Words are so inadequate to communicate the beauty of the great feast of Our Lady's Immaculate Conception. As we begin the second week of Advent, the Church gives us a chance to meditate upon the great mystery of God's Redemptive Love as He fashioned His own Mother in the womb of her Mother Saint Ann. Yes, as we continue to use Advent to reflect on the many comings of Christ in our lives - as well as His Second and Glorious Coming at the end of the world - and as we prepare once more to commemorate His birth in time in Bethlehem, the Church invites us to step back and to consider Our Lady's key role in salvation history. For Our Lady was destined from the first moment of her conception to be the Mother of the Redeemer, thereby making her the Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix of all graces, and Advocate.
The Book of Genesis tells us that the first woman Eve, was the instrument by which the first man, Adam, disobeyed God, causing the fall of the human race from the state of Original Innocence. Eve's prideful disobedience tied shut the Gates of Heaven. The fall of Adam started the reign of sin in the world. Human nature would be forever changed by the choice made by our first parents when they were put to the test by the tempter. All human beings thereafter, except the Mother of God, would be born with the stain of that Original Sin. And it is Original Sin that is at the root of all personal and social problems in the world.
However, God did not abandon His creatures. He promised that He would send them a Redeemer. He made a covenant with Abraham, choosing his stock to be the means by which time and eternity would meet in the person of His only begotten Son made Man in Our Lady's virginal and immaculate womb. He prepared His chosen people for their liberation from the effects of sin by showing His power to liberate them from captivity to the Pharoah. He led these people, who grumbled all the while, out of the wildnerness to the land of milk and honey, clearing out scores of people to give it to them. He constantly used miracles to demonstrate His mighty power when all appeared hopeless.
The chosen people were stiff-necked. They quickly forgot what God had done for them. They ignored the prophets, who were given to them by the Holy Ghost to prepare them for the coming of the Messiah. They sought after their own lusts. Time and time again God rescued them from one disaster after another. But they had hearts of stone, not hearts of flesh.
So it was when the New Eve was conceived by her parents, Saints Joachim and Ann. Our Lady's parents were faithful observers of the Mosaic Law. They looked with anticipation to the fulfillment of God's promises. Little could they have realized that the daughter they begot on December 8 over 2,000 years ago was to be the divinely chosen vessel through which the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity would become man.
Yes, Our Lady became the New Eve at the moment that she was conceived. She was preserved from all stain of Adam's sin by a free act of God to bestow upon her the merits of the Redemption which would be wrought for the human race on the Cross by the Son she would conceive in her virginal and immaculate womb by the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost. What a tremendous mystery of love. The Father prepared Mary for her place in salvation history as His Son's Mother by giving her the singular privilege of having a perfect human nature, the human nature of our first parents before their fall from grace. Our Lady was full of grace from the very first moment of her conception.
Full of grace. Think about that statement for a moment. We pray those words every day, "Ave Maria, gratia plena. . ." We are praying about her Immaculate Conception when we pray those words. We are praying about the mystery of sin and grace when we pray those words. We are praying about God's tender love for us when we pray those words. For He preserved Our Lady from all stain of Original and actual sin not only so that she could bear the Christ-Child, but for her to give birth to us as His adopted sons and daughters at the foot of the Cross, thereby permitting us to be partakers of the supernatural life of grace. Yes, full of grace.
The doctrine of Our Lady's Immaculate Conception, proclaimed by Blessed Pope Pius IX in 1854, makes perfect sense. Our Lady had to be preserved from all stain of sin in order to be the vessel of honor through which the Word would become flesh. Without the gift of Mary's Immaculate Conception, the God-Man could not have been conceived as a man. Why? For the simple fact that the Word, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, is the very antithesis of sin. It is not possible for God and sin to co-exist in the same person. Without the Immaculate Conception, a child borne by Our Lady would have inherited an imperfect human nature, one with a darkened intellect and a weakened will. It would be clearly abusrd that God would become man in order to suffer from the effects of a sinful human nature. As St. Paul says, "He became a man like us in all things but sin." How could this have happened if His Mother had not herself been prepared by God to be a pure, spotless vessel in which to house the embryonic Word so as to give Him His human nature?
