Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
Genesis 3:9-15, 20; Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12; Luke 1:26-38
On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX defined the dogma of Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception: “We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore should firmly and constantly be believed by all the faithful.” The freedom “from every stain of original sin” bears with is a positive consequence of total freedom from all sin as well as the acknowledgment of Mary’s perfect holiness. She truly is Full of Grace. This singular privilege was unique to Mary and never granted to another person (CF. Pius XII). This grace was granted to her in view of the merits won by her son Jesus Christ by means of his universal redeeming passion, death, and resurrection. The predestination of Mary, like that of each one of us, is linked to the predestination of the Son. As we ponder the mystery of the Immaculate Conception, it might be helpful to keep these words taken from the Letter to the Hebrews in mind. “Jesus Christ never changes! He is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb.13:8).
This privilege of Mary derives from God’s having chosen her as Mother of the Savior. Because of this choice, she received the benefits of salvation in Christ from the very moment of her conception. When Eve heard God walking in the garden, she tried to hide her sinful shame. Whereas, when Mary was visited by the angel of God she bowed down in humble adoration, clothed in the radiant light that glowed all-round her. This woman, clothed in the sun, was to conceive in her virginal womb the Light of the World. The Light whom she was chosen to bear would “shine in the darkness that could not overcome it” (Jn. 1:5). Because the Son of God is Light from Light, Mary was the chosen vessel through whom the Light of the World would shine. She knew herself to be the handiwork of the divine potter. It was the Father’s delight to make her a vessel worthy to bear the Light of the World.
The Maiden of Nazareth who was called Full of Grace was the first person to bask in the Light of the new creation. She was the first of the servants of God to sing the Song of the Lamb: “Great and awe-inspiring are your works, Lord God, the Almighty. Righteous and true are your ways, King of the Nations” (Rev. 15:3). Mary walked in the light of faith all the days of her life. Even before the angel called her Full of Grace, she pondered the Word in her heart. This woman of faith was no stranger to the presence of God in her life. Hearing the voice of the One for Whom her heart longed, she humbly replied, Speak, Lord, your servant is listening (CF. 1 Sam.3:10). For this moment she was made. For this moment was she kept free from the corruption of sin.
Due to the mystery of her immaculate conception, Mary pondered the Word of the Lord in her heart without fear, guilt or shame. She, the humble handmaid of the Lord was the chosen vessel in whom the Word was to become flesh and in that flesh, He would save the human race. Following Mary’s example, we should ponder the word of God in our hearts and allow Him to use us to continue the restoration of the world to His Father. We must be willing to endure the struggles and trials of life with a deep and abiding trust in God. “In celebrating this annual cycle of the mysteries of Christ, Holy Church honors the Blessed Mary, Mother of God, with a special love. She is inseparably linked with her son’s saving work. In her, the Church admires and exalts the most excellent fruit of redemption, and joyfully contemplates, as in a faultless image, that which she herself desires and hopes wholly to be” (Sacrosanctum Concilium 103).
Mary was accustomed to listening to God and interacting with him. The Word of God was her secret possession: it abided in her heart and then became flesh in her womb. By dwelling with God, maintaining a constant dialogue with him, Mary made her life beautiful. Today’s feast commemorates the humble and compassionate mother who, when her son’s mission so required, became part of it. Today’s feast commemorates the courageous and long-suffering woman who stood beneath the Cross while the disciples fled. Not only does Mary have a unique relationship with Christ, the Beloved Son of God who, as man, chose to become her Son. Because she was totally united to Christ, she also belongs to us who are his body. As our Mother, Mary draws us to her son. The closer a person is to God, the closer he or she is to people around them. We see this in Mary. She who is called Full of Grace was not able to keep the light that comes from the face of her Son to herself. She was compelled to pass it on so as to enlighten others. Today’s Feast reminds us that in our life everything is a gift coming down from above. May the Eternal Father, who desired Mary to the immaculate Mother of the Redeemer renew in our time the miracles of his merciful love. Amen.