THE SOLEMNITY OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY
Readings: Gen. 3:9-15, 20; Eph. 1:3-6, 11-12; Luke 1:26-38.
Mary prophetically says that “Behold all generations will call me blessed.” (Luke 1:48). To God be the glory, the Catholic Church has copiously called Mary blessed through the solemn dogmas of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, her Perpetual Virginity, her Divine Motherhood and Her Glorious Assumption Body and Soul into Heaven.
The celebration of the preservation of the Blessed Virgin Mary from every stain of sin from the point of her conception in her mother’s womb is her Immaculate Conception. This truth of our faith was defined formally by Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854, in a Papal Bull Ineffabilis Deus – ineffable or indescribable grace and wisdom of God. It 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, Saviour of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin. (C.C.C. 491).
Anecdote: # 1: The favorite name of explorers: In 1492, 519 years ago, Columbus discovered America. He sailed in a ship called Santa Maria de Conceptio (St. Mary, the Immaculate Conception). He named the first Island he landed San Salvador, in honour of our Saviour. Columbus named the second island Conceptio in honour of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. The fearless French explorer Fr. Marquette who explored the 2300 miles long Mississippi River, flowing through ten states, called it River of Mary Immaculate. In fact, all the early American Catholics were so proud of the great truth we celebrate today that the American bishops in 1829 (25 years before the promulgation of the dogma) chose Mary Conceived Without Sin as the patroness of the United States. Hence, this feast is the feast of the country’s heavenly patroness in the U.S.
You may not explicitly see the concept of Immaculate Conception in the Bible, however, it is implicit in points like the salutation of the Angel Gabriel to Mary – “Hail Full of Grace” (Luke 1:28). Before and after Mary no one has been addressed or recognised as full of grace. She is full of grace because she was conceived without original sin. The psalmist says, “From my mother’s womb I was conceived a sinner.” (Ps. 51:7). So, if Mary had had sin, Jesus would have contracted or inherited that from her.
So, the divine logic of God was to pre-redeem Mary from sin in order to create a smooth and clean pathway and dwelling for Jesus Christ. Don Scotus calls that “Pre-redemption.” God the Father foreknew the emergence of sin from the first reading. The Devil came and tried to shatter the beauty plan of God for humankind. Yet God in his ineffable mercy and wisdom quickly re-ordered his plans for us by creating enmity between a woman, and the Devil:“I will put enmity between you and the woman and her seed shall crush your head.” (Gen. 3:15). The woman stands for Mary, and the promise would not be true if Mary had original sin.
ILLUSTRATION: Bishop Sheen on Immaculate Conception: “Just suppose that you could have pre-existed your own mother, in much the same way that an artist pre-exists his painting. Furthermore, suppose that you had the infinite power to make your mother anything that you pleased, just as a great artist like Raphael has the power of realizing his artistic ideas. Suppose you had this double power, what kind of mother would you have made for yourself? Would you not have made her, so far as human beauty goes; the most beautiful woman in the world; and so far as beauty of the soul goes, one who would radiate every virtue, every manner of kindness and charity and loveliness; one who by the purity of her life and her mind and her heart would be an inspiration not only to you but even to your fellow men, so that all would look up to her as the very incarnation of what is best in motherhood? Do you think that our Blessed Lord, who not only pre-existed His own mother but who had an infinite power to make her just what He chose, would in virtue of all the infinite delicacy of His spirit make her any less pure and loving and beautiful than you would have made your own mother?