The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is one of the most beautiful celebrations in the liturgical year. Today we commemorate the singular grace and privilege that God Himself bestowed upon Our Heavenly Mother: namely that she was conceived without the stain of Original Sin. Through this feast we are invited to thank God for the tremendous grace with which He has endowed Our Lady, and also to seek Her powerful maternal intercession for ourselves.
The privilege of being the Immaculate Conception is unique in Salvation History. Never before – nor ever again – has a mere creature been given so great a gift. Yet the gift is truly fitting when one contemplates the solitary role Our Lady was to occupy within God’s Divine Plan. The Blessed Mother was to provide a pure Tabernacle of human flesh within which Our Divine Savior 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.
In the United States of America, devotion to Our Lady under the title “Immaculate Conception” has early antecedents. For example, a feast of the Immaculate Conception was celebrated in all the Spanish colonies, and established as a Holy Day of Obligation by the First Provincial Council of Lima in 1552. Franciscan Missions to Our Lady under this privileged title include: Convento de Inmaculada Concepcion in St. Augustine, Florida (established in 1573), and La Purisima Conception Mission in New Mexico (1629) and La Purisima Concepcion in California (1787).
The renowned Jesuit explorer, Pere Jacque Marquette explored the Mississippi River, and not only entrusted his perilous expedition to Blessed Virgin, but also renamed the Indian Village of Kaskasia “Immaculate Conception of Mary,” as well as renamed the Great River: “Conception River.” Fr. Marquette’s devotion to Our Lady under this title also included spreading a devotion to the Chaplet of Our Lady, the Immaculate Conception, a chaplet he himself created in Her honor.
As early as May 17, 1846 Our Lady was proclaimed patroness of the entire country under this privileged title by the bishops if the United States at the Sixth Provincial Council of Baltimore. From early antiquity, a belief in the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is evident through the writings of the early Church Fathers. Even before the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was officially promulgated by Pope Pius IX December 8, 1854, in his papal bull Ineffabilis Deus, this doctrine was widely espoused and celebrated, not only in Europe, but also in the United States. In 1884, the bishops of the United States united at the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore to require that the feast be celebrated as a Holy Day of Obligation by all dioceses in the United States. This decision received the full approbation of Rome in 1885.
We have a rich history of celebrating the immense privilege that God has bestowed upon Our Lady. Throughout the centuries She has shown Herself to be responsive to the supplications of Her beloved children, especially when they invoke Her under this title. As our nation faces unprecedented threats to Religious Liberty, let us unite on this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception to thank God for the graces He has bestowed upon Mary, and to invoke Her Intercession for ourselves and nation.
Blessed Feast Day!
Ad Jesum per Mariam,