This year Good Friday falls on March 25, which is usually the Solemnity of the Annunciation. The celebration of Mary’s fiat and God made Man is a massive feast, but gets ousted out of place whenever it coincides with Good Friday. We won’t be celebrating the Annunciation until April 4, the Monday after the Octave of Easter.
However, this is only the case in the Latin (or Western) Rite of the Church. In the Byzantine Eastern Rite, both feasts are celebrated on the same day. I don’t know about you, but I think that this is pretty cool. Just think about it for a sec.
First, you have the Annunciation. This is the moment when God Himself, the Omnipotent Maker of all and the everlasting Being, makes Himself lower than the angels (Hebrews 2:9) and takes on the nature of humanity. He does this so that he might know our sufferings, experience temptation (Hebrews 4:15), and win for us salvation through His humanity.
Ultimately, He came to earth and was conceived in Mary’s womb so that He might die for our sins. God cannot die, and so had to take on human nature to die.
In the Byzantine Liturgy for this day, it is said: “Today is the fountainhead of our salvation, and the revelation of the mystery that was planned from all eternity: the Son of God becomes the Son of a Virgin.”
So, the Annunciation is the “fountainhead of our salvation.” That’s pretty epic. But salvation is not complete without the Crucifixion.
The Crucifixion we remember on Good Friday. This is the day when death itself is vanquished by death. In the Garden of Eden, we lost Paradise. Death became a punishment previously unknown to man. By dying, Christ sanctified death and made it a means to Paradise. And without the Crucifixion, there can be no Resurrection. Without death, there is no afterlife.
The Byzantine Rite has a service on Good Friday commemorating the Burial of Christ. A prayer from this service reads, “Who on this earth could describe this dreadful and awe-inspiring sight: He who reigns over creation accepting today to suffer and to die!”
In the Annunciation, we have the beginning of the most important period of salvation history, and in the Crucifixion, we have the culmination and climax. In celebrating these two feasts on the same day, a whole new celebration transpires. This is a cosmic celebration denoting the universal and timeless nature of worship, in which all salvific events come together into one.
Yet this ought not to be just an Eastern Rite celebration—this goes well beyond one rite (East or West) of the Church. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, in writing on the cosmic nature of the Liturgy, says,
Jewish tradition gave the date of March 25 to Abraham’s sacrifice. Now, as we shall see presently, this day was also regarded as the day of creation, the day when God’s Word decreed: ‘Let there be light.’ It was also considered […] as the day of Christ’s death and […] as the day of his conception.
So. March 25. It’s a pretty awesome day. We celebrate the humanity of Christ in his Incarnation and in his Crucifixion.
Christ was born that he might die, so that by dying we may be born into new life in Paradise.
Byzantine Missal. Reverend Joseph Raya and Baron Jose de Vinck. St. George’s R.C. Byzantine Church. Birmingham, Alabama. 1958.
Ratzinger, Cardinal Joseph. The Spirit of the Liturgy. John Saward, trans. Ignatius Press. San Francisco, CA. 2000.