Mary Immaculate | Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J. | A Homily for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary—December 8th
Readings: Gen. 3:9-15, 20 | Eph. 1:3-6, 11-12 | Luke 1:26-38
We live in a world abounding in sin and sinners. But it is a world that denies the existence of sin. Why is that? Because sin is an offense against God, and many do not believe in God. Therefore, if there is no God, there cannot be any sin. But we are surrounded by sin and read about it and see it in the news media every day—murder, adultery, abortion, sodomy, theft, lies and so forth. Because of original sin and concupiscence, in various ways we all offend God, some mortally and some venially. Today, however, we celebrate the feast of one of us, one woman, who never committed a sin—Mary of Nazareth, the Immaculate Mother of God.
What is the meaning of the term, "Immaculate Conception"? It does not mean the conception of Jesus. It refers to the conception of Mary in the normal way through the marital embrace of her parents, St. Anne and St. Joachim. Because of the first sin of Adam and Eve, all human beings are conceived without sanctifying grace, the life of the soul. Since the coming of Christ, we can attain grace through baptism, but we are conceived and born without God's grace. The Church teaches that God endowed Mary's soul with grace from the first moment of her creation, so she was never under the power of original sin.
"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 means the lack of God's grace. One proof of this is taken from the greeting of the angel Gabriel to Mary, "Hail, Mary, full of grace..." (Luke 1:28). Because she was full of grace, Mary was most pleasing to God in all she was and did.
The prayers of today's Mass stress that Mary was "preserved" from sin. Jesus died on the Cross, rose from the dead and accomplished our redemption. He is the fountain of supernatural life for us. We partake of that through faith, baptism and the sacraments. So the Church teaches that Mary was preserved from original sin by the foreseen merits of Jesus, her son and her redeemer. Mary is, therefore, the first redeemed, the first Christian; she is perfectly redeemed in every way—in soul and body and emotions.
Mary had a special mission in the redemption of mankind. So God created her as a "fitting dwelling place" for his son Jesus, who crushed the head of Satan (Gen. 3:15); Satan never had any power over him. He was to be born of a woman who was totally free from sin, never under the power of the devil. Just as God prepared a sinless paradise for Adam and Eve, so Mary is a "second" sinless paradise where the Son of God will dwell nine months before his birth in Bethlehem.
The Fathers compare Mary with Eve. In their view, which is based on divine revelation in the Bible, Eve is the mother of all the living—she gave us both life and death. Mary is the true mother of all the living—those who live spiritually forever through her son. That is why she is also called "Mother of the Church."
We were all conceived by our parents with original sin. Only Mary was immaculately conceived. In a sense, this phrase sums up the total reality of Mary and implies our whole Catholic faith in Jesus—Son of God and Savior.
When little Bernadette asked the beautiful lady at Lourdes her name, she said, "I am the Immaculate Conception." The poet got it right when he summed up the reality of Mary in five words: "Our tainted nature's solitary boast."
Because she gave birth to the Savior, Mary is our mother in the order of grace. In every way she cooperated with God in the redemption: "Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to thy word" (Luke 1:38). Thus she was totally open to God, available, humble and obedient.
Children naturally tend to imitate their parents. We see in Mary all the virtues of a perfect Christian. We should strive to imitate her, since she is our mother. We should strive to imitate her faith, her hope and her love—her love for Jesus and her willing cooperation in his work of redemption, even to offering him to the Father on Calvary.
We should strive to imitate her sinlessness by avoiding all mortal sin and all deliberate venial sins. We should ask her to obtain for us the grace to avoid all deliberate sins—so we can be a "fitting dwelling place" for divine grace.
In the New Testament Mary's last recorded words at Cana are, "Do whatever he tells you" (John 2:5). If we love God, we should try to do that. When we receive God's Son and Mary's son in Holy Communion today, let us say to him: "Be it done to me as you desire."
"O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee."
• This essay originally appeared in the November 2007 issue of Homiletic & Pastoral Review. Suggested reading: Catechism of the Catholic Church, 411, 490-493.
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles on Advent and Christmas:
• Immaculate Mary, Matchless in Grace | John Saward
• Come, Lord Jesus! The Meaning of Advent | Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J.
• Archbishop Fulton Sheen on Advent | From Through the Year With Fulton Sheen
• Mary's Gift of Self Points the Way | Carl E. Olson
• The Medieval Mary | The Introduction to Mary in the Middle Ages | by Luigi Gambero
• The Mystery Made Present To Us | Fr. Alfred Delp, S.J.
• Remembering Father Alfred Delp, S.J., Priest and Martyr | A Conversation with Father Karl Adolf Kreuser, S.J.
• Assumed Into Mother's Arms | Carl E. Olson
• The Disciple Contemplates the Mother | Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis
• The Incarnation | Frank Sheed
• "Born of the Virgin Mary" | Paul Claudel
• The Old Testament and the Messianic Hope | Thomas Storck
• Christmas: Sign of Contradiction, Season of Redemption | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
• The God in the Cave | G.K. Chesterton