Immaculate Conception

FEAST OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION OF OUR LADY
December 8
The Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55)

INTRODUCTION

Like Eve, Mary was created free of original sin. Eve brought influence of Satan, sufferings, and death to the world through her disobedience and Mary supported her son Jesus to reverse them through her obedience. By her humble submission to the will of God expressed through Angel Gabriel, Mary took up the responsibility of being the second Eve and cooperated with her son Jesus to redeem the world. Let us join Mary and Jesus to continue their mission through our humble service to humanity and worship to God.

Bible Text

The Canticle of Mary (Luke 1:46-55)
(46) And Mary said: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; (47) my spirit rejoices in God my savior. (48) For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed. (49) The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. (50) His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him. (51) He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. (52) He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. (53) The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty. (54) He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, (55) according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Immaculate Conception
The feast of the Immaculate Conception that we celebrate on December 8th is based on the traditional belief and Catholic teaching that the Blessed Virgin Mary was born free from original sin. The faith in the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin is supported by all the three pillars of the Catholic Church: Sacred Scripture, Apostolic Tradition, and Church Magisterium.  

The Sacred Scripture:

The Blessed Virgin Mary was in existence from the very beginning of God’s design for the salvation of mankind. After the fall of Adam and Eve, God told the tempter Satan: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; They will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel. (Gen. 3:15). The woman here was not Eve but Mary and her offspring was the redeemer Jesus. Both Jesus and Mary would strike the head of Satan, and Satan in turn would hurt both Jesus and Mary, the new Adam and new Eve. That was what happened in the history of salvation.

Angel Gabriel greeted Mary saying: “Hail full of Grace.” (Luke 1:28). Mary’s fullness of grace is an indication that unlike other human beings, she is perfectly holy and free from any kind of guilt. That leads us to the conclusion that she was free from sin even before her birth.

When Elizabeth greeted Mary, she proclaimed: “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. ((Luke 1:42). Elizabeth saw two people who were specially blessed: Mary and her to be born son, Jesus.

In Luke 1:47, Mary sings, “my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” Based on this, some Christian denominations argue that Mary was also born with original sin like all others and she was saved from it because she calls God as her savior. It is true that God who created her free from sin is also her savior. God, who can have exception in everything, saved her soul from original sin before she was born in the womb of her mother Anne. Jesus, the Word of God was coming to a Holy Ark that should be free from contamination of all kinds of sin. God, who designed the Holy Ark of the Covenant, that contained the words of God in two stone tablets asked Moses to construct it with pure gold. The same God designed the new Ark made of a pure soul to become the dwelling place of His Son. That was why Mary had reason to rejoice in a unique way in God, her savior. Hence, Mary is a creation of God made free from original sin like Eve and selected to reverse the disobedience of Eve by her obedience to God.

Mary’s holiness and sacredness are mentioned in different parts of the Holy Bible.

Tradition:  

Though officially decreed only in 1854, the faith in the Immaculate Conception was prevalent in the Eastern and the Western Churches. The Early Church Fathers like Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Origen, Hippolytus, Ambrose of Milan, Gregory Nazianzen, Augustine and others taught about the immaculate conception and compared Eve and Mary.

God created Eve as physical mother of all humanity. He created Mary as the spiritual mother of all the faithful. Both were born free from original sin. Eve obeyed Satan and brought death to all. Blessed Virgin Mary obeyed Angel Gabriel, the messenger of God, and regained life. Eve lost paradise whereas Mary regained the lost paradise. Eve became partner with Adam in sin. Mary became partner with Jesus in bringing salvation. Eve was queen of the universe but lost it; Mary was of humble origin and became queen of heaven.

Church Magisterium:

The Council of Trent taught that all people are born in original sin. However, the council did not include Blessed Virgin Mary as born infected of original sin.

Pope Pius XI defined in his encyclical “Ineffabilis Deus” on December 8, 1854 that “the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin”. (http://www.papalencyclicals.net/pius09/p9ineff.htm).

This papal proclamation of the Immaculate Conception was a confirmation of the teachings of the Church fathers and the traditional belief. However, in less than four years on March 24/25, 1858 the Blessed Virgin Mary confirmed this doctrine by revealing herself in Lourdes to St. Bernadette: “I am the Immaculate Conception.”

Interpretation

The Canticle of Mary
In St. Luke’s Gospel, there are the three Canticles: that of Mary (1:46-55), Zechariah (1:68-79), and Simeon (2:29-32). Mary’s canticle has also resemblance to the psalms and canticle of Hanna, the mother of Samuel (1 Chronicles 2:1-10).

(46) And Mary said: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;

The greatness of the Lord is manifest in the universe where we live. Man, even after centuries of research and studies, have not yet explored the boundaries of the universe or details of the secrets of this world. However, there are many who doesn’t care about God. Many Christians have abandoned their faith under the misconception that they are the masters of their lives with the help of modern science and conveniences. Like the contemporaries of Noah before the deluge, they ignore God and decline to proclaim the greatness of the Lord. Mary, when raised to a higher call, continued proclaiming the greatness of the Lord. Let us join Mary in praising God.

