple with that issue.

It also seems to me that the attempts to give legal personhood to the unborn suffer from a myopia that would tend to deny that being born is relevant to the world. In a sense it is analogous to the theological myopia that beset Christendom before St Thomas baptized and integrated so to speak, Aristotle into our faith. That myopia focused on the spirit perhaps to the detriment to the body, whereas the myopia of the ‘personhooders’ focuses on the person to the detriment to his relationship with the world.

I can imagine a scenario like this under a personhood amendment: a mother which has had several miscarriages previously and is at high risk for having another miscarriage conceives. The ACLU brings an action on behalf of the unborn person in her womb who is statistically in danger of death for the court to order the unborn person to be removed from her womb and put in a test tube where he will not be put in danger of the mother. Or, because the womb is a dangerous environment, the ACLU asks courts to prevent mothers which have a certain statistical likelihood of having their child not be born to be ordered not to become pregnant. Or the ACLU asks a court to order that mothers no longer be permitted to conceive or bear children. Only the state will be permitted this important task since it is responsible for the lives of all the unborn. One can imagine tort actions by children and relatives against mothers.

Don’t think this is so far-fetched. Courts have ordered individuals not to be parents before under other conditions.

Then there are the cases of the frozen embryos. What will their rights be under a personhood amendment? Will courts order that they be implanted into women? Which women?

When we give rights, it is courts that do the enforcing. But that is not the way God ordained human family life. The idea that coming into the world, apart from our existence as persons per se, is in itself of moral significance, is important to our understanding of who gets rights and when. While I am, I think, as concerned about legally ending the intrinsic evil of abortion as much as the next pro-lifer, I don’t think that distorting our legal system by treating the unborn in the same way as the born is the proper way to do so. I know you avoid politics in your blog Fr. so I understand completely if you don’t post this. However I thought your reflection to be relevant to this important topic.

God bless, and I hope you are having a holy Christmas season.

Regards,
yan

Father S. said...

@Father,

Just to be clear, I in no way think that we should "change the way we celebrate the Feasts of the Lord in order to better serve the pro-life movement." I only meant to imply that the pressing character of the pro-life movement makes this a common question. It is something that I have heard a number of times.

I agree that there is a difference between Christ's prenatal and postnatal presence. I think that we can say that there is more accessibility in the second than in the first. My point is that the parsing of John 1:14, while clever, is a stretch. It seems to me that you are "proof texting" by inserting your observation into the mind of the Evangelist. Perhaps there is some custom on this point in the Fathers of which I am aware. If so, I am willing to concede the point.

Kind Regards,
Father S.

Anonymous said...

To me the answer to this question is simple. The difference between the Annunciation and the Nativity is the difference between Christ truly present in the tabernacle and Christ truly present in the monstrance for solemn exposition. Sure, He is fully present in both. But the Church celebrates the later with more solemnity. Nor is there any contradiction to the Church's teaching in this practice.

Justin said...

I agree that far too often, Christians (particularly Protestants) have a tendency to limit the Incarnation to the Nativity.

I posted a blog earlier this week in this regard. Feel free to have a look if you are interested:

http://justingridveritasluxmea.blogspot.com/2011/12/incarnation-is-more-than-nativity.html

God bless
Justin

Mike said...

I am the father of 13 children, and was at every birth. It is an overwhelmingly emotional event. I once wondered why it is so profound an experience, and universally so, and asked why God would make it thus, when life is precious from the beginning at conception. The pro-abortion crowd will often taunt, 'people celebrate birthdays, not conception days'.
I realized that birth is so exultant, because it is such a struggle. It is a struggle for the mother and for the child (and for the father, if he doesn't faint.) And, after exhausting hours, and painful usually, the struggle ends, hopefully, in triumph-- a live and squalling baby. And in joy, the joy of seeing a man born into the world, of looking into the face of a newborn babe, and seeing God's image reflected there.

This struggle of a child to be born - against mere nature - has been mitigated by modern medicine. Ironically, an even greater struggle exists now, against the lies and forceps of the abortion movement. I see now that the importance of birth is in fact support for the prolife cause, not an argument for abortion.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Mike,
And, just to be clear (since I presume you hold to this already) -- the birth of Christ was not a long and exhausting/painful process, as it is with others.
Rather, the Savior was born in an instant and without causing any harm to his Mother -- for she remained an intact virgin even in the moment of giving birth (the Lord passed through the cloister of her womb as light passing through glass and as thought proceeding from intellect).

