March 25: Feast of the Annunciation

“Et incarnatus est” — thus the terse phrase in the Creed that begins to hint at the mystery we celebrate today, in the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord. At Mass, we affirm this (in the current English translation) as Christ “being born of the Virgin Mary.” The coming new translation will be closer to the Latin original by affirming that Christ “was incarnate” of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Spirit.  One can argue over whether “people in the pews” will find this change meaningful, but this re-translation of the Creed does make an important point, namely that there are nine months between the Annunciation and Christmas, between conception and birth. To put this differently, there is a journey to travel, between the moment of conception and that of birth — as every woman who has ever been pregnant (and those who accompany her) knows so very well.  Today, we rejoice in the beginning of that journey the Eternal Word undertakes, as Mary is overshadowed by the Holy Spirit and conceives. It will be another nine month before we celebrate that Christ “was born of the Virgin Mary.”


  1. “before we celebrate that Christ “was born of the Virgin Mary.””
    Actually, in 9 months, we will celebrate that Christ was “incarnate” of the Virgin Mary! 🙂

  2. Since we believe human life begins at conception, the Word was made flesh at his conception, so as I see it, we can say today we celebrate his incarnation, and in nine months we celebrate his birth.

  3. Had to laugh – Michael Sean Winters over at NCROnline today published a long article about today’s feast of the “ASSUMPTION” – oh well, no one is perfect.

  4. On the floor of the Basilica of the Annunciation of the Lord in Nazareth is written: “Hic Verbum caro factum est”: “Here the Word was made flesh”. Caro means flesh; incarnate means was made flesh.
    There is an ancient tradition that a great person would die on the same day of the year that he or she was conceived or born, and that Jesus died on 25 March, at Passover. In this tradition, the date of Christmas comes from the date of Christ’s conception and death – nine months later – and not from a christianising of a pagan Roman festival of the sun.

    1. Jesus was born of the Virgin Mary 9 months after He was incarnate of her. The Word was incarnate, or “made flesh”, when Mary conceived Jesus. Jesus already had flesh at the time of His birth.

    1. You have a point, Sean, but I don’t think it’s absolute. Words are sometimes used in technical and in more general senses. “Classical” music means 1750-1825 in the first sense. In the second sense, “classical” is all that heavy stuff like Palestrina and Bach and Mozart and Beethoven. Theresa was using “feast” in the second sense – and in this case this usage is well established in literature because for so many centuries our now-solemnities were called feasts.

  5. The interesting translation question here is whether ‘Incarnation’ is just the standard word for the presence of the Logos in Christ, or whether we are committed to a Christology of the Logos-subject taking on flesh. I’ve no great shares in the US ‘was born of the Virgin Mary’ (and in the UK we have ‘became incarnate’), but the US version can be defended: the German standard word for what happens is is Menschwerdung — ‘human-becoming’.

    1. “Menschwerdung Gottes” is a wonderful thing, and I do love my own mother tongue. But in terms of thinking through the nine-month difference between the Incarnation and Jesus actually “being born,” the term “Menschwerdung” does not offer that much help, since it is not focused on that distinction… (unless you think that becoming “Mensch” starts only with one’s birth… [on the humerous side, at my own birth, my father happily declared that I was a “Mensch,” which in his Austrian dialect at the time meant I wasfemale!]).

  6. Teresa: you make me think a bit more. I am principally challenging the assumption that ‘became incarnate’ is ‘closer to the Latin’, as though the latter were to be equated with slavish literalism. It is important not to give away too easily words like ‘fidelity’ and ‘closeness’ to the literal-minded. The Latin incarnatus may or may not be freighted with the technicalities of Alexandrian Christology, and indeed with a distinction between conception and birth of the kind that is central to controversies over procured abortion. But the case has to be argued whether or not these nuances are to be read into the Latin. I’m no expert here: but, given that the Greek is sarkothenta, I’d be inclined to concede the point about Alexandrianism, while being more cautious about your major point about conception as opposed to birth.

    1. Father Endean—-but the US version can be defended: the German standard word for what happens is is Menschwerdung — ‘human-becoming’.—-


      this is how that part of Nicene Creed goes in German…..
      –hat Fleisch angenommen durch den Heiligen Geist von der Jungfrau Maria und ist Mensch geworden—

      et incarnatus ist=hat Fleisch angenommen

      I’m disappointed that one of PT’s German linguists didn’t take you to task, but as they say…..

    1. Possibly because that would be liable to be parsed “became [flesh of the Virgin Mary]” instead of “[became flesh] [of the Virgin Mary]”.

  7. So why not

    “became flesh by the Holy Spirit through the virgin Mary”?

    “Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto ex Maria Virgine”

    καὶ σαρκωθέντα ἐκ Πνεύματος Ἁγίου καὶ Μαρίας τῆς Παρθένου


    Admittedly, I am over my head in speaking of such a detail of translation, but I suspect that speaking of becoming flesh would be more meaningful to American Catholics than becoming incarnate.

    I suggest that the simpler the English word which is accurate the better understood will be the meaning and that anglicized Latin, Greek, and Hebrew should be avoided when at all possible.

  8. I do not think “incarnate” is better or worse than “made flesh” or the like. As Fr. O’Leary has said before, there is strong biblical precedent for “made flesh” (John 1:14), and the word “incarnate” appears no where in the Scriptures. But the Latin of John 1:14 does not exactly match the Latin of the Creed, nor does the Greek.

    John 1:14 καὶ ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο
    John 1:14 Et Verbum caro factum est
    John 1:14 And the Word was made flesh

    Creed: σαρκωθέντα ἐκ Πνεύματος Ἁγίου
    Creed: incarnátus est de Spíritu Sancto
    Creed: by the Holy Spirit was incarnate

    The phrases are not the same; instead, the Greek and the Latin use a compound word: σαρκωθέντα instead of σὰρξ ἐγένετο, and incarnatus instead of caro factum. Perhaps that is the rationale for using “incarnate” instead of “made flesh”. Would you prefer “enfleshed” over “incarnate”?

  9. I wonder if there is a certain degree of anti-Latin inclination behind some of this. It’s not as if “incarnation” is a difficult word. Even very modestly educated westerners seem to understand the Buddhist concept of reincarnation, and would find the term “re-enfleshment” puzzling.

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