This solemnity, although formally declared dogma in 1854, has a long history of belief and celebration in Christianity since the 4th century and perhaps earlier – the records only go back so far. What this means is that what happened in 1854 was formally stating what was already believed. It was not new. But here’s the question for you… what does this Solemnity mean to you. That is not a question to explain “what” it celebrates – that part is clear. The 1854 papal encyclical stressed that Mary’s sinlessness was not due to her own merits, but truly, by the merits of her son, Jesus. I quote:
“We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore should firmly and constantly be believed by all the faithful.”
Simply stated, Mary possessed sanctifying grace from the first instant of her existence and was free from the lack of grace caused by the “original or first sin” from the beginning of human history.
That is the “what” of the dogma…but what does it offer you in thought, inspiration, prayer, motivation… How does it impact your life?
Let me offer what this Solemnity brings to my mind and heart. Mary, from the beginning was full of grace, free from sin. She enjoyed divine grace, not because of who she is, but because of her willing role in the great plan of salvation, that redemptive drama upon which we depend.
But in all that, the gift of grace did not undercut her freedom. There was still the invitation to become the mother of the Savior, the Messiah. An invitation that came in the midst of darkness and uncertainty And she willingly agreed to the role she was to play, having no real idea what the role would entail. What role? Surely, Mary the Mother of God…right? But we celebrate that on January 1st. We celebrate something different today.
Let me offer you one possible answer: we celebrate the foreshadowing of what redemptive love means. It is the nexus of the love of God for humanity, the love of God for Jesus, the love of Mary for Jesus – the fullness of reciprocated love – all comes together in her womb. Allowing me some poetic leeway, today we celebrate the opening act of Redemption. A redemption that never commands, but invites and that invitation always comes with grace.The grace to allow Christ to be born again in us through a personal invitation to join the great drama of redemption. For us to play a willing role.