Feast of the Immaculate Conception

 

Immaculate-Conception

The Immaculate Conception by José Antolinez of Madrid (1635-1675)

 

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is perhaps the greatest of all Marian feasts because it points us to the depth of Who She is.

It is then a celebration of Her Conception where She was already Redeemed. She therefore came into the world, free from every blemish. Incorruptible, spotless, She was a ‘lily among thorns’ (Canticle of Canticles ii. 2).

Our world is filled with stories, stories written as novels, fairy tales or comic books, stories made into films, television programmes, or plays and so on. Something these stories often share in common is the underlying theme of good and evil, of innocence and corruption.

Whether we are religious or not, we naturally gravitate to these types of stories, for they express something intrinsic to our very nature. They point to the mysterious truths of our existence.

At every moment of every day, we face a choice – a choice between good and evil. It may be a very subtle choice – or not. We attempt to do what is right, but it is easy for us to fall into error.

For we are wounded in our souls and easily swayed or tempted, through ignorance, self-centeredness and pride.

God created the world and He created man and woman to be stewards of it. They were to live in harmony with nature and to partake in God’s divine life. This was Paradise. There was no pain or suffering, because all was with God, in a state of grace.

Now, in order for the man and woman to love God and to love one another, God gave them Free Will. He gave them the ability to ‘choose’.

And whilst our first parents were created in holiness to partake in the divine life, they were tricked. The evil one saw into their weakness. He discovered the weakness in this ability to choose. And he utilised it for his own end.

The serpent tricked the man and the woman. He offered them power and they were tempted. The temptation was so great that they chose to follow him, disobeying God’s will.

The great gift of Free Will was abused. And through this act of disobedience, the first man and woman fell.

They fell from grace.

Blessed Virgin Mary

O Blessed Virgin Mary

And each and every child born into this sorry world is tainted by the stain of this fall from grace. Each of us, from the moment of conception is defiled, corrupted, by the disobedient act of our first parents.

But there is one creature, created like us, in the image of God, Who, whilst having Free Will, is not tricked by the evil one.

She will not fall into temptation, for She was Conceived Immaculate. Bestowed with a particular grace from God, She was ever preserved from the corruption of sin. Here is the mystery of how She came to be.

At the moment of the fall from grace, God spoke these words 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 (Genesis 3:15).

The ‘woman’ of Whom God spoke, was to be the Blessed Virgin Mary. She was to be a perfect example of unfallen creation. A woman conceived without sin.

The devil would not be able to tempt Her, unlike the first Eve, who succumbed to his evil power. From the moment of Her Immaculate Conception, pure in mind, body and soul, She would be unable to sin.

In The Lives of the Saints, Butler writes:

To her from the moment of her conception God said, ‘Thou art all beautiful my love, and there is no spot in thee’.

She was the ‘enclosed garden’ which the serpent could never enter; and the ‘sealed fountain’, which he never defiled.

She was the throne and the tabernacle of the true Solomon, and the ark of the testament to contain, not corruptible manna, but the Author of the incorruptible life of our souls (excerpts are from the Canticles of the Canticles).

He also writes:

From that very moment [of Her Conception] he prepared her to be his most holy tabernacle … from whose pure flesh he was to derive his own most holy body, and of whom he would himself be born!

She would bear the Son Himself, our Lord Jesus Christ, from her Holy and Immaculate womb. For only Holy and Immaculate flesh would be worthy to form the Divine flesh of the Son of God.

And She would be as a beacon shining in the darkness. Yet, forever humble, She would cast Her light away from Herself towards the Redeemer – He Who was to come.

For as the St Andrews Missal tells us:

Like the dawn which announces the day, Mary precedes the Sun of Justice which will soon illumine the world of souls.

Through her disobedience, our first mother, Eve, brought corruption into the world. Through Her Immaculate Conception, Mary, the second Eve, in perfect obedience, would aid our passage out of that corruption.

She would lead us to Her Divine Son. It is in this way that She is part of the Redemption.

Yet whilst bringing forth the Redeemer from Her Immaculate womb, She herself was Redeemed by Him.

Her Immaculate Conception was purchased by the Precious Blood of Her Son, in anticipation of His Sacrifice on Calvary. She therefore stands as the first to be ‘saved’ by Him.

As Butler writes:

Christ was no less her Redeemer, Reconciler, and most perfect Saviour and Benefactor, by preserving her from this stain, than he would have been by cleansing her from it.

Yet we who are born corrupted, remain so. Because of our pride, selfishness and greed, we are not capable of living this life alone, on our own terms.

For, alone, we easily stray. Through the depths of our sinfulness, we come to see how much we need the Church and Her Sacraments.

Whilst we are washed clean in the waters of Baptism, and filled with the fire of the Holy Spirit at Confirmation, we are prone to sin repeatedly and continuously.

We see how much we need to be cleansed and purified, through the Sacrament of Penance and the receiving of Holy Communion.

In those heavenly moments, when we have just received absolution, or Holy Communion, or are praying before the Blessed Sacrament – in those moments, we are perhaps most like our heavenly Mother.

We have a tiny glimpse of purity. Yet still there is no comparison!

From all corruption Mary is free. Her perfection is beyond anything we can imagine. For nothing in her Immaculate being – mind, body or soul ever, ever was tempted.

Yet, She still kept to the laws of Her religion. She lived a life so very human, with Her Blessed husband and Divine Child.

She experienced fully the sorrows of a Mother. She watched as Her Son was scourged, mocked and cruelly treated. Then, put to death in such a gruesome manner.

Each and every pain He suffered pierced Her Immaculate Heart.

And we, Her children also cause Her pain. For She sees us forgetting, even despising Her son.

Yet, She is incapable of turning us away. Being spotless and pure, She continues to love us, however grave our sin.

And we are protected by Her. She invites us to place ourselves beneath Her mantle and offer prayers to Her intercession. She is always so close to Her Son and will offer Him requests on our behalf.

O Mary Immaculate, how beautiful art Thou. And such beauty has walked this sorry earth, working, loving, weeping, tending.

Thy footsteps are like rose petals, casting their fragrance wherever Thou didst go.

O tender and gentle Mother, look upon Thy children in this vale of tears. Help bring us back into the fold, into the Mystical Body of Thy Son.

With the Church Militant Thou dost pray. With the Church Suffering Thou dost weep. With the Church Triumphant, Thou dost shine in glory.

Thou art the Immaculate Conception, the greatest creature ever there was. Help us never to forget Thee.

Mother most pure, pray for us

Mother most chaste, pray for us

Mother inviolate, pray for us

Mother undefiled, pray for us

Tower of ivory, pray for us

Arc of the covenant, pray for us

Gate of Heaven, pray for us

Refuge of sinners, pray for us

Queen conceived without original sin, pray for us.

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