Next Wednesday, December 8th, is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the patronal feast of our diocese and of our nation. What a great gift to have Mary Immaculate as our patroness! I encourage all to come to Mary’s feast, to observe this holy day of obligation, by attending Mass at your parish church or at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Fort Wayne where I will celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the Consecration of our beautiful mother church at the 7 p.m. Mass.
On December 8th, 1860, the first Bishop of Fort Wayne, Bishop John H. Luers, consecrated the cathedral in Fort Wayne under the title of the Immaculate Conception. Just six years earlier, Blessed Pope Pius IX had proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, though it had been a belief of the faithful since the early centuries of the Church. The consecration of our cathedral was a momentous event in Fort Wayne. At that time, the Fort Wayne press called the cathedral “one of the finest on the continent … the grandest Church structure in the west.” With joy and thanksgiving, we will celebrate the 150th anniversary of our cathedral on the very day it was consecrated by Bishop Luers.
Hail, full of grace!
In His desire to save us through His Son, God the Father freed Mary from the power of sin at the first moment of her existence. In His plan for the new creation and in view of the merits of His Son, God kept the Blessed Virgin Mary free from every stain of original sin from the moment of her conception. Thus God the Father prepared to give us the gift of His Son as our Redeemer.
The Immaculate Conception of Mary is an awesome truth. It was a key part of God’s plan for our redemption. He filled Mary with His grace, preserved her from the stain of original sin, because He had chosen her to be the mother of His divine Son, our Savior. In His loving care for us, God prepared a holy temple for His Son by enfolding Mary with His divine grace from the first instant of her existence.
Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has said that Mary’s most beautiful name is the name God gave to her through the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation: full of grace. We invoke Mary under this name every time we pray the Hail Mary. In those words, we recognize and affirm that Mary was entirely holy and free from all stain of sin. She was fashioned by grace and formed as a new creature in her mother’s womb. She remained in the state of grace throughout her life. Holiness characterized Mary’s life from the beginning of her existence.
The beginning of the new creation
I think it would be correct to call the Immaculate Conception the beginning of the new creation. It was the beginning of the time of abundant grace which God in His infinite love willed for all humanity, the beginning of the world’s redemption. It was the fulfillment of the prophecy in the book of Genesis, when God said to the serpent after the original sin of our first parents: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.
Reflecting on this passage from the book of Genesis concerning the hostility or enmity between “the serpent” and “the woman,” Pope John Paul II explained that in order to be the irreconcilable enemy of the serpent and his offspring, Mary had to be free from all power of sin, and to be so from the first moment of her existence. This makes great sense. If Mary had ever been defiled by sin, there would not have been this eternal enmity between her and Satan. Pope John Paul wrote: The absolute hostility put between the woman and the devil thus demands in Mary the immaculate conception, that is, a total absence of sin, from the beginning of her life.
Mary’s offspring has indeed struck at the head of the serpent. Through His death and resurrection, Christ defeated Satan and set us free from the power of sin and death. He has reconciled us to the Father. His Mother received in advance the benefits of her Son’s victory. God granted to her the power to resist the devil, making her full of grace.
The meaning of the Immaculate Conception for us
Our celebration of Mary’s Immaculate Conception on December 8th is not only to admire the marvels God’s grace accomplished in our Blessed Mother. It is also a day to reflect on the significance of this mystery in our lives as followers of Christ. The dogma of Mary’s Immaculate Conception indeed sheds light on our lives and the effects of Christ’s redemptive grace on our human nature.
We can look to Mary as the perfect model of the holiness we are called to attain with the help of God’s grace. Saint Paul wrote to the Ephesians: God has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, as He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and without blemish before him. In love He destined us for adoption to Himself through Jesus Christ. … Mary had the privilege of not being subjected for an instant to the power of evil and sin. Christ freed us from sin at our Baptism. He gives us the grace and strength to conquer sin’s influence in our lives after Baptism. We have the help of the gifts of His sacraments, especially Penance and Holy Eucharist. And we have the help of the intercession of Mary Immaculate whom we so often ask to pray for us now and at the hour of our death.
Like Mary, we are deeply loved by God, blessed in Christ, and chosen to be holy. She teaches us the path of holiness, to say “yes” to God’s grace and to God’s will, to say “no” to selfishness and sin. In contemplating her Immaculate Conception, we discover our vocation to become, with Christ’s grace, “holy and without blemish before Him” (Ephesians 1:4).
The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception appropriately falls during the season of Advent. It is through Mary that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Mary became God’s dwelling place on earth.
Pope Benedict XVI said the following: It is Mary who tells us what Advent is: going forth to meet the Lord who comes to meet us; waiting for him, listening to him, looking at him. Mary tells us why church buildings exist: they exist so that room may be made within us for the Word of God; so that within us and through us the Word may also be made flesh today.
During our Advent pilgrimage, I invite all to come to rejoice at Mary’s feast, to attend Holy Mass on December 8th. Take a break from the busyness of these weeks before Christmas.
Be faithful to this holy day precept, not only out of obligation, but out of love for the Mother of God. Come to be refreshed at the table of the Lord. I pray that our churches will be filled on this feast of our Lady. And I invite all who are sick or homebound to unite with us through your prayers, especially the holy rosary, on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.
O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!
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