Homily on the readings for Dec. 8, Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled by these words and by what they might mean, and so were theologians for quite a while. A wide consensus of the faithful and many theologians saw in these words support for the belief that Mary had been without any stain of personal or original sin from the very beginning of her existence. In a way, it just made sense; Mary was to carry in her womb Jesus Christ, the Son of God made flesh. Did it not make sense that God would want her to be unassociated with sin in any way? Since Mary was to be the Mother of Christ and hence of all those who are united to Him in the Mystical Body Christ, the Church, she was a sort of New Eve. Should she not have the same privilege as the first Eve, who was created sinless?
And yet, there was a serious objection: if Mary was conceived without sin, she would not have been saved from sin by Jesus, and it is clear from the New Testament that all were saved through Him. Even John the Baptist, who was cleansed from sin in the womb, was conceived with original sin. To this, an answer was given by a Franciscan theologian, John Duns Scotus: in essence, he points out that to save someone from any stain of sin is an even greater form of salvation than to cleanse someone after they have already been affected. It’s like making a bargain to keep someone out of jail instead of paying their bail once they are already behind bars. As for the fact that God did this before Jesus the Redeemer was even born, God is not subject to the limits of time, which is His creation, and hence He could anticipate the merits of the Lord’s death, applying them to Mary at her conception to preserve her from any connection to original sin – hence, the Immaculate Conception.
After centuries of debate and growing clarity regarding Mary’s Immaculate Conception, the dogma was declared 156 years ago today by Pope Pius IX. Together today we celebrate this honor given by God to the woman who is His Mother and our Mother. We, who were not granted the same privilege, have all the more reason to celebrate because we have Mary not just to admire, but to imitate, and turn to for her prayers. Today we turn to her as our Mother and as the patroness of the United States of America, and we entrust to her care our families, our parish, and our nation.