Most definitely, as you say, an emphasis on the Birth of our Lord does no harm to the pro-life movement! +

michelangelo said...

Dear Father Ryan,

Happy Feast of St. Thomas a Becket. Thank you for this excellent question. May I note that, as our friend Aristotle said somewhere,

"It is the mark of an educated man to look for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject permits."

In my humble opinion, you meet the mark! Now, please forgive me if I missed it, but in this statement, do you distinguish between God the Son who is eternally begotten of the Father, and Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God?

"As Jesus was born of Mary in time (without any harm to her virginal integrity), so too is he born of the Father in eternity (without any harm to or division of the divine Essence)."

I am intrigued by your statement because one of the current visionaries said something similar about the Incarnate Son of God, and it made me wonder. (Not being a theologian, I'm using layman's terminology here, Father.) Certainly all of the Father's creations are in His mind even before their creation in time. The Three Persons of God are the only persons who are not created, and of course, the Incarnate Jesus does not take on a second personhood, but rather the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity takes on our nature. So in what way is Jesus born of the Father in eternity? And forgive me for commenting on your excellent practice of relating personally with people who post to your site. Specifically the recent exchange with a man who was rude, in my opinion. You called him on it, and he didn't rise to the occasion, but instead said he wouldn't post again. You challenged him as a father challenges his son. There is no greater compliment I could give a man on this earth, Father.

Thank you for challenging me and all of us to use our brains to grow in our life and love of God. Thank you for the clarification, and Merry Christmas, Father.

Anonymous said...

Father Ryan (and all commenters),

Thank you! Would you consider following up with some attention to the Visitation? There (by Grace) is an Epiphany (indeed, a Theandrophany - if there is such a word) to and through that other fetal man-child, named John at his birth, a perception of the God-Man dwelling among us in utero by someone else in utero!

Re. yan's comment (27 Dec.), we must not forget how much inheritance-related law and jursiprudence re. unborn children as legal persons was unconvincingly thrown overboard within the last 44 years or so(at least, in the English-speaking world).

If I am not mistaken, I also recall some nuns offering to receive frozen embryonic children into their wombs rather than seeing them destroyed (though I do not recall the sequel).

I do not see that real, even likely, possibilities of abuse by states, organizations, or individuals, need prevent lucid, well-formulated attempts at legal recognition of concrete human personhood.

David

Ted K said...

Fr Ryan:
The issue is not changing the way we celebrate the Feasts of the Lord in order to better serve the pro-life movement. The issue here is about how to best show the works of the Lord to all the people on earth. We do not Feast days to worship God, but we do so to recall with gratitude the major works that the Lord did. The very existence of Vatican II came about precisely to change the way the Church did things so as to accommodate the new modern man. Things may have gone way too far after the Council, particularly with the liturgy, but my point is that we need to put more emphasis on the Feast of the Annunciation than has been done in recent years so its divine message can better teach modern man and his fallen ways.
As for dates, I forgot that Ratzinger had something to say about 25 March, which pretty well supports Talley's arguments. Here is a link to a recent blog on this:

http://cantuar.blogspot.com/2011/12/pope-benedict-xvi-december-25-as.html

Talley of course goes into much greater detail such as dealing with the question of ancient calendars.

Anonymous said...

I have always been curious as to why we celebrate the Immaculate Conception of Mary as a holyday, but do not do so for the conception of Jesus. Does anyone know the reason for this?

Laura L. said...

