Today is Lady Day: AKA, the Feast of the Annunciation! It is a day cram-packed with theological and literary significance, particularly for English speakers.
Many people labor under the idea that Christmas owes its existence to the winter solstice and the Feast of Sol Invictus.
It does not, for the very good reason that the first celebrations of that festival postdate the earliest mentions of Christmas by decades.
More than this, it appears that the early Church dated Christmas according to a Jewish, not pagan, tradition which held that a true prophet had to die on the day of his birth or conception. In the western Church, Good Friday was understood to have been on March 25. In the eastern Church, it was thought to be April 6. Add nine months and, la voila!, Christmas in the West and the Feast of the Nativity in the East!
Don’t, I beg you, waste time asking who got the date right. The point is what did–and did not–matter to early Christians in working out their celebrations: namely, Jewish and Christian scripture and traditions. Pagan festival were not on the radar.
In England, Lady Day was, from 1155 to 1752, New Year’s Day. Most of us see that as minor arcana, but for one writer in the 20th century, it mattered deeply: JRR Tolkien. This is a man who was still in mourning over the Norman Conquest–and a man with a deep sense of Marian piety, faith in the incarnation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and a delight in such lore. So he very carefully and deliberately has the Fellowship of the Ring set out on their Quest on December 25 and fulfil it in the heart of the Golgotha of Middle Earth on March 25:
“When Sam awoke, he found that he was lying on some soft bed, but over him gently swayed wide beechen boughs, and through their young leaves sunlight glimmered, green and gold. All the air was full of a sweet mingled scent.“When Sam awoke, he found that he was lying on some soft bed, but over him gently swayed wide beechen boughs, and through their young leaves sunlight glimmered, green and gold. All the air was full of a sweet mingled scent.
He remembered that smell: the fragrance of Ithilien. ‘Bless me!’ he mused. ‘How long have I been asleep?’ For the scent had borne him back to the day when he had lit his little fire under the sunny bank; and for the moment all else between was out of waking memory. He stretched and drew a deep breath. ‘Why, what a dream I’ve had!’ he muttered. ‘I am glad to wake!’ He sat up and then he saw that Frodo was lying beside him, and slept peacefully, one hand behind his head, and the other resting upon the coverlet. It was the right hand, and the third finger was missing.
Full memory flooded back, and Sam cried aloud: ‘It wasn’t a dream! Then where are we?’
And a voice spoke softly behind him: ‘In the land of Ithilien, and in the keeping of the King; and he awaits you.’ With that Gandalf stood before him, robed in white, his beard now gleaming like pure snow in the twinkling of the leafy sunlight. ‘Well, Master Samwise, how do you feel?’ he said.
But Sam lay back, and stared with open mouth, and for a moment, between bewilderment and great joy, he could not answer. At last he gasped: ‘Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?’
‘A great Shadow has departed,’ said Gandalf, and then he laughed and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count. It fell upon his ears like the echo of all the joys he had ever known. But he himself burst into tears. Then, as a sweet rain will pass down a wind of spring and the sun will shine out the clearer, his tears ceased, and his laughter welled up, and laughing he sprang from his bed.
‘How do I feel?’ he cried. ‘Well, I don’t know how to say it. I feel, I feel’ — he waved his arms in the air — ‘I feel like spring after winter, and sun on the leaves; and like trumpets and harps and all the songs I have ever heard!’ He stopped and he turned towards his master. ‘But how’s Mr. Frodo?’ he said. ‘Isn’t it a shame about his poor hand? But I hope he’s all right otherwise. He’s had a cruel time.’
‘Yes, I am all right otherwise,’ said Frodo, sitting up and laughing in his turn. I fell asleep again waiting for you, Sam, you sleepyhead. I was awake early this morning, and now it must be nearly noon.’
‘Noon?’ said Sam, trying to calculate. ‘Noon of what day?’
‘The fourteenth of the New Year,’ said Gandalf; ‘or if you like, the eighth day of April in the Shire reckoning. But in Gondor the New Year will always now begin upon the twenty-fifth of March when Sauron fell, and when you were brought out of the fire to the King. He has tended you, and now he awaits you. You shall eat and drink with him. When you are ready I will lead you to him.’
‘The King?’ said Sam. ‘What king, and who is he?’
‘The King of Gondor and Lord of the Western Lands,’ said Gandalf, ‘and he has taken back all his ancient realm. He will ride soon to his crowning, but he waits for you.’”
Those who think in terms of rule and law ask, “But if Russia was already consecrated in 1984 why do we have to do it again?”
Answer: The first thing it is vital to understand is that the Church is not bound by private revelation. It is bound only by public revelation, which closed with the death of the apostles. So the Pope does not have to do anything a private revelation says to do, even if the Church deems that private revelation worthy of belief. We could go till doomsday without the Holy Father having consecrated Russia to Mary and he would be absolutely within his rights and fidelity to the duties of his office to do so. If you don’t know that, you do not understand the Faith you claim to champion. Mary is not a super-pope and she does not govern the Church. Peter does. It is his call whether or not to consecrate Russia and it is his call to say whether or not that consecration was carried out on March 25, 1984.
It was. So every spouting Reactionary popinjay saying otherwise and fomenting conspiracy theories about the Church concerning this stuff is acting as an enemy of the Church, not a disciple.
That said. Precisely the gratuitous and unnecessary nature of things like consecrations means that there is no reason the pope cannot do it again if it seems wise or helpful. Those who think in terms of love and living relationships think asking why we “have to” do it again is like asking, “If I told my wife I love her on our wedding day, why do I have to do it again when she is sick? If I held my kid when he was born, why do I have to keep doing it? If I said I believed in Christ when I was baptized, why do I have to keep going to receive the Eucharist? When is it good enough to fulfill the terms of the contract so I can get back to *my* life and what *I* want to do?”
Minimum Daily Adult Requirement Christianity always wants to know what the bare minimum investment of time and energy is necessary in order to fulfil some legal requirement to pay off the Fire Insurance.
Actual Christianity seeks a living and growing relationship with God and neighbor and looks to feed and water that relationship by as many means as possible.
Right now, in the middle of a war, this Act of Consecration is one way to feed and water those relationships. Don’t look at it as a chore or as exceeding the terms of a contract. Look at it as an opportunity for the love of God to be poured out on a world that sorely needs it.