The Annunciation is one of the most important events in Christianity where the Angel Gabriel appeared to the Blessed Virgin Mary and told of her future as the Mother of Jesus; and Mary’s humble acceptance of this path.
The Annunciation is called by other titles including: The Annunciation of the Lord and the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Feast of the Annunciation is celebrated on March 25th.
The Annunciation is narrated in the Gospel of Luke (1:26-38) as follows from Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition:
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
34 And Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no husband?” 35 And the angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. 36 And behold, your kinswoman Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For with God nothing will be impossible.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.
From Saint Luke’s description of this event, comes the key phrase which is included in the beloved prayer, the “Hail Mary (Ave Maria)”: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” (Luke 1:28). Also, so important in this passage is the phrase, called Mary’s fiat, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:35). In this passage, although at first, possibly wondering why she was selected, she affirmatively accepts God’s will, and in the following chapters of Luke, declares her happiness in her joyful Magnificat which includes the passage, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” (Luke 1: 46-49).
The great importance of this event in Christianity is that it is the beginning of the Redemption where Jesus will become man, i.e. God with us (Isaiah 7:14); and therefore is called, “The Annunciation of the Lord”. Yet, this event is also called “The Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary” because, just as critical in the unfolding Redemption, is Mary’s understanding and acceptance of this role as the Mother of God, and eventually, the Mother of the Church. A role which she had been prepared for since her sinless conception at the Immaculate Conception.
The importance of this Feast of the Annunciation is also evidenced by the fact that when the “Anno Domini” calendar was first introduced in 525 C.E. by Dionysius Exiguus, March 25 (later to become the Feast Day of the Annunciation) was made the first day of the year because the era of grace started with the Incarnation of Christ. (from americamagazine.org)
The scene of The Annunciation has been one of the most frequent subjects of Christian art over the centuries with a most prolific period during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance where most of the great masters painted an image of the scene. Some of the key sacred symbolism in such pieces of artwork include: Mary kneeling with her arms crossed over her chest in acceptance and humility before the Angel Gabriel. She has a book before her which is a reference to her study of scripture. The Holy Spirit as a dove is overhead with rays pointing toward Mary. The Angel raises a hand over Mary in proclamation; and the presence of a stem of lilies representing the ongoing purity of Mary. Most commonly, Mary is on the right side of the scene and the Angel Gabriel on the left. (symbolism from christianiconography.com)