(47) My spirit rejoices in God my savior.

Mary is not a goddess. She knew that she was human and saved by God. Church teaches that she was born free from original sin that was the outcome from the fall of our first parents. Though we are saved through baptism after our birth, Mary was saved before she was conceived in the womb of her mother Anne. She needed to be clean to contain the most holy God in her womb. So, Mary called her to be born son as God and Savior. Her spirit was filled with joy even during her sufferings. That is what we need to seek: joy in God our Savior in the midst of hardships of our life. Mary found this joy in offering her service to her cousin Elizabeth in her difficult times.

(48a) For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;

Mary considered herself as the handmaid of the Lord. The same was her response to Angel Gabriel when the angel clarified her doubt on keeping up her virginity and motherhood together. Mary had said to the angel: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1: 38). Mary acknowledged that it was her humility that enabled her for this call.

(48b) behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.

When Mary surrendered to God and offered her service to Elizabeth, she realized that she would be considered blessed because she was blessed by God. This is also applicable to the saints of the Church. They also did the same like Mary did and are now known as blessed. We are all called to be blessed and let us try to imitate Mary.

(49) The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

Mary glorified the name of God because He who is Mighty had done great things for her. At a later stage, Jesus taught us to start the Lord’s Prayer by saying, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” (Matthew 6:9). When we say “Holy be Your Name”, we give glory to God. The first way to identify or to understand a person is knowing that person’s name. Israelites did not call God by name. In many cultures, people don’t call those in authority or older than them by name as a respect for them. According to the 10 commandments of God given through Moses, the name of God is sacred and cannot be used in vain. When we recite the Lord’s prayer, we also glorify the sacred name or existence of God. What we are, is by the grace of God. Along with Mary, let us also glorify the name of God because he also does great things for us.

(50) His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him.

Fear of God in the Bible is to be taken in a positive sense. It means reverential obedience to God’s commandments. Fear becomes negative when one disobeys God. God withdraws support when we break our relationship or covenant with Him. That results in the victory of enemies over God’s chosen people. That has been the experience of the Israelites. They were subject to slavery when they disobeyed God and declined the message of the prophets.

Those who love God will respect God and his directives given through his representatives. Mary’s fear of God was not a fear of punishment but love and respect towards Him from her childhood. Those who are like Mary will benefit the mercy of God. Israel always experienced the mercy of God whenever they feared God. Those who do not fear God will have to face the consequence of their action at the final judgement.

(51) He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.

The liberation of Israelites over the Egyptians under Moses was only by the hands of God. The ten plagues God performed against Egyptians and the crossing of the Red Sea were clear indications of how God showed the might of His arm. Later, the great victory of Israelites at Jericho under the leadership of Joshua was also an exhibition of God’s power. When the kings of Israel had arrogant mind and heart, they faced failures. It is evident in the history of many of the kings of United Israel, and later divided Israel and Judea. Mary was remembering the Salvation History and was acknowledging God’s providence in the past.

(52) He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly.

We see this in the Old Testament times and in the New Testament times. The lowly apostles and other disciples of Jesus came up high in the history whereas those in authority were destroyed especially in 70 A.D. at the fall of Jerusalem.

(53) The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty.

When Israelites were wandering for 40 years in the desert, God fed them by sending manna from heaven. Jesus gives us new manna, the Holy Eucharist, to nourish our souls. The worldly rich, those who trust in their riches and reluctant to share them with their fellow human being, go spiritually empty especially at the final judgement.

(54) He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy,

Israel was presented as servant, first born, or spouse of God. Those comparisons helped to understand how Israel was supposed to be faithful and loyal to God in human terms. God had made covenant with people through Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus. Even when humans failed to keep up the covenant, God kept his faithfulness to the covenant and showed mercy to his people when they turned towards him seeking his forgiveness. God even sent prophets on time to speak on behalf of him and help them turn back to God.  

(55) according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.

Besides the favors she received in her life, Mary was glorifying God for all He had done throughout the salvation history. She was turning to be the coworker in the salvific sacrifice of her son Jesus. She reflected God’s promise to Abraham, the father of all the faithful, and continued and renewed through his selected descendants. While Abraham is the father of faith and promise of salvation, Mary is the mother of all the faithful and the mother of salvation.

 Message

1. We need to praise God in our good times and bad times. Along with Blessed Virgin Mary, let us thank and praise God for all favors we have received from God.

2. Mary rejoiced in God. She expressed her joy in serving Elizabeth and the Holy Family. She continued her service for the early church and even now continues through her apparitions and intercessions. Let us join Mary in sharing our joy by offering timely service for those in need.

3. We, Like Mary, need to be humble so that God can work great things through us. That is what we see also in the Apostles and early Fathers of the Church. They offered themselves with humility at the service of the Lord.

4. Though we are born in sin, Jesus has cleaned us through baptism. Let us seek the help of Jesus and his mother Mary to keep up our sanctity through our prayers to God and service to humanity.

5. When someone told Jesus that his mother and brothers were standing outside wanting to speak to him, he said: ‘Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?’ And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.’ (Matthew 12:48-50). Like Mary who did the will of the Father, let us also do the will of the Father.