This Sunday is 8 December, and it is the designated date for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Mother. But because nothing (not even the BVM) can supersede a Sunday in Advent, her Solemnity is being transferred to Monday, the 9th. Yes, there will be a Mass that morning here, at 8:30 am. As a point of interest, this celebration is the patronal feast day of our Archdiocese (especially our Cathedral) and of the whole United States.
Is this dogma (and it is a dogma—declared as such by Pope Pius IX in 1854) found in Scripture? No, but there are passages of Scripture that have been used as underpinnings for it—specifically, Luke 1:28 (especially in the Latin Vulgate translation), when the angel Gabriel addresses Mary as “full of grace,” and “the LORD is with you.” Theologians since have speculated on how Mary could be “full of grace” before the Atonement; this feast is a way of making an answer.
The speculation reached a peak in the 13th century with the writings of the Franciscan theologian John Duns Scotus, and in terms of popular piety it really took root with the apparitions of our Lady to the Daughter of Charity St Catherine Laboure in 1830, and then to St Bernadette Soubirous (1858). The popular “miraculous medal” is the result of the former apparitions (and thanks to a friend in the parish I have such a medal from the shrine of St Catherine in France, where her incorrupt body is enshrined). The title of this essay, by the way, comes from the inscription around the “miraculous medal.”
But doesn’t such a belief deny free will? Does it not “force” Mary to say yes to the angel’s statement? Isn’t her fiat a sham? Not necessarily…
There are ways by which we can be healed of sin—but they all revolve around the Atonement: the sufferings, death, and resurrection of our Lord. Under normal circumstances (read: us!) this healing is post-Easter. But for God there is no such thing as time the way we understand it—there is no such thing as “past/present/future.” There is only one eternal NOW. And so it is possible to understand that Mary was prevented from the sin of Adam by an anticipation of the Atonement, while still being redeemed by the sacrifice of her Son; hers is a preventative experience of our own experience in Baptism. The other great Marian dogma of the Assumption (declared by Pope Pius XII in 1950) is similarly an anticipation of the transformative resurrection we are all destined to experience in Christ.
We refer to Jesus (Colossians 1:15) as the “first-born of all creation.” We can similarly regard Mary as the “first-recreated of all recreation.” But we must never forget that as we remain faithful we are ALL destined to be re-created in the first-born. All finally comes from grace, and all finally is mediated to us through the Only-Begotten Beloved Son.
So by celebrating Mary on this Solemnity we are also celebrating the sanctifying power of her Son, and we are waiting in joyful hope (back to last week’s essay on expectantes!) for the fulfillment of that power in us. That Mary was blessed in these ways is our guarantee that in Jesus Christ we will also be blessed and highly favored.