Advent is a beautiful time of silence, darkness, and increasing fullness, in preparation for the coming of Christ. It is not surprising that traditionally this time is a particularly Marian one as the Church meditates on the growing womb of the Virgin preparing to bring forth the Light of the World on that darkest of winter nights.
Advent is also a time of liturgical time-bending. The readings refer us back to the original garden fall as well as forward to the final coming of Christ at the end of time in order to help us grasp in some small way the sweeping scope of God’s Providential love, the breadth of salvation history in which all the threads of life—past present, and future—are gathered together in the person of Christ.
From both of these perspectives, the feast of the Immaculate Conception is a perfect fit for our Advent preparations. The Immaculate Conception celebrates the perfect spotlessness of Our Lady’s soul from the very first moment of her conception. She is the untainted vessel of the Lord; a woman whose heart, mind, emotions, spirit, body and soul are exactly what God created a human person to be. We celebrate her redemption from even the earliest moment, free from the primordial fractures we all experience, those wounds of the Fall which draw our minds from what we know is true, our hearts from what we see as good, and our bodies from that balanced enjoyment and strength that were theirs in the beginning.
She is the healthiest, most vibrant, most gloriously finished human person; her first inclinations in any situation were to be just, charitable, generous, unselfish, noble, kind, in short, perfect. Having been freed in God and for God, she was preserved in perfection by God for her unique mission of mothering the Son of God. This is what we celebrated on December 8th: that God blessed humanity with this one instance of unequivocal perfection from conception to death, giving us an icon of beauty through whom we see Christ.
The strangeness of this feast comes when we consider the historical timing of this gift God designed especially for Mary. You see, Mary’s Immaculate Conception necessarily comes before Christ’s saving action on the cross. Yet no one is saved outside of Christ’s cross. Without Christ there is no redemption. How was it then that Mary experienced the fruits of redemption before mankind had been bought back? This was the question that puzzled scholars throughout the Middle Ages and still baffles many. Not until 1854 did the Church finally officially pronounce this dogma. God, in his mercy and providential care sought to bless Mary with this grace because of his own good will, in view of her Son’s redemptive work, so that what historically comes after is in the order of redemption allowed to come first, blessing her through that by which the whole world would be blessed.
This unusual time-bending is very appropriately situated in Advent, a time when the readings refer us back to the original garden fall as well as forward to the final coming of Christ at the end of time. We are encouraged in a special way by this feast to see the sweeping scope of God’s Providential love, not limited by time but working above and through time for His glory. The readings for today take us to the Garden where the original enmity was sown between the serpent and the woman. Then, in the second reading the language of Paul to the Ephesians underscores the eternal dimension of God’s plan.
“Before the world was made, he chose us, chose us in Christ, to be holy and spotless…determining that we should become his adopted sons through Jesus Christ for his own kind purposes to make us praise the glory of his grace, his free gift to us in the Beloved. And it is in him that we were claimed as God’s own, chosen from the beginning, under the predetermined plan of the one who guides all things as he decides by his own will; chosen to be the people who put their hopes in Christ before he came.”
We, the chosen people, find in Mary the perfect example of that hope.
Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis.Share on Facebook