BISHOP RENE HENRY GRACIDA
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, that through her intercession,
we too, may be cleansed and admitted to your presence.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God,
for ever and ever.
That beautiful prayer is the opening prayer of today’s Feast.
It beautifully sums up all that we need to know about what we celebrate today.
It is obvious, first of all, that the words of that prayer do not refer to the conception of the infant Jesus in the womb of Mary, an event that we celebrate on the Feast of the Annunciation.
The prayer, and the whole reason for the Feast is to celebrate the reality that God the Father in preparation for the conception and birth of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ, as a human being, a man, gave the great privilege to Mary to come into this world in perfect conformity with the original human nature given by God to Adam and Eve.
What was that “perfect conformity” that was the most precious characteristic of the first man and woman. It was that although they had been created “in the image and likeness of God” in that they an intellect and free will, the harmony between them and God was such that they would not make any decisions about what is good (promoting unity with God) as opposed to what is bad (having a negative effect of unity with God) in violation of that harmony.
The original sin of Adam and Eve was that they, under the influence of the lies of Satan, choose to do something that God had revealed to them through their consciences that they should not do.
That original sin of our first parents caused them to lose their privileged state of grace
that had come with their creation and now, stained by the effects of their original sin they would pass on to us their children the loss of that original harmony that existed for them in the beginning and would exist for us now if they had not sinned.
Mary, chosen by God the Father to be the mother of Jesus Christ, was “by virtue of the Death of (her) Son” kept free from that “stain” so that the Immaculate Child would be carried to term in an Immaculate womb, i.e., free from the stair of the original sin of our first parents.
One of the consequences of the fall of our first parents is that sinning and suffering the consequences of sinning became part of our human nature.
Since Mary was born free of the consequences of sin (the stain) she was also kept free from the stain of personal sin all her life by the grace of God.
Does that mean that Mary did not suffer? I am sure that she suffered from cuts and falls like all the rest of us because that kind of suffering is not caused (usually) by personal sin. And yet she did suffer from the effects of personal sin, except that it was not from any personal sins of her own, but rather it was from the personal sins of all of us.
The Blessed Virgin Mary, who had been free from suffering from personal sins of her own suffered terribly vicariously at the realization of the death her son would die on the cross for perhaps as long as eight hours. He, her son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, hung dying on the cross in expiation for all the sins of all men and women, including you and me.
Some of you who are devoted to the Rosary might (recall), the Prophecy of Simeon (depicted in the Rembrandt painting above) with a little confusion. You might think “wait a minute. Isn’t Simeon’s prophecy (Luke 22-35) part of the Joyful Mysteries, in the decade devoted to our Lord’s Presentation in the temple?”
Well if that mystery is joyful, it is truly bittersweet. On one hand, the devout Simeon, led by the Holy Spirit, experienced the true joy of seeing the Messiah before his (own) death in the little baby Jesus. You might say he was one of the first to experience “the peace of Christ”! Indeed, as the old man put it prophetically, this Child would be a ‘light unto the Gentiles and a glory for your people Israel” (Luke 2:32). The sorrowful part is what followed.
Mary later told the mystic St. Bridget of Sweden centuries later that she felt great anguish over what Simeon said after that. She said that “On that day [of the Presentation] my pain was increased. For though, by divine inspiration, I knew that my Son was to suffer, yet this grief pierced my heart more keenly at Simeon’s words when he said that a sword would pierce my soul [Luke 2:35], and that my Son should be set for a sign to be contradicted [Luke 2:34]”. She realized even more forcefully than before how much Jesus’ message would be rejected and how much He would suffer during His Passion for our redemption.
As Archbishop Fulton Sheen once wrote poignantly and poetically “from that moment on, every time she would lift infant hands, she would see them fall across them the shadow of nails.”
The Blessed Mother also revealed to St. Bridget that this grief pierced her soul for the rest of her life. As she put it “as often as I looked at my Son, as often as I wrapped Him in His swaddling-clothes, as often as I saw his hands and feet, so often was my soul absorbed, so to say in fresh grief; for I though how he would be crucified.”
And while Mary said her grief was tempered by the consolation from God’s Spirit, it never left her heart. Indeed, what would you do if you knew for certain your beloved child was to die a horrible death in the prime of his life?
We can indeed thank Mary for her loving strength in carrying on and raising her Divine Son knowing His horrible but necessary sacrifice lay ahead in the increasingly near future. Her equanimity facing this is certainly worth imitating!
Indeed it is worth imitating !!!
As we celebrate today’s Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary we should resolve to never lose sight of the reason God preserved Mary free from the stain of original sin:
it was so that we might have in her our own heavenly mother to assist us in our appreciation for what her Son had done and is doing for us !