March 18, 2016

Failure to Concur

This year Good Friday falls on March 25, which would be observed as the Feast of the Annunciation were it not for our rules of precedence which privilege the days of Holy and Easter Weeks above all other Feasts. This is the last time Good Friday will fall on March 25 in this century, and when it does, the power of Cross will once again gently nudge the Virgin Mother forward by a bit over a week.

This failed concurrence gives rise to imagery of such weight I cannot shift it so easily from my mind. Nor have others found it so light a thing. Here is the poem John Donne wrote in 1608 on a similar concurrence.

Upon the Annunciation and Passion Falling upon One Day. 1608

Tamely, frail body, abstain today; today
My soul eats twice, Christ hither and away.
She sees Him man, so like God made in this,
That of them both a circle emblem is,
Whose first and last concur; this doubtful day
Of feast or fast, Christ came and went away;
She sees Him nothing twice at once, who’s all;
She sees a Cedar plant itself and fall,
Her Maker put to making, and the head
Of life at once not yet alive yet dead;
She sees at once the virgin mother stay
Reclused at home, public at Golgotha;
Sad and rejoiced she’s seen at once, and seen
At almost fifty and at scarce fifteen;
At once a Son is promised her, and gone;
Gabriel gives Christ to her, He her to John;
Not fully a mother, she’s in orbity,
At once receiver and the legacy;
All this, and all between, this day hath shown,
The abridgement of Christ’s story, which makes one
(As in plain maps, the furthest west is east)
Of the Angels’ Ave and Consummatum est.
How well the Church, God’s court of faculties,
Deals in some times and seldom joining these!
As by the self-fixed Pole we never do
Direct our course, but the next star thereto,
Which shows where the other is and which we say
(Because it strays not far) doth never stray,
So God by His Church, nearest to Him, we know
And stand firm, if we by her motion go;
His Spirit, as His fiery pillar doth
Lead, and His Church, as cloud, to one end both.
This Church, by letting these days join, hath shown
Death and conception in mankind is one:
Or ‘twas in Him the same humility
That He would be a man and leave to be:
Or as creation He had made, as God,
With the last judgment but one period,
His imitating Spouse would join in one
Manhood’s extremes: He shall come, He is gone:
Or as though the least of His pains, deeds, or words,
Would busy a life, she all this day affords;
This treasure then, in gross, my soul uplay,
And in my life retail it every day.

And here is my short poem upon the Annunciation, reminding us that whether the feasts concur or not, salvation is all One.

She knelt beside the neatly planted rows
of cummin, dill, and mint. The clear March sky
was bright; a flock of birds flew high.
She pinched a leaf;
                    then, suddenly, she froze —
a voice had spoken. There was no one there.
It spoke a second time; she looked around.
“How can this be?” she asked the vacant air.
Once more it spoke, yet there was not a sound.
She paused again; her answer in her mind.

In thirty years and three, her words would find
an echo: “Not my will, but thine be done,”
said in another garden by her son,
while three friends slept.
                           So here none heard her words —
except an angel, a high flight of birds,
and three neat rows of cummin, mint, and dill:
“Be it to me according to thy will.”

Bless this day of contrast and devotion, of sacrifice and blessing. Bless us all.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG


Unknown said...

Tobias, thanks you for sharing the Donne poem, which is so powerful, and yours, which is lovely. They are both very visual -- words drawing vivid pictures for me. I forwarded the blog to my friend and pastor, whose husband is a former Catholic priest. Best, Gail

Tracey said...

Thank you.

June Butler said...

The icon and poems set together make for a lovely and moving post, Tobias.

Kaliputra said...

Far from being a freak, this co-occurrence is, by one tradition, the essential point. Some early Christian calculator, whether Little Denny or another, worked out that the Roman date of the Crucifixion was March 25. Therefore, by theological economy, the date of Jesus's' conception must also be March 25, his life spanning exact years. Hence, also, his birth must be December 25, a previously not very interesting day. But the crucial jump, from Crucifixion to Annunciation, very much follows Donne's logic.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks all. John, I can see the connection between Annunciation and Christmas being on the 25th nine months apart, but Easter, and hence, Good Friday, are moveable and don't always fall on a specific date. Christmas was fixed on 12/25 from at least 336 in the Roman use.

But yes, Donne's observation is about an unusual concurrence. I've just been informed by someone who did the math that it won't happen again until 2157!

Unknown said...

I'd like to quote you (on an Australian news site) if that is okay.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Certainly, John. All the best... T.

Kaliputra said...

Still, the Crucifixion, as an event in time, took place on a particular day in a Roman year. the fact that we have chosen -- with a bow to our Jewish heritage - to allow it to wander, does not change when the anniversary is, only when we celebrate it. And, of course, we can't just always celebrate Easter on March 27, since it really does have to be on a Sunday. It is the fixing of the Annunciation/Conception by fixing the Crucifixion that is particularly telling in this narrative, though -- the full human round in a single day.

merrymike said...

Also interesting to note that the ancient Collect for the Annunciation seems to reflect the ancient notion that the conception of Incarnate God and his death are connected, perhaps occuring on the same solar calendar date. Probably not historical but definitely homiletical.

Unknown said...

Thank you, Tobias (and to all the commenters). I was well aware of Donne's poem, and had already planned my Good Friday sermon on it (Sr. Mary Enda, my high school English Lit teacher, was big on Donne), and having your reflections helps me focus mine. I was certainly not aware of the extreme rarity of the confluence.

John Julian said...

Not surprisingly splendid!

Incredible—I hadn't thought of the Donne poem since English Lit in the 50's. How wise of you to find it.


Try the FULL KJV line—it seems to help the meter: "Be it unto me according to they will."

George said...

John Clifford is right. Although Christmas on 25th December was a Roman feast, its date of calculation was by assumption that the crucifixion would have happened on 25th March.

This year, we have participated in the Mass in the Byzantine rite: the only happening when the Mass is celebrated on Good Friday.

This would have been possible also in the Latin rite, taking the pattern of the Palm Sunday (two liturgies of the word with one Eucharistic liturgy). This would have taken a long time, but would have been worth for the singleness of the occurence.