Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
(Genesis 3:9-15, 20, Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12, Luke 1:26-38)
“The Blessed Virgin Mary, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God, and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, was preserved free from every stain of original sin” (Pope Pius IX). In the East, the Blessed Virgin is addressed as Panagia (All-Holy Lady). She is considered the holiest of all creatures. She is the supreme example of the cooperation between God and the human race. She who was the most blessed of all creatures was also the most free. Even though God prepared her virginal womb to be the dwelling place of the Eternal Word and kept her heart pure, He did not force his will upon her but respected her freedom. At the annunciation the angel Gabriel called her by name, “Full of Grace”, Panagia. It was only after she gave her consent that the Eternal Word became flesh.
“Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:5). Just as God had designed the Tabernacle where he intended to speak to Moses, He also prepared a sacred dwelling place for Beloved Son in the womb of the ever-virgin Mary. Unlike Eve, Mary had no desire to be like God. Rather, she took great delight in being the humble handmaid of the Lord. She was a true Daughter of Israel, who surrendered to his every command and wish. By the disobedience of Eve, all men were condemned to death. By the obedience of Mary, the author and giver of life came into the world so that all men might have life and have it abundantly (CF. Jn. 10:10).
St. Jacob of Sarug wrote, “Our Lord descending to earth beheld all women. He chose one for himself who among them all was pleasing. He examined her and found humility and holiness in her, clear and simple yearnings, and a soul desirous to pour itself out in service. He found in her a pure heart and every reckoning of perfection. Because of this, He chose her, the purest and most fair of women, to be his dwelling place on earth. He descended from his place and dwelt within the glorious one among women because for her there was not a companion comparable to her in the world. She alone was humble, pure, serene, and without blemish so that she was deemed worthy to be his mother” (Hom. I.620 in On the Mother of God).
The Church Fathers liked to compare the first Eve with the second. When Eve heard God walking in the garden, she was frightened and hid from him. When Mary heard the Lord walking in the enclosed garden of her heart, she entered to greet him. Today we celebrate the profound union between the Mother of God and the Beloved Son of God. We cannot speak of Mary without alluding to the Incarnate Word whom she bore in her womb. This humble woman listened to and lived in the Word of God. She cherished the words that God addressed to her in her heart. By piecing them together like a mosaic, she came to understand them. We cannot speak of the Word Made Flesh without alluding to the holiness of the woman who was found worthy to bear him in her womb. By a singular wonder of grace, this woman participated in the holiness of her son even before he was conceived within her womb.
From all eternity God the Father knew Mary as blessed in Christ, his Son. The Incarnation of the Word was not only the work of the Father, of his Son, and of his Spirit but it was also of the Blessed Virgin. Just as the Son was conceived by his own free choice, Mary became his Mother when she gave her free consent. Mary is the first of all Believers who put herself in God’s hands, abandoning herself completely to his will. While Mary gave birth to Christ, in a very profound sense we can say, that Christ gave birth to his Mother and, through her, to all humanity. As she was united to Christ, the Son of God, she is united to us who have become the children of God.
The victory of the new Adam also includes that of the new Eve, the Mother of the redeemed. The Immaculate Virgin is presented as a sign of hope for all the living who have triumphed over Satan by the blood of the Lamb. In Mary, we see the true Zion, the pure, living dwelling place of God. In her the Lord dwells, in her he finds a place of repose. She is the living temple of God, who does not dwell in buildings of stone but in the human heart. She is the shoot that sprouts from the stump of David in the dark winter night of history.
Today we ponder the extraordinary mystery of God’s love for the human race: Mary, the most holy Mother of God, who was preserved from any taint of original sin. Christ was the redeemer of his Mother and carried out his redemptive action on her in the most perfect way from the first moment of her existence. Because she entrusted herself totally to God she found true freedom and pondered the great, creative immensity of that freedom in her immaculate heart. Because she turned to God, her heart was expanded to become the dwelling place of the Son and all the members of his Body. Because Mary was consumed by the Fire of Divine Love, she became the compassionate mother of us all. Because she has been drawn close to the heart of the Father, in the heart of the Son she is close to each one of us. In her, God has impressed his image, the image of the One who follows the lost sheep even up into the mountains and among the briars and thornbushes of the sins of this world, letting himself be spiked by a crown of thorns of these sins to take the sheep on his shoulders and bring it home. The fullness of grace can transform the human heart and enable it to do something so great as to change the course of human history. Mary thus stands before us as a sign of comfort, encouragement, and hope.
It is truly meet and right to bless you,
Ever-blessed and most-pure mother of our God. More honorable than the Cherubim, And beyond compare more glorious than the Seraphim, Who without corruption gave birth to God the Word, You, truly the Mother of God we magnify you.