The angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David,
and the virgin's name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said,
"Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you."
- Gospel of Matthew Ch. 1
During this blessed season of Advent we celebrate one of our church’s greatest Marian feasts: The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. As a Church, we affirm two central teachings with this dogma:
- We affirm that Jesus was truly human and truly divine. Inasmuch as he was fully human, he needed a human mother, and he needed to be born as any other child had ever been born. However, inasmuch as he was fully divine, he needed a vessel of surpassing purity and holiness. Hence, the need to have a mother who was in some way protected from original sin and all of its harmful effects.
- Flowing from that teaching, since Jesus, in all of his humanity and divinity, needed a sanctified place from which to be born, we also affirm that Mary, from the first moment of her conception, was spared the effects of original sin. Hence the word “immaculate”, which literally means “without stain.”
Mary is called “full of grace”, then, precisely because she never lost that sanctifying grace that our sins rob us of. Since she was free of the effects of original sin, then, she was in a state of sanctifying grace from her conception to her death.
Our Catechism says the following:
490. To become the mother of the Savior, Mary "was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role". The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as "full of grace". In fact, in order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God's grace.
491. Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, "full of grace" through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1844:
"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." (Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, 1854.)
When we celebrate this great feast day, then, we are celebrating Mary’s willingness to serve, Jesus’ full humanity and divinity, and we are celebrating God’s saving grace, which had prepared Mary from before she was born to be the Mother of His Son.
As we continue on our journey, let us ask Mary, as the Immaculate Conception, to pray for us to focus on the joy and love we can bring to others during this Advent & Christmas season. Let us also pray as a community to focus on God’s love, born to us as a vulnerable infant. We are called to trust God and God's love as he takes care of us, much the same way that all infants and children implicitly trust their parents to take care of them.
Finally, let us pray that by drawing closer to Mary and by entering more fully into the Mystery of the Immaculate Conception, we may be drawn closer to Jesus, her Son, and to the Father who willed his birth, and that we may keep Christ in Christmas by acting in ways that point others to the immense love of God.
Blessings & Peace,
Hugo De La Rosa III