Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. It is a very Catholic celebration that is often misunderstood outside Catholicism (and to be fair sometimes among Catholics). In popular culture there are lots of misconceptions about the Immaculate Conception. In TV and movies when the woman wonders how her pregnancy is possible, “it just can’t be…” there is some character who comments, “Oh, another Immaculate Conception?” But the conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb by the power of the Holy Spirit is referred to as the Virgin Birth. In correctly-expressed Catholic theology, our celebration, the Immaculate Conception refers to the conception of Mary, the one we honor with the title the Blessed Virgin Mary. If you would like to read about the development of the celebration and the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, you can find that information here. The celebration of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is one in which we give glory to God for the honor bestowed upon his mother. One of vivid way to understand this celebration is via the typology of the Ark of the Covenant. In the Ark of the Old Covenant, God came to his people with a spiritual presence, but in Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant, God comes to dwell with his people not only spiritually but physically. The Catechism of the Catholic Church expresses this “Mary, in whom the Lord himself has just made his dwelling, is the daughter of Zion in person, the Ark of the Covenant, the place where the glory of God dwells. She is ‘the dwelling of God […] with men.'” (CCC 2676)
The long arc of salvation history, revealed in Sacred Scripture, points to God working through people so that all might be saved, all might be covenant people. That was the call of the Prophets. It was the promise that the Lord Himself would come to shepherd his people (Ez 34). There were many “links in the chain” – and the Immaculate Conception is one of those ways in which God plays out his salvific intentions.
In the Immaculate Conception God prepared another key step in the rescue plan so that what was intended from the foundation of the world that in Christ [we are blessed] with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, [we are chosen] in him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him – God implemented the next step: preparing the one who would be the theotokos, the God bearer. The one who would be the living ark of the new covenant in Christ – the Blessed Virgin Mary.
On this day we honor the special gift of God to Mary, the gift that kept in motion our redemption from the original sin in the Garden. Our redemption. We honor Mary and we celebrate this gift to us through the Blessed Mother. Through the gift of the Immaculate Conception came the grace that enabled Mary’s “yes.” The yes that brought Jesus into the world, from which came redemption in His death and resurrection. And it is through Christ that we are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavens because we were chosen before the foundation of the world to be holy and without blemish before him – all in accord with the favor of his divine will.
We have been redeemed and now the Lord awaits our “yes.” We are the next step in our own salvation. While we are not blessed with the special gift given Mary, we are blessed by the grace of God who is Love. The one who loved Mary since the foundation of the world. The one who loved us before we were knitted in our mother’s womb. The one has awaited our return since the beginning of all time.