The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is among my favorites. Today we celebrate the singular grace and privilege that was bestowed upon Our Heavenly Mother: namely that she was conceived without the stain of Original Sin. The Blessed Mother was to provide a pure Tabernacle of human flesh within which Our Divine was to rest and grow for nine months. In anticipation of Mary’s fiat, Our Lord prevented the disfigurement of Original Sin from ever touching her Immaculate Soul- His gift of grace to Our Lady who existed absolutely and totally replete with grace from the first moment of her being.
Indeed, the Angel Gabriel greets the Blessed Mother not with the words “Hail Mary,” but rather “Hail Full of Grace.” The Greek word, kechatitomene (Kεχαριτωμένη) is used exclusively to name the Blessed Mother, and it means full (overflowing) with grace. The connotation of this word is that Our Lady, was so brimming with the gift of God’s grace that there was not even an iota of room for anything opposed to that grace. My Koine Greek is pretty rusty, but what I remember is that kechatitomene is in the aorist tense – a past perfect tense denoting an action that was begun in the past, but continued into the present. Mary was conceived sinless, and that state continued into present.
When God uses a word in place of a person’s name or renames an individual, it bears deep significance as it reflects the very being and mission of the individual. Recall for example that: Abram (exalted father) was renamed Abraham (father of many nations), Jacob wrestled with an angel and was given the name Israel (contended with God), Simon the fisherman was renamed Peter- the Rock, and the Pharisee Saul was transformed into the Christian Paul. Thus, when the Angel of the Annunciation refers to the Blessed Mother, not by her given name of Mary, but rather as “kechatitomene,” it reflects the past of her sinless conception, the present of the moment of the Annunciation, and the future of her mission as the Immaculate Conception – a mission which continues to this very day.
Throughout history we have been given glimpses of this glorious mission of hers. In 1858, Our Lady appeared to14 year-old Bernadette Soubirous in a series of eighteen apparitions in Lourdes, France. On March 25, Our Lady revealed to Bernadette her singular and unique role with the words: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” Since then we have seen a superabundance of grace pour through this place through Our Lady’s Immaculate intercession. The apparitions at Lourdes clearly demonstrate that Our Lady had been sent by God to Earth to give heavenly ascent to the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception which had been infallibly proclaimed only four years earlier by Pope Pius IX. It never ceases to amaze me how Our Lord transcends space and time, and communicates His plan to us in every generation.
One year ago today, on December 8, 2010, my family and I were given the tremendous blessing of being present at the Shine of Our Lady of Good Help, as Bishop David L. Ricken officially proclaimed the Marian apparitions which occurred there in 1859 to be worthy of belief and gave the Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help the full approbation of the Church. I will remember that Holy Mass as long as I live!
After years of visiting this holy site, finally seeing it officially recognized by the Holy Mother Church was beyond words. I sat there with tears of joy streaming down my face as Bishop Ricken read his proclamation and explained the extensive process of investigation which had led to the decree. I was simultaneously numb and exuberant. All those years longing for Our Lady’s message to receive the attention it deserves had finally come to fruition. The emotion was overwhelming! I could not help but be aware of the uniqueness of that moment in history, and I was so grateful to witness it. As if it were not enough to merely be present, my son Kenny had the privilege of serving as the Bishop Ricken’s Miter and Crosier bearer for Holy Mass. This mother’s heart swelled with gratitude as I prayed for the aspired vocation of my son, and experienced an incredible outpouring of grace.
This year we will celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, at Holy Hill Basilica, National Shrine of Mary Help of Christians, another place that is dear to my heart. I love these exquisite Holy Masses con-celebrated by the entire Carmelite Community. Our Lady, as the Immaculate Conception, continues to send God’s grace upon this community, and they respond to it with such beauty and devotion.
This year the children and I are adding The Holy Hour of Grace to our celebration of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Drew Mariani of Relevant Radio spotlighted the Holy Hour of Grace a few days ago, and complete information can be found on the Mother of All Peoples website. This bimonthly on-line magazine is compiled by the renowned mariologist, Dr. Mark Miravalle, and the address is: http://www.motherofallpeoples.com/Articles/Marian_Private_Revelation/the-hour-of-grace.html.
Evidently, in the Spring of 1947, Our Lady appeared as Mary the Mother of God to a young nurse, Pierina Gilli, in a hospital chapel in the small Northern Italian town of Montichiari. Our Lady was very sad, and her heart was pierced with three swords. The first sword represented the unworthy celebration of Holy Mass and Holy Communion unworthily received. The second sword represented being unfaithful to and relinquishing one’s vocation as a priest or religious; while the last sword stood for the betrayal of the True Faith. In response, Our Lady requested prayer, sacrifice and penance. Our Lady continued to appear to Pierina eleven times, including an apparition at the Basilica of Montichiari on December 8, 1947, where thousands of people were present.
On that day, Our Lady appeared to Pierina in the following manner and stated:
“ Our Lady appeared on a large white staircase, decorated with a white, red and yellow rose over her heart. She said with a smile: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” And descending several steps with great majesty She continued: “I am Mary, full of grace, Mother of My Divine Son Jesus Christ.” Descending even more, She said:
Through my coming to Montichiari, I wish to be known as the Rosa Mystica. It is my wish that every year, on 8th December, at noon, the Hour of Grace for the World be celebrated. Many divine and bodily graces will be received through this devotion.
Our Lord, my Divine Son Jesus, will send His overflowing mercy if good people will pray continuously for their sinful brother.
One should very soon notify the Holy Father of the Church, Pope Pius XII, that it is my wish that the Hour of Grace for the World be made known and spread throughout the world. If anyone is unable to visit his church, yet will pray at noon at home, he will also receive graces through me. Whoever prays on these tiles and weeps tears of penance, will find a secure heavenly ladder and receive protection and grace through my motherly heart (Mother of All Peoples Jonathan Baker, 12/2/11) .”
Our Lady specified that this world-wide Hour of Grace was to be celebrated in the following manner. It is to begin at noon and end at 1pm on December 8th. One must begin by reading Psalm 51 three times with arms extended in prayer. The remainder of the hour can be spent as in prayer as one chooses, (rosary, personal prayer, meditation, etc). However, additional care to resist distractions is requested, and we are to intercede in penance and reparation for not only ourselves, but all those in our lives. One does not need to be in a church to participate in the Holy Hour of Grace.
Regarding this devotion, Our Lady stated:
“This Hour of Grace will produce great and numerous conversions. Hardened and cold hearts resembling this marble will be touched by divine Grace, and they will become faithful to Our Lord in loyal love heart (Mother of All Peoples Jonathan Baker, 12/2/11) .”
While not yet officially approved, the Bishop of Giulo Sanguineti has publicly expressed his openness to the apparitions and has encouraged pilgrimages there.
I am not certain how much undistracted prayer I will be able to offer with my brood of eight in tow at the Basilica of Holy Hill today, but we are going to try. Please consider joining me where ever you may be in this world-wide Hour of Grace in honor of Our Lady, the Immaculate Conception.
Ad Jesum per Mariam