Ah yes, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. If you think this is a celebration of Jesus conception, well, you’re wrong. I know. Today’s Gospel (Luke 1:26-38) tells of Gabriel’s appearance to Mary, announcing the coming of Christ. Since the reading talks about the coming of Christ and this feast day falls during Advent, people assume that this feast is about Jesus’ conception. It isn’t. It’s about Mary’s.
Why does the Church prescribe this Gospel reading? To understand this, we need to look at how the angel greets Mary.
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” The angel does not say, “Hail, Mary, full of grace.” That would indicate that “full of grace” was an adjective. “This is Mary, she is full of grace.” While that would be true, it is not what the angel says. Instead, Gabriel says, “Hail, full of grace!” The term “full of grace” is used as a noun. It is a title. The angel is acknowledging who Mary is. She is “full of grace.” The angel acknowledges that, even before the incarnation of Christ, Mary is Full of Grace.
What the Church has always taught, and what this feast reminds us of, is that Mary was conceived without the stain of original sin. She was immaculately conceived. Does that mean she didn’t need Jesus to save her? No, not at all. Pope Pius IX put it this way,
The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.
Mary was indeed saved by Christ’s work of salvation but in a different way. She was saved by Christ’s work of salvation for His work of salvation. It sort of feels like Mary got out easy. But think about it, Mary, saved by Christ preemptively, was given the same choice that Eve had been given, to accept God’s will, or to reject it. And Mary, filled with the Spirit, said yes. Where Eve fell, Mary did not.
During Advent, on this Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the Church is reminding us of the incredible gift we have in Mary’s motherhood. Pope Pius IX, upon declaring his hopes for this celebration, put it this way,
Let all the children of the Catholic Church, who are so very dear to us, hear these words of ours. With a still more ardent zeal for piety, religion, and love, let them continue to venerate, invoke and pray to the most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, conceived without original sin. Let them fly with utter confidence to this most sweet Mother of mercy and grace in all dangers, difficulties, needs, doubts, and fears. Under her guidance, under her patronage, under her kindness and protection, nothing is to be feared; nothing is hopeless. Because, while bearing toward us a truly motherly affection and having in her care the work of our salvation, she is solicitous about the whole human race. And since she has been appointed by God to be the Queen of heaven and earth, and is exalted above all the choirs of angels and saints, and even stands at the right hand of her only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, she presents our petitions in a most efficacious manner. What she asks, she obtains. Her pleas can never be unheard.
Chris Mueller is the creator of Chris Mueller Project, an entertaining new show for Catholic families.