The Second Adam, Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, was born of the New Eve, Our Lady. What was lost for us in the Garden of Eden, our Heavenly birthright, would be won back for us on Calvary. The bond between Our Lady and Our Lord was forged long before the Annunciation. The Father forged this bond when she was an embryo, preparing her for the great vocation of being the Mother of a redeemed human race.
As if to emphasize the importance of Pope Pius IX's proclamation, Our Lady herself appeared in the Grotto at Lourdes four years later, declaring to St. Bernadette, "I am the Immaculate Conception." And it is under that tittle that Our Lady is honored as the Patroness of this country. The Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is located in our nation's capital city.
The great feast we celebrate on December 8 is a reminder to us that we are called to preserve ourselves from all stain of sin by cooperating with the graces won for us by Our Lord on the wood of the Holy Cross and administered to us by Holy Mother Church in the sacraments. We are weak, flawed human beings, tinged with the vestigial after-effects of Original Sin. However, we are nevertheless redeemed. God has given us the power provided by sanctifying grace to overcome the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil. It is possible for us to grow in the fullness of grace. Yes, we, too, are called to be full of grace, to seek a place in Heaven just below that of the Blessed Mother herself. We are given the very Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Mary' Son, a Body and Blood knitted together in Our Lady's Immaculate womb, to strengthen us in our daily effort to grow in holiness and spiritual perfection.
We see the ravages of sin all around us. We see a world where people have a sense of right and wrong, a world where young people are convinced that there is no such things as objective truth, no less a true religion founded by God Himself. We see the horror of over 4,000 children keeled each day under cover of law in this country alone. And we see the wreckage caused by sin in the incredible degree of unhappiness and despair exhibited by so many of the people we know in the midst of the most affluent country in the history of the world. Sin has caused so many people to live for this life and to be ignorant of their eternal destiny.
As we keep vigil for the Coming of Christ at the end of our own individual lives, as well vigil for His Second Coming in glory at the end of time, as we give thanks for His coming in poverty and anonymity in Bethlehem, let us pray to Our Lady under the title of her Immaculate Conception that we may strive more and more to be sinless in thought, word, and deed. May our every desire be to love God more fully through His true Church, to serve Him more selflessly and to cooperate more completely with His grace so as to build up His Mystical Body as the New Zion, the Shining City set on a hill, so that she may be seen by all men everywhere as the repository of the New and Eternal Covenant.
O dear Blessed Mother, you were conceived without stain of sin. Pray for us weak sinners, who are in need of your Son's Divine Mercy so frequently in the Sacrament of Penance, that our souls, which were impressed with the image of the Blessed Trinity at our baptism, may be vessels of honor to an increase of God's inner life within us. Pray for us, O Lady of the Immaculate Conception, that we will be the light of the world and the salt of the earth to provide a leaven in this country whose patroness you are. Help us to prepare for the commemoration of your Divine Son's Nativity by calling to mind God's special gift to us of so great a mother.
Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus, et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Jesus. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.
P.S. A wonderful pro-life champion, Mrs. Ann Murphy, who started monthly all night pro-life vigils before the exposed Blessed Sacrament with the permission of the incomparable Father Robert Mason at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Massapequa Park, New York, over twenty years ago, instituted a four hour vigil on the night of December 8 until the early morning of December 9. This vigil, which is held in hundreds of churches around the nation, is held to make reparation for abortions. It bridges the feast of the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady's first apparition to Saint Juan Diego on December 9, 1531. It is a vigil worth keeping.
Thomas A. Droleskey, Ph.D.
Note: [bold, brackets and italicized words used for emphasis]
For past columns in The DAILY CATHOLIC by Dr. Droleskey, see Archives