(Audio recorded live, 7 December 2021)
Gn. 3:9-15, 20; Ps. 98; Eph. 1:3-6, 11-12; Lk. 1:26-38
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Pope Pius IX instituted this Solemnity in honor of the Blessed Mother in 1854. Mary had long since been venerated as the Theotokos, or Mother of God, and the theology of Mary developed alongside the theology of Christ. It is through Mary that Jesus took human form, but how is it that Jesus was born without sin? The logical conclusion is that in order for Jesus to be born without sin, his mother would also have to be without sin. This doctrine of the Immaculate Conception developed throughout the centuries until Pio Nono declared it formally in 1854.
That’s the historical side. Let’s talk about the spiritual side. Jesus told his disciples at the Last Supper: “Do this in memory of me.” He was speaking, of course, of the Eucharist, but I would like to dwell on this notion of remembrance. We have so many feasts within the Church it is difficult to keep track of them all, but there are some that have particular importance. That Jesus took human form from a young virgin in a little town called Nazareth is not particularly remarkable save for the revelation that Jesus is the Son of God.
God chose to make his entry into this world through a special womb. And as we heard in the Gospel, this was no ordinary woman. The angel Gabriel addresses her as “full of grace,” which gives her pause. What does it mean to be full of grace? Was this an indication of her purity and freedom from sin? Could this be the original holiness once enjoyed by Adam and Eve before the Fall?
While Adam and Eve represent the failure to keep God’s command, Mary’s ‘yes’ to God shows a great reversal. While all of mankind has been tainted by the sin of our first parents, Mary introduces a new paradigm by her fiat, saying, “May it be done to me according to your word.” By saying ‘yes’ to God, she has said ‘no’ to sin.
So, as we celebrate this great feast of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, her freedom from sin, let us remember our own freedom from sin through the blood of Christ. He paid the ultimate cost for us to be free, not so we can do whatever we want when we want, but so we can enjoy true freedom as adopted sons and daughters of the Father. As St. Paul says, “In love he destined us for adoption to himself through Jesus Christ, in accord with the favor of his will, for the praise of the glory of his grace that he granted us in the beloved.” Mary was filled with this grace, Jesus graced the world by his sacrifice, and now that grace comes to us by our remembrance. May we unite our hearts with his as we honor the Blessed Mother today, and may her ‘yes’ to the Word of God be our example, not just during Advent, but for years to come.