Faith Seeking Understanding for December 2, 2007
Celebrating the first Sunday of Advent is always a challenge when we are in the midst of the “
Nevertheless, the focus on shopping and finding “that perfect gift” can obscure the importance of our Advent preparations for the great feast of the Nativity of our Lord. This doesn’t mean that we should lay aside our Christmas cards only to pray or to avoid trips to the malls and stores is search of gifts for our families and loved ones; it does, however, remind us to allow these exterior preparations to find a deeper root in our souls. Then, the long lines can be an opportunity to meditate on Christ’s coming; the extra traffic provides an occasion for blessing (and not cursing!); the inconveniences can be a moment to pause and consider the very difficult journey of our Lady and St. Joseph to Bethlehem and all the difficulties surrounding childbirth in a stable.
This Saturday, December 8, is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (and still a Holy Day of Obligation). It is fitting that we set aside the austerity and longing of Advent to celebrate this singular grace and privilege of our Blessed Lady, the Virgin Mary. The Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus, December 8, 1854, states, “We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.”
Interpreting this theologically power-packed phrase, we learn a great deal: the Immaculate Conception is Mary’s unique privilege, but nevertheless is a result of our Lord’s saving work; furthermore, we learn that Mary was never tainted by sin, though herself still in need of a Savior; and finally, that this particular grace is effected in anticipation, since God is able to work outside of the limits of space and time. Such a unique grace is preeminently fitting for the Blessed Virgin Mary.
As the Fathers of the Church recognize, by her “Yes” to the plan God offers at the Annunciation, she undoes the “No” of Adam and Eve; she is, in fact, the New Eve, preserved from sin and perfectly pure to be the mother of Her Divine Son. Dante opens the 33rd Canto of his Paradisio in exquisite praise of our Lady:
“O virgin mother, daughter of thy Son,
humble beyond all creatures and more exalted;
predestined turning point of God’s intention;
Thy merit so ennobled human nature
that its divine Creator did not scorn
to make Himself the creature of His creature.”
Have a blessed week!