I just joined this blog after reading Father Ryan's articles and the fascinating commentaries. I feel rather foolish even chiming in here for I don't believe I am on the same intellectual plane as all of you, but my love for Christ and His Church is swelling up inside of me. I think this argument about which feast is greater is foolhardy and misses the point. Our Lord, The Blessed Trinity is Spirit and out of Love He Created all, man being His highest creation, made of flesh. We are creatures of both flesh and spirit. The Anunciation, when our Blessed Mother proclaimed her servitude to the Lord, was an act of the Spirit. Through Mary's fiat and the Holy Spirit, the Lord took flesh in her womb. It is a feast of the Word becoming Flesh, and also of the new Eve's cooperation with the Father's Will. It is said that the Blessed Mother conceived of Her Son in the Spirit before the Flesh because of her love and devotion to God's Word. She being conceived without sin was perfected in Spirit and the flesh. The Word took Flesh in Her womb....only our Blessed Mother and Elizabeth as evidenced by her greeting understood what occured and this was due to the working of the Holy Spirit and because of their special roles in salavation history as mothers. When a woman conceives, she herself knows she is pregnant with a real human being. Women know this...we don't need science to tell us so. And this is why abortion destroys women, even ignorant ones. However, the rest of the world, well they don't truly understand this. The world must see before they believe for are also people of flesh. It isn't until our Lord and Savior's Birth that the world could see this Truth. Our Father works with us where we are and through out human nature, both male and female. Note that the choir of angels announced His Nativity while the Annunciation was done so by the Angel Gabriel to Mary directly and privately. Without the Annunciation, there would be no Nativity....ours is a God of Revelation and Truth and He knows what we truly need. He knows that we must see and touch and feel...only a mother can experience the child in the womb, but everyone can hold the child that is born. Both are of equal importance, but not of equal experience.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Anonymous (8:33pm),
Please use a pseudonym.

At least one reason why the Immaculate Conception is a solemnity and holy day while the Annunciation (as well was the Birth of our Lady, September 8th) is not is that the dogma is fairly recently defined (though it has been believed from the beginning) -- hence, so as to promote a wider devotion to the recent proclamation of the dogma, the Church gives the feast a more solemn day.

Peace to you! +

sedemsapientiam said...

Just a note: the Annunciation is a Solemnity. It is just not a holy day of obligation.

Father, couldn't it also be argued that the reason one is more solemn than the other is due to a sort of liturgical practicality? The celebration of the Paschal Mystery is of course a more solemn celebration than any celebration of the Incarnation should be, and thus the seasons of Lent and Easter take precedence over seasons in honor of the Incarnation. But the Annunciation happens right in the middle of our celebration of those two seasons, so we opt to move the solemn celebration of the Incarnation to a time when it can be appreciated more fully, which is around the Feast of Christmas, rather than the Feast of the Annunciation?

Just a thought ...

Merry Christmas!
Joe

yan said...

David [Dec 29],

You make an interesting point about inheritance laws. I think such laws were appropriate because they recognized rights of personhood in ways that were limited and appropriate to a child in the womb. It is my fear that a personhood amendment to the Constitution, which has no basis in common law but which supersedes all laws, would not be subject to legal limitation. Indeed, I don't see how it could be.

To quote Fr Ryan above:

'Yes, we must defend life ... but there is good theological and anthropological reason to say that children are not really "in the world as dwelling among men" until after their birth -- this doesn't deny the humanity of unborn children, but rather stresses the close union of the child with the mother in the pre-natal stage.'

Making the unborn equal under the law in every respect with the born does violence to 'the close union of the child with the mother in the pre-natal stage.' In my opinion, that is unwise.

As Catholics above all others we should beware of creating rights that will set at variance those which the natural law has placed in closest union.

Our problem is not that we don't have enough rights, rather that we have too many. The problem is not that an unborn child is not legally recognized as a person in all respects. Rather the problem is that we consider that a woman has the sole right to determine if the child is permitted to live. While giving the child a right to personhood in every circumstance seems a justified response to the right women have to destroy the child, it is in my opinion fighting fire with fire, with which all will be burned. Rather we should put out both fires than to start a second one, which once started will burn in ways unforeseen. That much I think I can promise would be the effect of a personhood amendment, because that has always been the case historically when we grant a legal right.

Regards
Yan

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@sedemsapientiam,
Thank you for the correction! The Annunciation is most certainly a solemnity. +

RevJMV said...

