Virgin Annunciate, Fra Angelico (1387-1477)
Nine months before Christmas, on March 25, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Annunciation. On this day, we celebrate the event of the Incarnation, for as soon as Our Lady said “Yes” to the invitation of God’s messenger, Christ was conceived in her womb. For Knights of Columbus and their families, it also marks the Day of Prayer for the Unborn Child.
The Angelus, one of the most beautiful and beloved Catholic prayers, retells the Annunciation event: “The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary. … And she conceived of the Holy Spirit” (cf. Lk 1:26-38). The prayer continues with Mary’s words, “Behold, the handmade of the Lord. … Be it done unto me according to thy word” (Lk 1:38). Having consented to the angel’s invitation from God, Mary is overshadowed by the Holy Spirit. “And the Word was made flesh. … And dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14). This is the fundamental mystery of Christian faith: With the conception of Jesus, God incarnate came into our world.
Following the Gospel account of the Annunciation, the narrative immediately continues with the events of the Visitation. Without delay, “Mary set out and traveled to the hill country in haste” to visit her cousin Elizabeth, then pregnant with John the Baptist. When she heard Mary’s greeting, Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and cried out, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And how does this happen to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy” (Lk 1:39, 42-44).
As a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology, I marvel at how the scriptural accounts of Mary and Elizabeth’s pregnancies leave no doubt that the humanity and personhood of the preborn Jesus and John the Baptist are recognized many centuries before the discoveries of modern genetics and embryology. Today, science casts light on the beginning of human life that corresponds with the light of faith.
Through biology we know that human life begins at conception with the integration of genetic components from the mother’s egg and the father’s sperm to form a single-cell zygote. This genetically complete and unique individual naturally and normally progresses to infancy, childhood and adult development unless overcome by disease, accident or intervention. Progression from the human zygote to embryo, fetus and infant is astonishing and rapid. Three weeks after conception, embryonic blood is circulating from the beating heart. Soon, fetal movements are detectable. The nervous system begins to differentiate into a brain, and the eyes begin to form before the end of the fourth week. It is just a matter of maturation to birth and on to adulthood.
It is in these incontrovertible terms that contemporary science demonstrates how our Lord Jesus, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, was formed in the Our Lady’s womb, developed and grew into manhood. What a joy it is each year to celebrate the feast of the Annunciation, giving thanks for the mystery of the Incarnation. And what a tremendous gift we have in Christ, true God and true man, who embraced our humble, vulnerable human form and shared in every stage of our development from the moment of conception!
In our quest to build a culture of life, Knights everywhere are encouraged to promote the truth about human life illuminated by science and faith, to daily pray the Angelus, and to fervently celebrate the Annunciation and the Day of Prayer for the Unborn Child. These practices give meaningful witness to our Catholic faith and powerful testimony to the continuum of human life from conception until natural death.
DR. MURRAY JOSEPH CASEY is a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and of preventative medicine and public health at Creighton University in Omaha, Neb. He is a member of St. Margaret Mary Council 11800 in Omaha.