Advent Interlude

Nine Months

Each December 8, nine months before her birthday on September 8, we celebrate the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the womb of her mother, Saint Ann. In His proximate and immediate preparation for the great miracle and mystery of His Incarnation, God prepared for Himself an ark of the New Covenant, not a wooden box overlaid with gold as in the Old Testament (Exodus 25:10-27), but rather one made of the purest and most beautiful human flesh, utterly unsullied by any sin, even the human inherited sin of Adam. From that immaculate flesh He took flesh Himself and fashioned a human body for His divine Son to use as the instrument of human salvation. Mary, like all of us, was redeemed by Christ's death, but unusually so, not subsequent to His death but in anticipation of it.

Although the celebration of the Solemnity of Mary's Immaculate Conception pertains more directly to her birthday in September, it also obviously has a direct and important relationship to Mary's later miraculous and virginal conception of Jesus and to His birth which we celebrate each December 25th. Although she was conceived in the normal way in which all human beings are, still from the beginning of her earthly existence, Mary was in her soul, as the Archangel Gabriel told her, "full of grace" (kekaritomene in Greek: Luke 1:28).

Pope Benedict XVI says, "In Mary there shines forth the eternal goodness of the Creator, Who chose her in His plan of salvation to be the mother of His only-begotten Son. God, foreseeing Jesus' death, preserved her from every stain of sin. In this way, in the mother of Christ and our mother, the vocation of every human being is perfectly fulfilled, since all men and women, according to Saint Paul (Ephesians 1:4-5), are called to be full of love and to be holy and blameless in God's sight."

Vatican II

The Holy Father said that the declaration of his predecessor, Pope Paul VI, during the Second Vatican Council, giving Mary a new official title, the most holy mother of the Church, is "indelibly imprinted" in his memory. Pope Benedict also recalled how Pope Paul VI said the Blessed Virgin Mary was "the patroness of the Council," and that the Council Fathers were, like the Apostles in the upper room at Pentecost, gathered in the Council Hall "with Mary the Mother of Jesus" (Acts of the Apostles 1:12-14).

The Bishop of Rome then said that with that new title for Mary "the Pope summed up the Marian teaching of the Council and provided the key to understanding it. Not only does Mary have a unique relationship with Christ, the Son of God, Who chose to become her Son as Man. Since she was totally united to Christ, she also belongs to us. Yes, we can say that Mary is close to us as no other human being is, because Christ becomes Man for all men and women, and His entire Being is ‘being here for us.' Christ, the Council Fathers said, as the Head is inseparable from His Body which is the Catholic Church, forming with her, so to speak, a single living subject. The mother of the Head is also the mother of all the Church. She, so to speak, totally emptied herself and has given herself entirely to Christ and with Him is given as a gift to us all."

"The Council intended to tell us this: Mary is so interwoven in the great mystery of the Church that she and the Church are inseparable, just as she and Christ are inseparable. Mary mirrors the Church, anticipates the Church in her person, and in all the turbulence that affects the suffering, struggling Church, she always remains the star of salvation. In her lies the true center in which we trust, even if its peripheries very often weigh on our souls."

Mary Is "Yes"

The Pope teaches that "the contradiction between God's ‘is' and man's ‘is not' is lacking in the case of Mary, and consequently, God's judgment about her is pure ‘yes', just as she herself stands before Him as a pure ‘yes'. The correspondence of God's ‘yes' with Mary's being as ‘yes' is the freedom from original sin. Preservation from original sin, therefore, signifies no exceptional proficiency, no exceptional achievement. On the contrary, it signifies that Mary reserves no area of being, of life, or of will for herself as a private possession. Instead, precisely in the total dispossession of self, in giving herself to God, she comes to the true possession of self. Grace as disposition becomes response as appropriation."

The Holy Father goes on to say, "Thus from another viewpoint the mystery of barren fruitfulness, the paradox of the barren mother, the mystery of virginity, becomes intelligible once more, dispossession as belonging, as the locus of new life. Thus the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception reflects ultimately faith's certitude that there really is a holy Church, as a person and in a person. In this sense, it expresses the Church's certitude of salvation. Included therein is the knowledge that God's covenant with Israel did not fail, but produced a shoot out of which emerged a blossom, the Savior. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception testifies accordingly that God's grace was powerful enough to awaken a response, that grace and freedom, grace and being one's self, renunciation and fulfillment, are only apparent contradictions. In reality one conditions the other and grants its very existence."

True Freedom

Pope Benedict XVI says, "This is something we should indeed learn on the day of the Immaculate Conception: The person who abandons himself totally in God's hands does not become God's puppet, a boring yes-man. He does not lose his freedom. Only the person who entrusts himself totally to God finds true freedom, the great, creative immensity of the freedom of good. The person who turns to God does not become smaller but greater, for through God and with God he becomes a sharer in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). He becomes truly himself."

"The closer a person is to God, the closer he is to other people. We see this in Mary. The fact that she is totally with God is the reason why she is so close to human beings. For this reason she can be a mother giving every consolation and every help, a mother whom anyone can dare to address in any kind of need, whether in weakness or in sin, for she has understanding for everything and is for everyone the open power of creative goodness. In her God has impressed His own image." The English poet William Wordsworth called her "our tainted nature's solitary boast". As we prepare to celebrate Christmas again this year, we might ask her help that we could experience a profoundly spiritual Advent, making our own the prayer which she herself suggested to Saint Catherine Laboure: O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.

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