The Immaculate Conception
she became the mother of all the living
On the very day that Adam sinned and brought death into human history, God cursed Satan for drawing the first man and woman into his revolt and, at the same time, blessed our original parents, and in them, the entire race, with the promise of salvation. However, while God pledged that the victory over the serpent would come, it would only come at the price of a struggle of cosmic proportions. God also promised that while victory would come through a son of Adam, nonetheless a woman would also 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. (Gen. 3: 15). The words of the blessing are mysterious, and the full understanding would come only in her offspring, Jesus Christ.
In this prophetic word recorded in the Book of Genesis, God is said to “put hatred” between the Woman and the serpent, that is, a fierce enmity between the Blessed Mother of God and Satan, a fierce hostility between the offspring of Mary, Jesus – and all who permit the grace of Christ to permeate them – and the seed of the serpent, all those who deliberately reject Christ’s saving Grace. This hostility is fierce and ever active; it is a hatred that has its origin at the very beginning of human history and this hostility will continue and will increase until the end of time. It is the hatred between the Church of Christ and all the forces in this world that seek to undermine the saving work of Christ and destroy His Church.
The end of Satan’s reign on this earth began with the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God; at that moment God gave to Mary the privilege of a special grace, the grace which enabled her to say yes to the Incarnation, yes to the Redemptive death of Christ and, yes to our regeneration through Baptism. In this way, God willed the active cooperation of a Woman in His Son’s work of redemption and triumph over Satan. God willed that Jesus. His eternal Son would become man, Mary’s son, through her free consent made possible and certain by His Grace. In short, while God from all eternity willed that his son would redeem the human race by His passion and death on the cross, He also willed that Mary be present with Jesus in his suffering, joining herself to her Son in His sacrifice, that she should uniquely represent the whole Church and its own self-sacrifice which is joined to Christ’s down through all the ages.
By this unique participation in the mystery of Christ’s redemption of mankind, God also willed that Mary freely consent on Calvary to be the mother of each of His sons and daughters – the Mother of all Christians by virtue of Christ’s grace in our souls. Mary’s very capacity to say yes to God – and thereby collaborate and contribute to the salvation of the human race – flows directly from the grace of Christ’s passion freely bestowed on her at the moment of her Immaculate Conception. Thus, in the Immaculate Conception, God commenced the final battle of the war against Satan, sin, and death, and He ensured our participation in His victory by filling Mary with His all-powerful Grace. Thus, in the mystery of the Blessed Virgin’s cooperation in the Redeemer’s work, she does not merely prefigure the Church, but rather she is at that moment the Immaculate Church, without spot or wrinkle, who will ever be the associate and mediatrix of the one Redeemer and Mediator.
Now, we know that the serpent was definitely present on Golgotha, and, as is most often the case, the ancient serpent was present in a hidden and deceptive way. His seed was also present on Calvary in a prominent place! That seed was present in the Pharisees and Priests who stood in the shadow of the cross, gloating over the work that they had accomplished for another – just as Jesus had warned them earlier – accomplished for their father, a liar and a murderer from the beginning. They had lied and perjured themselves at the trial of Jesus to bring about the unjust condemnation – the murder – of an innocent man. Now, they were victorious, or so it seemed, but their victory on Calvary was really that of the Evil one whom they had made their father by their lies and crimes, and even then Satan’s victory was but a pyrrhic victory to say the least.
To those without faith, the Woman’s offspring will always be seen as defeated by that shameful death. In reality, Mary’s seed, or offspring, by his sacrificial death conquered the power of the devil, at least over those who believed in Him and the power of His Cross, and that day He was in truth exalted in glory on the cross. By his obedience and love, He crushed the head of the ancient serpent, initiating the new creation, the world of grace, and establishing His Kingdom that will never end.
But the Woman was also there, present with Him, there suffering in her heart all that her Son suffered for our salvation. Barely able to speak, Christ addressed his mother: Woman, behold your Son. And to his disciples, the Crucified said: Behold, your Mother. A mysterious new creation was given birth through the agony of Christ and the faithful love of Mary, His mother, and from that moment ours as well. There they stood fast, the New Adam, the true head of the human race, in love and obedience and the New Eve, the true mother of all the living, in faith, love and obedience.
Here again we profess our faith: that on Calvary, Mary was not simply a type of the life-giving Church but, in fact, she was the Church perfected already in her person, standing there in union with Christ. Mary is always the Church’s preeminent member, the model of holiness for every other member of the Church, the type of the Church as Virgin, Bride, and Mother. Above all, she remains the Woman who continues her mission in the Church. Just as each of us by Baptism is a son or daughter of the Church, making the Church our Holy Mother, so Mary, likewise, is our Mother with and through the Church in the order of grace.
But do not be deceived by thinking that the battle ended there on Calvary. In every age and in every place this struggle between the Woman and her seed and the serpent and his seed continues and will continue until the last moment of the world’s history. In fact, Divine Revelation tells us that this battle will actually escalate right up to the day of the anti-Christ who will seek the ultimate annihilation of the Church and the eradication of faith in Jesus Christ from this world, with charming rhetoric and a warm smile, but also with an iron fist of persecution.
Have we forgotten today that the prophecy of Genesis 3: 15 encapsulates our Catholic philosophy of history? Is the Church in the United States and elsewhere perhaps in denial regarding the fact that the serpent is the undying, mortal enemy of the Woman, of the Church of Christ, of Christ Himself? Have we convinced ourselves in worldly complacency that we are not involved in a battle unto death? Is the Church today, at times perhaps, simply accommodating the Gospel to the society in which we live?
Today’s feast of the Immaculate Conception, to whose patronage the Bishop of the United States dedicated this country some time ago, reminds us that God has given the Blessed Virgin Mary far more grace than there is evil in the world. This immense power of grace to overcome evil always remains in Mary, and thus also in the Church of Christ. As we continue our celebration of the great Solemnity, we in truth praise the very heart of the Immaculate Church where there is no sin, either original or actual, where there is only the fullness of Grace, the Indwelling of the God, and all the divine power necessary to overcome all evil in this world.
All this reminds us that there is only one way to overcome and destroy the profound evil of Satan in this world, by which he dominates this world – the Lord Jesus’ way: through love and obedience, through the preaching of the Gospel and the testimony of the Cross, and through the intercession of Mary. It is only through the fearless proclamation of the Gospel and the witness of the Cross that the head of the serpent is crushed, and will be if only we are willing to proclaim His Gospel in its integrity and be ready to suffer for it?
Let us open ourselves, then, to Mary, the Immaculate one, our Mother, so that she may help conform us to God’s Word made flesh in her immaculate womb, and thus to form us as Jesus was formed in her womb and in her heart. Let us ask her humbly to make us her faithful devotees. Mary is our patroness and second in command in this battle. She is prefigured by only woman Judge in the Old Testament, Deborah, who led Israel to victory over her enemy; we are also reminded of her leadership in this cosmic struggle in the person of Joan of Arc who led the armies of France to victory. Let us ask her to help us in our day to crush the head of the ancient serpent through our loving obedience, and though our faith manifested in the fearless proclamation of the Gospel and our willingness to carry the cross of her Son to victory over Satan and his offspring. In this way, and only in this way, will we will participate in the victory of His Mother’s Queenship and Immaculate Conception and prepare the glorious Reign of Jesus Christ, her Son