The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception reminds us that devotion to the Virgin Mary opens the way to Christ, just as her womb opened the way to salvation in giving birth to God Incarnate, the Word made flesh and Savior of the world.
By Deacon Frederick Bartels
8 December 2012
During the collect (opening prayer) of the divine liturgy celebrated on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of The Blessed Virgin Mary, the faithful gathered together are led in prayer by the priest celebrant with these words: “O God, who by the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin prepared a worthy dwelling for your Son, grant, we pray, that, as you preserved her from every stain by virtue of the Death of your Son, which you foresaw, so, through her intercession, we, too, may be cleansed and admitted to your presence.”
The Church throughout the centuries, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, has become “ever more aware” of Mary’s constant, perpetual sinlessness and state of grace-filled being from the moment of her conception (cf. CCC 491). As greeted by the archangel Gabriel, Mary is “full of grace,” the sweet Virgin whom “the Lord is with” (Lk 1:28). The dogma of the Immaculate Conception, proclaimed by Pope Pius IX in 1854, professes this long held belief of the universal Church about Mary:
“The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin” (qtd. in CCC 491).
In virtue of the sweet Virgin’s sinless life of exemplary faith, hope and charity, she is rightly honored as the preeminent model of the perfect Christian. In the life of Mary, one which was “adorned from the first instant of her conception with the radiance of an entirely unique holiness” (LG 56), is revealed how we are to live as authentic disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ. Further, the Virgin of Nazareth, whom the Father preordained from eternity to become the mother of his only Son, provides us with an example of openness, abandonment and docility to the will of God par excellence.
Stated another way, Mary lights for us the path to God through her Son. That is why the sacred season of Advent is a most fitting time to foster a relationship of filial love with the Virgin Mary, whose loving intercession urges the Holy Spirit to enter deeply into our souls, cultivating our hearts for a most fruitful reception of the Redeemer of humankind, our Lord Jesus Christ, the One who has come, who comes, and who will come again. Since the Virgin Mary lights the way to her Son, her life reveals what it truly means to enter fully into Advent.
In fact, since Jesus Christ, the head of the Church, was conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can say that the “hidden beginning” of the Church originated inside the holy, grace filled womb of the Virgin Mary (Redemptoris Mater 1).
“In the liturgy the Church salutes Mary of Nazareth as the Church’s own beginning,” wrote Blessed Pope John Paul II, “for in the event of the Immaculate Conception the Church sees projected, and anticipated in her most noble member, the saving grace of Easter. And above all, in the Incarnation she encounters Christ and Mary indissolubly joined: he who is the Church’s Lord and Head and she who, uttering the first fiat of the New Covenant, prefigures the Church’s condition as spouse and mother” (RM 1).
The Church, explains John Paul II, “proceeds along the path already trodden by the Virgin Mary, who ‘advanced in her pilgrimage of faith, and loyally persevered in her union with her Son unto the cross’” (RM 2; LG 58).
Those are profound words indeed! If the Church proceeds along the path already walked by the Virgin of Nazareth, we too, then, are to walk the journey of Mary as members of the Church. Mary’s life of exemplary holiness, deeply infused with the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity, forever open in trust to the will of God, is to become our model of Christian life. As Mary remained faithful to her Son unto the cross and beyond, we are to remain unwaveringly faithful to Christ forever. Mary’s way of life, which is nothing other than unceasing love, is to become our way of life. That is the Father’s plan for his children. Our God who is love, desires to draw his children completely into Love.
Our spiritual mother, the Virgin Mary, by her fiat (Latin for [let it] “be done”) that articulated her eternal “yes” to the salvific plan of God, clearly shows her children in the Church the path to God and therefore the way to perfect happiness and the eternal reception of divine love in Christ. If we reflect on it a moment, we will see that our own fiat is a necessary component of entering fully into the Advent season, for without it we cannot openly welcome the Savior who knocks at the door to our hearts and who thirsts to enter within the secret chamber of our souls, that we may “have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10). Mary’s “yes” is first spoken, our “yes” follows her example.
Furthermore, we can see how our lives are to model Mary’s way of life and follow the path she herself has trodden, by examining the progressive stages that are a normal part of the Christian life of faith in and love for the Son of God:
Through the sacrament of Baptism, we begin our journey, as if passing through a doorway in which we are “conceived” into a new creation: we are freed from original sin by the saving merits of Jesus Christ, given the gift of the Holy Spirit, incorporated into the Church, and made a member of the divine family. In living a life of holiness as true Christian disciples, aided by the Holy Spirit, we grow in grace and thus grow in perfection. At the end of our earthly life, as we pass through the thin veil of death and (perhaps via the purification of Purgatory) enter into heavenly glory, we are confirmed in grace and attain to a state of “immaculate conception” in which there is no longer any stain of sin within us.
Just as Mary embraced the Word Incarnate with totality, we are to open ourselves to Christ completely and unconditionally. In doing so, we begin our “pilgrimage of faith” that leads toward our final destination in God. As Blessed Pope John Paul II observed, the Virgin Mary’s “exceptional pilgrimage of faith represents a constant point of reference for the Church, for individuals and for communities, for peoples and nations and, in a sense, for all humanity” (Redemptoris Mater 6) Just as Mary cannot be understood apart from her Son, the journey of the Church cannot be understood apart from Mary.
The Catechism of The Catholic Church explains:
“What the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines in turn its faith in Christ” (487).
This Advent, let us venerate Mary for her exemplary purity; let us seek her loving and motherly intercession with filial devotion, that, with the help of her prayers, we may be brought into greater union with her Son, and thus follow the path of faith and light which she herself has trodden. Let us praise the Father for having made the Virgin Mary his most precious daughter and our spiritual mother; let us adore the Son whom Mary bore in her womb, whose sacrificial death redeemed humanity, and whose love constantly awaits us; and let us embrace the Holy Spirit, the sweet Virgin’s Spouse, whose gifts of grace and love transform us with wisdom, understanding, knowledge and fortitude, enabling us to better follow the journey of Mary and therefore embark on holiness as a way of life.
Photo Credit: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/10/SASSOFERRATO_-_Virgen_rezando_%28National_Gallery%2C_Londres%2C_1640-50%29.jpg”>Giovanni Battista Salvi da Sassoferrato [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Deacon Frederick Bartels is a member of the Catholic clergy who serves the Church in the diocese of Pueblo. He holds an MA in Theology and Educational Ministry and is a Catholic educator, public speaker, and evangelist who strives to infuse culture with the saving principles of the gospel. For more, visit YouTube, iTunes and Google Play.