In this Mass of our Lady's Immaculate Conception, the Church has us read from
the Old Testament book of Proverbs, accommodating the book's lovely description
of wisdom to the Blessed Virgin. Such “accommodation” is perfectly
reasonable for God who is all-knowing and unchangeable, would have known from
the very first instant of creation that He would send His Son into the world to
redeem the man and woman we know as Adam and Eve from their foreseen fall from
grace. Moreover, God knew that His Son would be born to a perfectly
obedient woman, whom He would create in the state of grace as He had created the
woman Eve—the important distinction being that Mary, the second Eve, would
retain that grace forever. Mary would be the perfect cooperator in the
redemptive work of her Son, the second Adam—perfect from the moment of her
conception in the mind of God—perfect too from the moment of her conception in
the womb of Saint Anne, her mother—perfect throughout a difficult life, after
which her perfectly sinless body and soul were taken up to heaven, much as our
Lord ascended those forty days after His Resurrection. Mary was what the
Greeks call “pan-agios” or “all holy.”
Mary was the one whom God promised to put at enmity with the Devil, saying in
the Garden of Eden to the serpent: “I will put enmities between thee and the
woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie
in wait for her heel.”
Here again, we see that God had planned the Immaculate Conception of Mary from
the earliest days of creation.
Yesterday, in the Vigil Mass of this feast, we read Saint Matthew's genealogy,
which traced the family of Jesus back to Abraham.
I say it traced “the family,” in that it traced the lineage of Saint Joseph,
the husband of Mary and foster father of Jesus, by that relationship
establishing that Jesus was legally a descendant of Abraham and King David as
promised in the Old Testament Scriptures.
A few of the women in Joseph's genealogy—Thamar, Rahab, and Bethsabee, for
example—were less than holy people. Scripture commentators often point
this out to emphasize the need for our Redeemer, for this human nature
that He would inherit from His Immaculate Mother was capable of being very
flawed indeed. Of course, the genealogy was only Jesus and Mary's by
presumption of law, and not by biological descent.
By tradition, we know that Mary's parents were holy people of the priestly
tribe, Joachim and Anne, by name, and that Mary's conception was the result of
many years of prayer by parents thought to be too old to bear children.
Her priestly origin is not recorded in the Scriptures, but is corroborated in
Saint Like's Gospel, where we learn that Mary was the cousin of Elizabeth, the
mother of John the Baptist, wife of the priest Zachary and a daughter of the
priestly tribe of Levi.
It is a pious belief that John was delivered from original sin when Mary came to
visit Elizabeth: “For behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in
my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.”
The definition of the Immaculate Conception as an object of our Catholic Faith
came only a relatively short time ago, on this day in 1854 when Pope Pius IX
issued the apostolic constitution Ineffabilis Deus. But history
demonstrates that a feast was observed in the Church from the early centuries.
As early as the 5th century in Syria, the Church celebrated a feast of the
Conception of the Most Holy and All Pure Mother of God on December 9th.
The feast spread to other places in the West, and was extended to the Universal
Church by Pope Sixtus IV in 1476, and made a holy day of obligation by Pope
Clement XI in 1708. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was
championed by the Franciscans, and supported by a decree of Pope Sixtus IV.
Pope Innocent VIII authorized the invocation of Mary under the title of the
Immaculate Conception circa 1490. In its definition of original sin, the
Council of Trent was careful to point out that it did not apply to the Blessed
Pope Pius V condemned the proposition that that “Mary died because she
had original sin” and placed the feast of the Immaculate Conception in his
Pope Paul V prohibited teaching anything contrary to the doctrine in public
and Gregory XV prohibited it even in private. Alexander VII renewed
the decrees of the Popes on the doctrine in 1661.
One even finds allusions to the Immaculate Conception in Mohammad's Quran,
which borrowed heavily from Jewish and Christian sources.
In private revelation we have Mary herself approving of the doctrine, to Saint
Catherine Labouré in 1830, giving her the design for the Miraculous Medal of
the Immaculate Conception, some twenty-four years prior to the definition of
Pius IX. (I hope that everyone here wears that medal of the
Immaculate Conception.) And our Lady was quoted by Saint Bernadette of
Lourdes, saying “I am the Immaculate Conception” but four years thereafter.
And in the next century, at Fatima, our Lady urged devotion to her Immaculate
Now, I would be remiss were I to omit an exhortation for all of us on this great
feast. All of us, it is true, were born in the state of original
sin—each of us lacked the graces that Mary always possessed. But in
Baptism our soul acquired sanctifying grace, making us rather “Mary-like.”
And even if we have not preserved our baptismal innocence, sacramental
Confession will restore that grace and our similarity to Mary. The only
question is “Where do we go from there?”
Understand that Mary had free will, and even though it seems unthinkable, she
could have sinned, just as Eve did, and just as we do. The reality is that
Mary freely chose not to sin. Throughout her life she freely conformed her
will to the will of God.
What I am suggesting is that—under the patronage of our Immaculate Mother—we
choose to do the same thing—that every time we are conscious of temptation to
sin, we call on Mary to help us follow her Son's divine will. “O Mary,
conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”