Please Note: Because December 8 falls on a Sunday this year, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated on Monday, December 9. But Catholics are not obliged to hear Mass on December 9.
Gen 3:9-15,20 + Eph 1:3-6,11-12 + Lk 1:26-38
click on the line above for the day’s Scriptures
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
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click HERE to watch Dr. Ted Sri’s reflection upon this Solemnity (4:49)
click HERE to watch Fr. Mike Schmitz’s reflection upon this Solemnity (8:14)
click HERE to read the homily of Msgr. Charles Pope for this Solemnity
click HERE to watch a homily about Blessed John Duns Scotus, the “architect” of the theology of the Immaculate Conception (11:16)
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click HERE to read Pope Francis’ 2018 Angelus address for this Solemnity
click HERE to read Pope Emeritus Benedict’s 2012 Angelus address for this Solemnity
click HERE to read St. John Paul II’s homily for this Solemnity in 2004, the 150th anniversary of the promulgation of the Dogma
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Today’s First Reading is very familiar to us. It tells how Adam and Eve, our first parents, committed the Original Sin. We can identify with this story because we, like our parents Adam and Eve, are sinners. Like them, when our sins are pointed out to us we point to someone else and say, “he made me do it”, or “she made me do it”.
In doing this, we deny one of the greatest gifts God has given us: our free will. While the third chapter of Genesis tells us of the commission of the Original Sin, we often forget the meaning of the two chapters that come before it. The first two chapters of Genesis tell us how good everything God created is, and how, among all his creatures, God chose man and woman in particular to live in His image: that is, to have the free will to always choose good over evil. This is the gift that Adam and Eve refuse when they shift the blame for their actions to someone else. Yet this is the gift that Mary fulfills when she accepts God’s plan as the plan for her earthly life.
However, as we consider all the gifts that God gave to Mary during the course of her earthly life, we need to recognize that there’s often confusion about the meaning of the Immaculate Conception. Many people, even many Catholics, believe that the Immaculate Conception is the belief that Mary virginally conceived Jesus. But, our Catholic belief in the Immaculate Conception is the belief that when Mary was conceived in the womb of her mother, Saint Anne, Mary was kept free from the stain of Original Sin. God gave this free gift to Mary at the moment of her conception because He wanted the mother of His Son to be the greatest woman among all women on the face of the earth.
Now, when we wonder about the confusion about the Immaculate Conception, it’s actually somewhat understandable. After all, consider the Gospel passage for today’s feast. Today’s Gospel passage relates the events of the Annunciation: when Jesus was virginally conceived in Mary’s womb through the power of the Holy Spirit. So we can see why people might confuse Mary’s virginally conceiving Jesus with Mary being immaculately conceived by St. Anne.
The reason, though, why the Church proclaims this Gospel passage on today’s feast is because here we see emphasized the reason why God was willing to bestow upon Mary the gift of being conceived without Original Sin. God from eternity knew that Mary would accept His will as her own at this key moment in salvation history.
When the archangel Gabriel greeted Mary, she was confused and wondered what the greeting meant. But still, she accepted God’s will and said, “I am the maidservant of the Lord. Let it be done unto me according to your Word.” When Gabriel announced that it was God’s plan for her to conceive a child, she did not understand how this could be, but still she accepted God’s will through the virtue of faith and said, “I am the maidservant of the Lord. Let it be done unto me according to your Word.”
God, who is eternal—for whom there is no past, present, or future—who sees everything at once, knew that Mary would completely accept His will as her own. In light of this, God preserved her from Original Sin at the moment of her conception. In Mary, we see the model for all of us who are striving to be faithful disciples of Jesus: for all of us who are striving to allow Jesus’ life to enter into our own lives.
Like every gift that God gave to Mary, our celebration of Mary’s Immaculate Conception tells us something important about humanity itself: that is, humanity as we were created to be “in the beginning”. Our belief that Mary was conceived in the womb of her mother, St. Anne, without Original Sin, tells us that Mary is exactly the human being that God meant each of us to be. In the words of St. Paul, “God chose us in him[,] before the world began, to be holy and blameless in his sight, to be full of love.”
This is what our belief in Mary’s Immaculate Conception says about Mary: that she was full of love. We do not believe that Mary is a goddess, or even super-human. The Blessed Virgin Mary is simply human. Mary is authentically human: she is what each of us who is human is called to be: “holy and blameless in God’s sight, full of love.” That’s what St. Gabriel is driving at when he salutes Mary in the Gospel: “Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee!” St. Paul’s phrase “full of love” echoes that of St. Gabriel: “full of grace”.
God the Father wanted the best possible mother for His Son, and so He granted the grace to Mary which would let her be a mother who would give nothing to her Son but the fullness of love which God means each of us to have. Because Mary is the Mother of Jesus, she is our mother as well. For us she is the Immaculate Conception: through her Jesus entered the world, and through her each of us is healed, if we accept in faith the gift of healing God wants us to accept: the greatest gift we can possibly receive in this season of gift-giving.