This is a great post. I think it is important to make these distinctions in order to understand the history and nature of our liturgy. However, I really do not see the harm in people celebrating Christmas as a "feast of the Incarnation." I suppose this is the exact point being made. In the West, the Epiphany is focused on the divine manifestation. At least in terms of popular devotion, Christmas is the prime moment when people turn their minds to the mystery of the Incarnation. In the Mass of Paul VI, it is the one day besides the Annunciation when we still genuflect at "et Incarnatus est." Popular devotion celebrating the Incarnation at Christmas is not a denial that it took place at the Annunciation.
I would like to draw an analogy. A sacrament is confected by the joining of matter and form. Yet, there are ceremonies attached which help to upack the sacrament. These ceremonies are not an attack on the confection of the sacrament in the joining of matter and form, but are rather expressions of realities it contains. In the same way, we do not need to see devotion to the Incarnation at Christmas as something inimical to the Incaration at the Annunciation. Rather it is a further unpacking of that mystery. Remembering the Incarnation at Christmas is no more dangerous than remembering the Oblation of the Mass at the Per Ipsum. In either case, we can say it already took place earlier. But both are helpful to our devotion and understanding of the Mysteries.
With so few vestiges of Catholic Culture remaining, de-emphasizing Christmas, in my opinion, would be a HUGE mistake. Without the popular celebration of Christmas, Hollywood would never tolerate "A Charlie Brown Christmas" telling the story of the Birth of Our Lord on secular TV (not that this amounts to very much).

John Whistler said...

My dear father in the faith,
Did you just write "The Word was made flesh with our Lady’s fiat"? Fiat? Really? Fiat? At dictionary.com the word Fiat is a noun with the following definitions :
1.an authoritative decree, sanction, or order: a royal fiat. Synonyms: authorization, directive, ruling, mandate, diktat, ukase.
2.a fixed form of words containing the word fiat, by which a person in authority gives sanction, or authorization.
3.an arbitrary decree or pronouncement, especially by a person or group of persons having absolute authority to enforce it: The king ruled by fiat.
Please notice the word authority. St. Aquinas rightly points out there is only one ultimate source of authority. This is God. (Cf. Prima, Prima-part I believe, one of the five ontological proofs of the existence of God). In the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:35-36) "And He went a little beyond them, and fell to the ground and began to pray that if it were possible, the hour might pass Him by. And He was saying, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for You; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what You will.” (New American Standard Bible) Our Lord could have said no, wanted to say no
BUT he freely choose to do what the Father willed. Nobody stops God's plans. (see Job 9:12 “Were He to snatch away, who could restrain Him?
Who could say to Him, ‘What are You doing?
and Is 45:9 Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker— An earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth! Will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’ Or the thing you are making say, ‘He has no hands’? )
Saying that the blessed mother of our Lord's humanity conceived by her fiat is like saying Abraham (our father in faith) spared his son Issac by his fiat (cf. Gen 22:9-13)
In Luke 1:31"And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. " (American Standard Bible) I don't see Gabriel offering any CHOICE. Mary would have conceived regardless of her wishes. It is her glory, that she as a true daughter of Abraham, should wholeheartedly and graciously accept the command of our God. In that sense, would that our Lord pour his Holy Spirit upon us in such abundance
so that we too, could have such faith and love for Him that we could all be like her. This world would be a far better place. Amen.
John Whistler Belfair,WA

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@John Whistler,
I believe you are confused as to what I mean (and what catholic theologians mean) when speaking of Mary's fiat has nothing to do with dictionary.com ... indeed, I would warn that we must not go to online dictionaries when trying to define theological terms -- rather, we look to the Tradition.

The phrase "Mary's fiat" refers to her words: "Let it be done to me according to your word" ... "let it be" is "fiat" in Latin.

Setting aside the hypotheticals of your comment, the fact is that Mary did say "fiat" and it was at this moment that (historically) the Word became man.

Further, it was fitting for many reasons that God would allow Mary to say "yes" ... since God does not save us without our cooperation.

Did God have an absolute need Mary? No.
Did God choose to work in and through Mary? Yes.
Thus, historically, the Word became flesh at Mary's fiat, when she said "Let it be done".

Hope it is clearer now. +

DIANE H. said...

DEAR FR. RYAN I MYSELF A THEOLOGIAN AGREE AND APPRECIATE YOUR WRITINGS ESPECIALLY THE DEC. 25 TH BIRTH OF OUR LORD BEAUTIFULLY WRITTEN MY COMMENT........IT HAPPENED AS IT WAS REVEALED TO A SAINT INSPIRED BY ABBA HIMSELF DOGMA! OH YES.
ITS BECAUSE..........GOD SAID SO!!!!! GOD BLESS YOUR HEART!

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