As Catholics we love and hold Mary, the Mother of God, in a special place in our hearts. The truth be told, left to her own power, Mary would be a sinner. Her holiness is the result of God's grace alone, a special gift from God. Does this mean that Mary did not need to be redeemed? No, she was redeemed or saved, in a special way – in the womb. We call it the Immaculate Conception. Why did God work this special act of grace in Mary? Her being kept from sin is about Christ. Mary always points to her Son Jesus, no matter what feast day of Mary we celebrate.
So Mary's Immaculate Conception is not an attempt to give honor to Mary for Mary's sake. It is actually necessity in order to maintain the teaching of the sinlessness of Jesus, the Incarnate Word. In the language of the church’s theology, Mary is kept from sin through the merit of the Cross her Son will bear, since the benefits of the Cross go out through history both forward and backward through time. How is this possible? God’s saving power has no limits. His grace is not limited to our human frailty or our human understanding of time and space.
When we look at the Preface (the prayer before the Eucharistic Prayer), of the feast we find two themes. I’m going to chop up the Preface to point them out:
1. Mary points to who Jesus is:
“You allowed no stain of Adam’s sin to touch the Virgin Mary. Full of grace she was to be a worthy mother of your Son. Purest of virgins, she was to bring forth your Son, the innocent Lamb who takes away our sins.”
It would have been completely inappropriate for the Mother of the Second Person of the Trinity to have been under the reign of sin. In our time we have lost both a sense of sin and a sense of holiness, so that we may not feel or appreciate the urgency of sinlessness in the Mother of God. Darkness and light cannot dwell together. By God’s grace, Mary was then to have been “a worthy mother of your Son.” In being the mother of God she was to be “purest of virgins to bring forth your Son.”
2. And second, the Preface says that Mary symbolizes what the Church is to become:
“[she is] Your sign of favor to the Church at its beginning, and the promise of its perfection as the bride of Christ, radiant in beauty. You chose her from all women to be our advocate with you and our pattern in holiness.”
Mary’s relationship to the Church, reminds us that the world that has no hope apart from God. The Immaculate Conception affirms that sin can be overcome, that the sin that weighs down the Church will be conquered by Jesus Christ, and the Church will one day be radiant in beauty. Mary is a pattern of the Church. What we see in Mary, is the perfection of the Church that is to come – when Jesus returns again, the Church and all Her members will be transformed by the power of the Resurrection. We will, as St. Paul tells us: “be like Him..” God’s plan is already visible in Mary; we wait for God’s salvation to clothe us perfectly too.
The feast of the Immaculate Conception celebrates what God has done for the Church by giving it Mary as advocate and model of holiness, as well as the perfect holiness and beauty that God will eventually give to all the members of the Church.
On March 25th, 1858 the twelve-year old peasant girl, Bernadette Soubirous felt drawn to the grotto where a beautiful lady had been appearing to her frequently since February 11th that year. Bernadette asked her who she was, and the lady in white said in the local dialect, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” The barely literate Bernadette did not completely understand what Mary said, but the local clergy knew its significance. Only four years earlier Pius IX had defined the Immaculate Conception as a dogma of faith and clearly Mary herself was confirming this truth.
But we can go one step further. Given Mary’s total love of God, surely one of the gifts that she treasured most was to have always been in God’s love, never, even for an instant being separated from His love and grace. To have been sinless is not an achievement but pure gift. A gift of perfect love for the God she loved so perfectly is surely one of Mary’s deepest joys, and ours as well. And that’s our destiny in heaven, we will, like Mary experience the purest and most complete love of all, which will not longer be hindered by sin. Mary, Mother of God, who loves us with the purest love, pray for us. Make us love God and our brothers and sisters like you.
God bless, Fr. Dennis