SOLEMNITY OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION
Genesis 3: 9 – 15, 20; Ps 98; Ephesians 1: 3 – 6, 11 – 12; Luke 1: 26 – 38
The dogma of the Immaculate Conception proclaimed by Pope Pius IX in 1854 states: “The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.” (#491 Catechism)
Each word of this dogma is important and very precise leaving no doubt as to its long and prayerful preparation and yet with all that, the proclamation about this mystery of grace, this favor of divine election is ultimately beyond words. The mysteries of our faith, such as the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin, are more understood in the heart than in the head. The head hears the words; in faith the heart senses the meaning.
Certainly, Mary of Nazareth, would never have considered herself as the Immaculate Conception but she did know she was especially favored by God. Visited by the Angel Gabriel, she heard clearly, “Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you…Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.” This unique favor defined her life in its totality.
The effect of this divine favor, this singular privilege is revealed in her words – few as they are recorded in Scripture – and by her actions. She showed herself to be a handmaid of the Lord – given to His service in obedient praise and to the loving service of others. Every word and action of Mary is God-centered: “let it be done according to your word…My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior…she pondered and kept these things in her heart…your father and I have been seeking you…do whatever He tells you.”
Surely her Immaculate Conception is about the radical simplicity of her love, is about the transparency of her heart – there is no deceit, guile, personal agenda in the slightest – her very being is graced by God from the moment of her conception and in a mystery of freedom completely given over to Him. Her response is brief and all consuming: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.”
Exceedingly fitting is God’s favor to her for she bears the Son of God – the living Word and Sacrament of the Divine Simplicity of love, the One who reveals the Divine Transparency of God – like the simplicity of the host and the transparency of wine of the Eucharist. In her Immaculate Conception Mary is the Mother of our Savior directly and the Mother of the Eucharist indirectly.
In this Holy Eucharist, we gather on this Solemnity not only to praise God for the gift of Our Lady and for her Immaculate Conception but also and importantly, we are receiving a truth, a teaching for our own faith journey.
In a homily on the Immaculate Conception a monk wrote, “To others, grace is imparted in stages; but to you, Mary, its fullness has been infused all at once.” “To others, grace is imparted in stages” – we are those others and today, now, in this Holy Eucharist we are passing through one of those stages.
In honor of Our Lady and after her example – when we receive the Body and Blood of the Lord – when we are graced in a most extraordinary way with the Simplicity of God’s love and with the Transparency of His mercy – may we say not only our “Amen” but also, in our hearts, say, “I, too, am Your servant, chosen by You” – “Let this grace, this most personal privilege consume me – Lord, make it define my life!”
Without this personal confession, we can hardly call Mary “Our Lady” or “Our Mother”.