“An oasis during Lent.”

That is how Rachel Hendricks likes to think of the moment the Blessed Virgin Mary accepted that she would conceive a son by the power of the Holy Spirit and become the mother of Jesus.

The Solemnity of the Annunciation “offers our Church communities a unique opportunity to celebrate not only Mary’s ‘yes,’ but recognize the moment of the Incarnation of Jesus as a tiny embryo, which really is the moment that changed Salvation History forever,” said Hendricks, diocesan Respect Life coordinator. “We want to make sure that we're offering a lot of opportunities for Catholics to grow in their understanding of the respect for human dignity that was brought forth right at that moment.”

As such, the diocesan Department of Evangelization and Family Life is planning a daily novena in English and Spanish from March 17-25 on diocesan social media outlets and has distributed digital resources to pastors, parishes and Respect Life ministries to encourage education, dialogue and activities around the Solemnity of the Annunciation, which is March 25. Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., will give a brief reflection on the first day of the novena.

The novena will include daily prayer led by faithful from around the Diocese and a reflection intended to spur further conversation.

“This day gives us an opportunity to become more open to how God announces his plans to us and how he awaits our consent,” Hendricks said. “We want to help provide opportunities so the Annunciation can be better celebrated in the homes of our Catholics, whether they're single, married, or families with children of different ages.”

For example, families are encouraged to read the Annunciation story to their children and relate it to their own experience of saying “yes” to bearing a child; celebrate with special recipes steeped in European traditions; pray for expecting parents and couples hoping to conceive or adopt, and to learn more about the date’s connection to the Crucifixion.

As Archbishop Fulton Sheen explained in his book “Life of Christ”: “Every other person who ever came into this world came into it to live. [Jesus] came into it to die. … The Scriptures describes Him as ‘the Lamb slain as it were, from the beginning of the world.’ His has been the only life in the world that was ever lived backward.”

Hendricks explained that much relevance – rightly so – is placed on the Birth of Jesus that is celebrated on Christmas Day. But there is also the moment of conception nine months prior.

“Mary, as the mother of our Lord, wasn't only a temporary tabernacle,” she continued, explaining that research shows how both mother and baby benefit from being connected through the placenta during pregnancy – that cells migrate between the two (microchimerism).

“God, who is a community of persons in the Trinity, a relational being, has created us to be relational, too. And not just in a spiritual sense, but this relational connection, one of mutual giving and receiving,” she said.

“Reflect on this as you ponder the Incarnation of our Lord in Mary’s womb,” she said.