Sermon Solemnity of Immaculate Conception (12/8/09)

by Fr. Dwight P. Campbell, S.T.D.

The Collect, or Opening Prayer for today’s Mass, beautifully sums up the mystery we celebrate.  It states:  “God, You have prepared a worthy dwelling place for Your Son through the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin: . . .  You preserved her from all stain of sin in your in Your foreknowledge of His death, . . .” [N.B.:  Engl. trans. from the Latin.]

In other words, Mary was “pre-redeemed” — the merits of Christ’s death on the cross were applied to her to preserve her from Original Sin.  In fact, Pope Pius IX’s 1854 Bull defining Mary’s Immaculate Conception states that Mary was preserved not only from Original Sin, but from all sin during her life.  This is the negative aspect of Mary’s Immaculate Conception.

But Mary’s Immaculate Conception has a positive aspect as well:  from the moment of her conception she was filled with grace.  This is why the Archangel Gabriel greeted her with the words, “Hail, full of grace.”  Mary was filled with grace from the moment of her conception, and she grew in grace during her life through her prayers, her virtuous acts, her love of God & neighbor, and through her receptions of Holy Communion after Jesus ascended into Heaven. 

And because Mary was free from concupiscence and there were no obstacles or impediments which prevented her from doing God’s will in all of her actions, she merited grace and grew in holiness to a degree than only God can comprehend whenever she performed good acts.

Why did God preserve Mary from Original Sin and filled her with grace from the moment of conception? The primary reason was because she was going to be the Mother of God, the Mother of the Incarnate Word.

Besides today’s Gospel from St. Luke which reveals that Mary was filled with grace, the Church looks to other Scripture verses to support its teaching on Mary’s Immaculate Conception.  One important verse is Genesis 3:15, where God speaks to the devil after the Original Sin of Adam and Eve, and says:  “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed; she shall crush your head, and you shall lie in wait for her heel.”

This verse from Genesis is known as the “Protovangelium”; that is, the first announcement of the good news of a savior to redeem the human race from sin.  Actually, in the original Hebrew, the last phrase contains neuter pronoun, which means the verse literally reads:  “. . . it will crush your head.” 

One can translate this verse into ways.  One way is:  “He will crush your head,” which means Jesus Christ crushes the head of the serpent.  Properly speaking, it is Jesus Christ, by His suffering and death on the cross, who crushes Satan’s head and releases the human race from slavery to the devil.

But one can also translate this verse:  “She will crush your head.”  The Church has done so from time immemorial, with the understanding that Our Lady, through her cooperation with God’s plan to redeem us from slavery to sin and the devil – by her conceiving and giving birth to Jesus, and especially by her association with Christ’s redemptive death at the foot of the Cross – that the Blessed Virgin can be said likewise to crush Satan’s head.  Statues of Our Lady of Grace portray this truth, showing Mary standing atop the earth with her foot over the head of a serpent. 

For purposes of today’s feast, Our Lady crushing Satan’s head has been understood to mean that the Evil One would never have power over her; that is, that she would be untainted by that Original Sin of Adam.

Throughout the history of the Church Mary, the Immaculate, All-Pure Virgin has been active in battling Satan and in protecting us, her beloved children.  Worthy of note was her activity in the Americas, when she appeared to St. Juan Diego under the title known as Our Lady of Guadalupe.  The Aztec people in Mexico were truly in Satan’s grip, with their practice of human sacrifice to appease their demon gods. 

The preaching of missionaries could not turn the people away from their evil religion.  But after Our Lady appeared to St. Juan Diego on Dec. 12, 1531 and left her image on his tilma, the largest mass conversion in the history of the world took place:  by 1538, between eight and nine million natives were converted to the Catholic Faith.  Our Lady had truly crushed Satan’s head. 

Significant is that the image of Our Lady on the tilma portrays Mary as pregnant with the Christ Child:  the ribbon in a bow over Our Lady’s abdomen was understood by the natives as a symbol of her being with Child; thus, we see that it is really Christ working through Mary who crushes Satan’s head.

We honor the Blessed Virgin today, on her great feast of the Immaculate Conception; and we pay her homage on Dec. 12 her under her glorious title Our Lady of Guadalupe, as Patroness of the Americas and Patroness of the Unborn.

We know that Our Lady will be active in assisting us in our battle against the Evil One until the end of the world.  It is especially in the Last Days that her glory will be made known and manifested.  St. Louis de Monfort, in his classic work, True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, says that towards the end of the world God will raise up the great saints who will be exceptionally devoted to Mary (nos. 47-48); he says:  “The salvation of the world began through Mary and through her it must be accomplished.  Mary scarcely appeared in the first coming of Jesus Christ so that man, as yet insufficiently instructed and enlightened concerning the person of her Son, might not to wander from the truth by becoming too was strongly attached to her. . . . but in the second coming of Jesus Christ, Mary must be made known and openly revealed by the Holy Spirit so that Jesus may be known, loved and served through her (no. 49). 

Let us pray that we may imitate Mary’s holiness, her spotless purity, so that Jesus, her Son may be better known, loved and served.

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