As we celebrate the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord, I turn for inspiration to the Collect or Opening Prayer for the liturgy of the day. The prayer begins, “O God, who willed that your Word should take on the reality of human flesh in the womb of the Virgin Mary,” and thus it states the basic elements that we celebrate as we rejoice in the message of the angel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The angel’s message delivers God’s will and the response of Mary of Nazareth draws the angels into a chorus of “Joy to the World” that continues to this day and for all time. The beauty of this solemnity is that it becomes a nexus for all that had been revealed to the people of Israel and all that has been revealed by Jesus Christ the Incarnate Word. 

Through the ages, the Church, the mystical Body of Christ, has continuously celebrated the profound revelation that is announced on this day. The moment of the Annunciation has been the inspiration for artistic expressions in music, on canvas and in stone that are some of the most glorious celebrations of the divine that humanity has ever produced. 

This moment of the conception of the Son of God in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary is especially poignant and dramatically significant for our time. We find ourselves in this 22nd year of the Third Millennium faced with a tragic denial of what the wonder of conception means for every human being. This day is not the time to lament the false messages but instead to gloriously celebrate the truth that this solemnity represents. March 25th is truly the celebration of the Incarnation of the Lord. Nine months hence the Church will glory in the birth of Jesus the Son of God. But today we celebrate the moment when it all began.

The title of this brief reflection captures elements of the wonder that we celebrate. The two pillars of faith that the Catholic community has clung to through the ages and clings to now, even at times in desperation, are the two solid themes of this year for all of us in the Diocese of Tyler. The Immaculate Virgin Mary and the Most Holy Eucharist. 

The beautiful gift of the Eucharistic presence of Our Lord which must be enhanced in reverence and awe for the entire Church is the same real, physical and corporeal presence that took up residence in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary as the “Holy Spirit overshadowed her”. This real presence that in a moment began to grow in this world was present in the womb of a woman and thus began the journey of incarnation in the same manner as every other man and woman in creation. 

In the Eucharist the presence of the Incarnate Word is veiled under the appearance of simple bread. In his conception in the womb of Mary his presence is veiled in the seemingly ordinary reality of a woman with child. 

As we all know this solemnity is commemorated every time we pray the Joyful Mysteries of the Holy Rosary. Emphasizing why it is so important that we nurture our faith by praying the prayer of the Rosary that our Blessed Mother Mary has urged us to pray over and over again. We can never exhaust the depth of this mystery that we contemplate. It serves to underscore the reality of our faith, that the Immaculate Virgin Mary is always present when the Lord is present and she is always pointing us to him. As we face the turmoil of today let us support each other in these most basic mysteries of our faith. 

Today’s feast brings into focus so many essential elements of our faith and underscores the sacred call we all share to live as the children of God. Our Lord Jesus Christ began the journey of his incarnation among us in the same way that we all began our journey in this world. May our celebrations of this beautiful solemnity of his conception inspire us to embrace each day of our journey as an opportunity to know the Lord more deeply and to be supported on our path by his virgin mother, Mary of Nazareth. 

Cover Image: The Annunciation by Leonardo da Vinci, Florence, 1472-1476.

By Bishop Joseph E. Strickland

Bishop Strickland was born the sixth child of Raymond and Monica Strickland in 1958. He grew up near Atlanta, Texas, where the Strickland’s were founding members of St. Catherine of Siena Church. On June 1, 1985, Strickland was ordained to the priesthood for the Diocese of Dallas by Bishop Thomas Tschoepe at St. Monica Catholic Church. Upon the creation of the Diocese of Tyler in 1987, Father Strickland joined the presbyterate of the new diocese and was named the first vocation director in March of 1987 by Bishop Charles Herzig. In August of 1992, he was assigned to study canon law at Catholic University of America. After completing his licentiate (JCL) in canon law in May of 1994, Father Strickland was assigned by Bishop Edmond Carmody as pastor of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Tyler. He was appointed judicial vicar for the diocese in 1995 and was named a Prelate of Honor with the title of Monsignor by Pope John Paul II in 1996. In September of 2012, Pope Benedict XVI named Msgr. Strickland as the fourth Bishop of Tyler. He was consecrated as bishop on November 28, 2012 by Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston.