Genesis 3:9-15, 20; Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12; Luke 1:26-38
On the 8th of December the Church celebrates the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. “We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which asserts that 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, Saviour of the human race, was preserved free from every stain of original sin is a doctrine revealed by God and, for this reason, must be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful.” With these words, spoken in 1854, Pope Pius IX, in his solemn declaration Ineffabilis Dei, declared Mary’s Immaculate Conception to be dogma. The Pontiff did not invent the concept. Rather, he was affirming a belief held by many Christians that came before him, from East and West, that Mary was conceived free of the stain of original sin, on account of Christ’s redemptive work. God caused this Immaculate Conception in order to render Mary a pure vessel to bear God-made-flesh. The Feast of Mary’s Conception is clearly known, as early as the 7th century in the East, and may even date to as early as the 5th century in the Churches of Syria. The feast spread to the West, at least by the 9th century. In the eleventh century it received its present name, the Immaculate Conception. in the Gospel we have Angel Gabriel telling Mary that nothing is impossible for God as she is called to be the mother of the God most high. In the first reading man and woman chose to ignore the word of God but God makes amends. The second reading expresses gratitude to God for the many blessings we have received.
The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception holds that Mary is the one fully human being preserved from original sin because she is the Mother of God. Grace intervened at the very instant in which her life began, preventing sin from touching her in any way, and so making her holy and immaculate from the moment of her conception. This made her worthy, and suggests that she was divinely chosen, to be the Mother of God. Christ preserved Mary from sin because she was his Mother. Mary, the one who full of grace and the one whom all generations will is called blessed has been viewed as unique person since the earliest days of the Christian faith. This great gift to Mary, an ordinary human being just like us, was fitting because she was destined to be Mother of God. The purity and holiness of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a model for all Christians. This simply means that from the beginning, she was in a state of grace, sharing in God’s own life, and that she was free from the sinful inclinations which have beset human nature after the fall. The greatness of the special call to holiness by which Mary is enriched from the first instant of her conception comes wholly from Christ: she is redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son. The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places and chose her as St Paul says in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him in love.
The word Immaculate means without stain. Since sin is a stain on the soul, which should be pure in the sight of God, the Church believes that Mary was conceived without the stain of original sin which has affected humanity because of the fall of our first parents. One proof of this is taken from the greeting of the angel Gabriel to Mary, calling her, Hail, Mary, full of grace. Because she was full of grace, Mary was most pleasing to God in all she was and did. The feast tells us that the whole being of the Blessed Virgin Mary was created by God immaculate in nature. Mary was the only new and second Eve who was created in an immaculate state which was equal to the state of holiness that the first Eve enjoyed prior to her having disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. Today what we are celebrating is that Mary, from the very first moment of her existence, was free from any taint of original sin, that tendency to evil with which we are all born into this world. The first reading taken from the book of Genesis tells us that the first man and woman enjoyed many gifts in the Garden of Eden and the grandest of all was the divine presence. They were also privileged by the protective care of God directing them in their daily tasks and duties. However, as the woman allowed herself to be tricked by the evil one, both Adam and Eve lost the glory and beatific vision that they enjoyed in the Garden of Eden. This blessing that they had enjoyed was a conditional gift from God. They were created immaculate in their physical and spiritual natures for the Divine purpose of becoming the holy parents of holy children who would eternally enjoy the beatific vision of God. They are afraid to be in God’s presence and they are much aware of their nakedness, an indication of the disorder. Further God puts enmity between the serpent and the woman and the serpent is separated from the rest of the creatures and is made to crawl. There is total disharmony between man and God, man and man, here it is Eve and finally between man and nature. In the new Eve, the Blessed Virgin Mary, God planned to reclaim His Kingdom and save His people from death and thus bring harmony. God gives the promise of life to his chosen creation.
In the second reading Paul blesses God who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing. He reminds the Ephesians of the holiness to which they are called, that we might exist for the praise of God’s glory. The whole purpose of our lives is to live and to exist for the praise and the glory of God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has blessed us through Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. God from all eternity planned to make man the masterpiece and master of creation, to be his own son and heir to happiness. Through our living faith in Christ and the Church Sacraments, we now qualify to receive the blessed hope of enjoying our rightful inheritance that was taken from us. Through our living faith in Jesus Christ and the Sacrament of Baptism, we now have the opportunity to once more become holy and blameless children before God in perfect love. We now qualify to be raised to the blameless and immaculate state of grace that the Blessed Virgin Mary enjoyed throughout her life and continues to enjoy to this date. We see how God has blessed Mary in her being immaculately conceived. Mary shows us, through her obedience, through her trust in God, how to be holy. She is fully human. She is what God wants for every human person. His deepest desire is that we respond to His call as Mary did. We also realise what a blessing she is to the church and to the whole human race.
