The Immaculate Conception of Mary
“…she became the mother of all the living” (Genesis 3:20)
Today the universal Church rejoices in the stupendous gift of God to the human race, the gift of a woman who is conceived without Original Sin ever tainting her humanity. Mary is the immaculate one, the beginning of a new humanity, and she will become the mother of all who will be part of that new humanity, the mother of all the truly living. Mary is the New Eve, the new beginning, and like the original Eve, she comes into being in perfect innocence, free from all taint of evil.
But Mary is far greater than Eve in her God-given spiritual endowments, just as Christ her son is far greater than the first Adam. Mary is created with a fulness of grace that surpasses that of all others of God’s purely rational Creatures. In Psalm 27 the psalmist prays “That I may gaze on the loveliness of the LORD.” That loveliness will be seen in Heaven when we see God in the Beatific Vision, but it will also be seen in its reflection in God’s blessed, and in none equal to Mary. In her, God’s beauty and loveliness is reflected as in no other saint or angel, which has to be what she means when she says. “My soul magnifies the Lord.” It is God’s beauty and loveliness that is displayed in the magnificent graces communicated to her soul at her conception. She did not earn their presence, they are pure gift just as her mode of redemption by God’s action preventing her from inheriting the sin of Adam.
Why all these gifts to Mary of freedom from sin and fullness of grace, Gabriel’s words not hers. These gifts are given first because wh is called by God to be the mother of His Eternal son, to give birth to the New Adam, the Son of God, who becomes flesh from by her consent in her holy womb. The son she conceives and gives birth to is testified to by the Angel Gabriel: “the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” He will not come in visible glory, but he will come in the hidden glory of her sacred humanity, the most fitting receptacle of the all Holy One. He will come in Mary, whose faith makes this possible from the human side of the mystery, and he comes to redeem mankind.
Our first parents brought death and destruction upon the human race by the first sin, the Original Sin that is inherited by all their children, except the Virgin Mary. She is to be the first of the redeemed, and because her own mission is so great, God does not allow the guilt of Original Sin to touch her soul when he creates her. She who will one day give flesh to the Holy One of God, the Eternal Son who enters our humanity and human history to redeem us, is herself to be holy from the first moment of her existence, for she will be the new immaculate Eve who says “yes” to God, unlike the first Eve who said “no.” Thus Mary receives the power of the Holy Spirit in a marvelous way that allows her to conceive a man without the cooperation of man, without any touch of sin or its disorder.
Thus all creation rejoices, said St. Anselm in an ancient homily regarding this Virgin, for as all creation was once corrupted by man’s Original Sin, so now the history of man is reversed, and creation itself can once again serve the primary purpose of its creation, to give glory to God through the ministry of the new humanity redeemed by her Son, and united to her Son in one great mystical body, the Church.
Moreover, Mary is conceived not only free from all sin, a negative privilege, but she is also conceived endowed with Grace, as the vessel of God’s grace and presence, as had been the case with the first Adam and Eve before their sin. They did not sin because they were lacking anything, including the life of God through the grace in their souls. They sinned in spite of that great endowment in their souls, as we do when we sin after Baptism. But Mary was full of grace, her soul being the special dwelling place of God from her beginning, and she would never lose that grace or even taint it by the slightest sin, so perfect was the harmony between hew will and God’s will.
Mary was given this extraordinary gift of grace not only because she was to be the mother of the Son eternally begotten by the Father, but because she was also to suffer with her Son in the great struggle with the ancient enemy of mankind, the serpent who declared war on man and God by his role in the first sin. But recall the promise God made to mankind in the Garden: The Lord pledged future victory over the serpent, but only as the result of a great struggle of cosmic proportions. Genesis testifies moreover that a Woman would be intimately involved in the victory. God said to the serpent, “I will put hatred between you and the woman, between your seed and hers. He will crush your head and you will strike at his heel” (Gen. 3: 1).
Jesus, her Son, will crush the serpent after he strikes at his heel by engineering His death on the Cross. He will crush him by rising from the dead and communicating the fruits of His victory over death and Satan, the grace of salvation, the new life of a new human race. But Mary will also be a player in that victory as she says yes beneath the Cross, accepting the will of the Father as her Son does. She will continue to share in that victory as she painfully cooperates in the birth of the Church and in the rebirth of each of the Church’s children through her merits and prayers.
When one sees a great painting, a masterpiece by a great artist, one is filled with wonder and joy. Mary is God’s feminine masterpiece just as Her son is the masterpiece of all humanity. We rejoice in her great privileges as the strokes of God’s artistry, her Immaculate Conception, her sinlessness, her fullness of Grace, her virginal motherhood as Mother of God, her role as Mediatrix of graces and her role as mother of the Church. She is the beginning, and what she now possesses we have hope to possess, because of her fiat and her ongoing mission in the Communion of God’s chosen ones.
St. Thomas Aquinas taught that while God is certainly able to create a universe more perfect than the universe He has created, there are three realities He could not have created more perfectly or more beautifully: the sacred humanity of Christ, the vision of God we hope to experience in heaven, and the Blessed Mother. These are the words of the Angelic Doctor,
“The humanity of Christ, from the fact that it is united to the Godhead; and the Beatific Vision from the fact that it is our fruition in God; and the Blessed Virgin from the fact that she is the mother of God; have all a certain infinite dignity from the infinite good, which is God. And on this account there cannot be anything better than these; just as there cannot be anything better than God.”
There is nothing in Mary that does not give glory to God, that does not display or magnify the glory of God. She is out mother by God’s designation ion Calvary. Her mission is to enable us to become more like her Son in Grace and more like her in faith. No good mother would wish anything else for us. So we pray now and always, Holy Mary, pray for us sinners, your children, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.