Friday, December 08, 2006

On the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Here's something catechetical I wrote a couple of years ago for my parish newsletter in the theme of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

This Parish Church of Pulau Tikus where I worship is dedicated to Mother Mary under her title as the Immaculate Conception. This Dogma was defined solemnly as a de fide dogma of the Catholic Faith, or a Dogma binding on the conscience of all Catholics and to be believed with an assent of faith, by Blessed Pope Pius IX in 1854 in the Bull Ineffabilis Deus. However, many of us Catholics only have a vague idea of what this dogma entails. Maybe this analogy will help.

Imagine that you were walking down the road and fell into a hole in the ground. However much you struggle, by your own efforts, you can’t get yourself out. Then someone comes along, lends you a hand and pulls you out of the hole. Now, what was done here is that someone saved you from the hole in the ground. You couldn’t save yourself, by your own efforts, so someone had to save you, pull you out.

Now imagine this. You were walking down the same road and were about to fall into a deep hole in the ground. But before you do, someone extends a hand and prevents you from falling in. Now, what happened here? Someone saved you from falling. You couldn’t save yourself, by your own efforts, so someone had to save you, exactly the same as in the previous example but in this case, preventing you from falling into the pit in the first place. In both cases, you needed saving. You couldn’t save yourself by your own power. In both cases, you were saved outside of your own efforts.

Though in both cases you were saved, perhaps the preventive or prevenient action of the Saviour in the second case can be viewed in a sense as greater that the same saving action in the first instance. To be prevented from falling is greater, in some ways, than to have been saved after a fall.

The first case is the rest of mankind, tainted by Original Sin. All of us, by virtue of our being descendents of Adam, are stained with Original Sin from the moment of our conception, from the first instance of our very existence, when our Soul is infused into our bodies. By our own efforts or works we can’t free ourselves from this condition. We need the grace of God, conferred on us in the regenerative Sacrament of Baptism to wash away this stain and restore us to Adam and Eve's original state of purity. Mary’s Immaculate Conception can be likened to the person in the second case. She also needed God's grace to deliver her just as we are delivered by God's grace as well, through the sacramental means of Baptism. She too needed a Saviour like us fallen children of Adam. The difference is that Mary's deliverance is before she was stained by Original Sin. She was preserved from it by a singular grace of God just as the person who was prevented from falling into the hole was saved from it before he fell in. She was the first fruit of the Redemption procured by Christ’s Triumph, redeemed before she fell into sin, preserved by his Mighty Hand and his grace and so she could rightly exclaim “My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour”.

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The reason this great and singular privilege was conferred on the Blessed Virgin Mary was because she was to be the Mother of Jesus Christ. It was from Mary and Mary alone that Jesus got his flesh and blood as there was no human father in His Conception. Jesus, the “Seed of the Woman” of Genesis 3:15 was to be borne by Mary for 9 months and take His flesh from Mary. There can be no mingling of Jesus’ divine flesh and impure and sinful flesh as foreshadowed in the protoevangelion of Genesis 3:15 where it says that there will be total enmity between the Woman and her Seed with Satan.

The Ark of the Covenant was the footstool of God over which hovered the shekinah, the cloud of the glory of God's presence. The Ark of the Covenant had to be pure, without blemish and foreshadowed and was a type(typos) of Mary. If Mary is tainted with original sin, then Jesus would have taken of sinful flesh and the total enmity between Him and Satan would be broken. In light of this, God, in His foreknowledge of Mary’s acceptance to be the Mother of Jesus and the merits that Jesus passion and death on the cross would procure for the redemption of the human race, prevented her from being stained by original sin at the very moment of her conception.

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It can be said that Mary was saved by Jesus and was filled with God’s grace in a very special way. This can be seen in the greeting of the Archangel Gabriel recorded in the Gospel of Luke, 1:27 “Chaire, kecharitomene!” (Chaire, kecharitomene!”) which should be translated correctly as “Hail, full of grace!” or “Hail, graced one!” as the root word of kecharitomene is charitoo (caritow) which means to grace in Greek. In this passage, the word is used as a proper name for Mary indicating the state of fullness of this grace which God has bestowed on her.

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The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was defined solemnly Blessed Pope Pius IX in these words: “The Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of Almighty God, and in view of the foreseen merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin."

So, let us give thanks to God for His special preventive intercession in the Immaculate Conception of Mary and celebrate the Feast of our Parish on the 8th of December with greater fervour and let our devotion of Mary our Mother increase as we humbly listen to and obey her petition, “Do whatever He tells you”.

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