The Gospel of today gives us the account of the Annunciation from Luke. This story of the Annunciation to Mary of the birth of Jesus is filled with richness. As the angel comes into the little house at Nazareth, he greets Mary. He calls her as a person so highly favoured by God. The Lord is going to be with her. The older translation, Hail, Mary, full of grace, is now our familiar prayer. It is this term, full of grace which led theologians to asserting that Mary, not only at the moment of Jesus’ conception, but at every moment of her existence was totally free from any kind of sin. From these words, the angel Gabriel was expressing that the Blessed Virgin Mary enjoyed a unique state of grace that far surpassed the creation of all men and the angels. Her soul, spirit and body were immaculate because of her immaculate conception. The angel told her that she was to be the Mother of the Messiah, the Son of the Most High. When the angel solved the problem concerning her virginity, she humbly accepted the role that God had planned for her. At that moment the incarnation took place. Jesus the Son of God entered the humanity. Luke in this passage shows the parallels between Jesus and John and shows that Jesus surpasses the other. The Angel tells her how God has come in the life of Elizabeth and he can do anything without any hindrance. Nothing is impossible for God and Mary accepts his word and says God your will be done.
When Angel Gabriel appears to Mary without warning or preparation, he simply proclaims to her what is going to happen. There is a rich contrast between the astounding message that the Angel Gabriel delivers to Mary and the way she receives it. The message he gave was very clear but the way it would take place was not at all clear. While she is able to hear the words she is not yet capable of understanding their meaning. She is told that she would become pregnant through the Holy Spirit and have a child of the line of David who will be called Messiah was indeed a privilege. She is troubled, afraid and questions how this can be since from her perspective it is impossible. The heart of the narrative is Gabriel’s explanation of how this is to happen and who this child is and how God himself is involved through the Holy Spirit in the birth of the King. At the end of the narrative our attention is drawn to two important points. The first comes from the final words of the Angel to Mary that nothing will be impossible for God. So far what the Angel had said seemed truly impossible to Mary. God is always beyond all human reason and understanding. The second point is that Mary accepts Gabriel’s message through faith and not because of reason and understanding. Because of this she is for us a magnificent model of faith. Because of the role she plays in God’
One place in particular is linked closely with the Immaculate Conception and that is Lourdes. When Mary appeared to a young girl, Bernadette Soubirous, just outside the town of Lourdes in 1858, she identified herself as the “Immaculate Conception”. In fact, the doctrine had only been infallibly declared a doctrine of faith four years previously in 1854. It was most unlikely that a girl from an impoverished family without access to the “media” of the day would have been familiar with such a theological expression, still less that she could have made it up. In spite of much scepticism on the part of both civil and church authorities, Bernadette won through and Lourdes became a place of pilgrimage. Today millions of people go there to find healing in body and soul. Today on this feast of the Immaculate Conception, let us turn to Mary with hope and confidence. We are commemorating the graces and blessings which God gave to her to befit the dignity for which he had chosen her. Today we thank God for all the blessings and graces God has showered on the Mother of his Son. We ourselves have been far from immaculately conceived and are aware of both the sins we have committed and of all the tendencies, appetites and urges which drive us away from God and into conflict with our brothers and sisters. Let us pray today to Mary our Mother to be with us, to guide us, to protect us through her prayers of intercession with her Son. Above all, let us ask her to respond as generously to God’s call as she did and to be as faithful a disciple of her Son as she was.
As we continue with the celebration of the Holy Mass, let us be thankful to the Immaculate Conception for answering her special calling that was instrumental to our salvation. It is most appropriate that this Feast Day be celebrated during the Advent season in which we prepare for the coming of Christ. We celebrate His birth and we await His second coming. The glorious Feast of the Immaculate Conception is a reminder that the Blessed Virgin Mary is the new Eve, our spiritual Mother, she who has become co-redeemer with Christ in our salvation by allowing her womb to become the humble instrument and Sacred Temple of the Living God. As we continue with the celebration of the Holy Mass, let us be thankful to the Immaculate Conception for answering her special calling that was instrumental to our salvation. Let us praise her for having remained immaculate to the end. Let us look up to her, a precious gem of the Holy Catholic Church, as a perfect model of virtues. Let us always remember that, by the grace of God, when we will be glorified to the fullness of our beings, we also will become immaculate in nature.
Teacher Debbie Moon’s first graders were discussing a picture of a family. One little boy in the picture had a different hair color than the other members. One of her students suggested that he was adopted. A little girl said, ‘I know all about adoption, I was adopted.’ ‘What does it mean to be adopted?’ asked another child. ‘It means’, said the girl, ‘that you grew in your mommy’s heart instead of her tummy!’
Fr. Eugene Lobo S.J. Rome