To read the texts click on the texts: Gen 3:9-15,20; Eph 1:3-6,11-12;Lk 1:26-38
feast of the Immaculate Conception, celebrated on December 8, was established
as a universal feast in 1476 by Pope Sixtus IV. He did not define the doctrine
as a dogma, thus leaving Roman Catholics free to believe in it or not without
being accused of heresy; this freedom was reiterated by the Council of Trent.
The existence of the feast was a strong indication of the Church's belief in
the Immaculate Conception, even before its 19th century definition as a dogma.
Immaculate Conception was solemnly defined as a dogma by Pope Pius IX in his
constitution Ineffabilis Deus on December 8, 1854. The Catholic Church believes
that the dogma is supported by Scripture (e.g., Mary's being greeted by the
Angel Gabriel as "full of grace") as well as either directly or
indirectly by the writings of Church Fathers such as Irenaeus of Lyons and
Ambrose of Milan. Catholic theology maintains that since Jesus became incarnate
of the Virgin Mary, it was fitting that she be completely free of sin for
expressing her fiat. In 1904 Pope Saint Pius X also addressed the issue in his
Marian encyclical Ad Diem Illum on the Immaculate Conception.
the Constitution Ineffabilis Deus of 8 December, 1854, Pius IX pronounced and
defined that the Blessed Virgin Mary "in the first instance of her
conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the
merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved exempt from
all stain of original sin."
Gospel text chosen for the feast of today relates a scene immediately after the
announcement of the birth of John the Baptist and contains the announcement of
the birth of Jesus. There are many similarities in the annunciations to Mary
and to Zechariah. The angel Gabriel is the one who makes both announcements.
Both Zechariah and Mary are called by name and exhorted not to be afraid. Both
ask a question of the angel, and it is the angel who tells them what name each
child is to be given. It is the angel
who predicts what each child will turn out to be. However, even as there are
similarities, there are differences in the narratives. While the announcement
to Zechariah comes in the Temple and as a result of his fervent prayer, the
announcement to Mary comes (apparently) when she is in her home and it is unanticipated.
While Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth are advanced in age, Mary has not yet
stayed with her husband, and so is a virgin. The birth of John to parents who
are past the age of child bearing is a miracle, but even greater is the miracle
of the birth of Jesus, who would be born through the Holy Spirit, and to a
virgin. Even as John the Baptist goes with the spirit and power of Elijah,
Jesus will be called “Son of God”. Luke clearly wants to show John as great,
but only the forerunner of the Messiah, Jesus, who is greater.
response to the announcement of the angel, Mary, like Zechariah, asks a
question. While both questions seem similar, it is clear that Zechariah’s
question expressed doubt and asked for a sign, as is evident in the angel’s
words before Zechariah is struck dumb. Mary’s question, on the other hand, is a
question asked in faith. Mary did not question the truth of the revelation like
evidence that what the angel has announced will indeed take place is the pregnancy
of Elizabeth, for nothing is impossible for God. Mary responds, not merely with
a Yes, but by asking that the Lord work in her to accomplish all that he wants.
annunciation would not have been complete without Mary’s trusting, obedient
many assume that those whom God favours will enjoy the things we equate with a
good life: social standing, wealth, and good health. Yet Mary, God’s favoured
one, was blessed with having a child out of wedlock who would later be executed
as a criminal. Acceptability, prosperity, and comfort have never been the
essence of God’s blessing. The story is so familiar that we let its familiarity
mask its scandal. Mary had been chosen, “favoured,” to have an important part
in God’s plan to bring salvation to God’s people, but it is unthinkable that
God would have forced Mary to have the child against her will. Mary is an
important example, therefore, of one who is obedient to God even at great risk
we think of or reflect on Mary, the one word that comes to mind to describe her
whole life is the word, AMEN, a word which may be translated, “so be it”, “your
will be done”, “do whatever you want to do in my life”. This was, indeed,
Mary’s constant response to every situation in her life, especially when she
could not understand why things were happening the way they were. The text of
today is, then, a call and challenge to each one of us, that we, too, like
Mary, might be able to say YES to all that God wants to do in our lives. It is
a challenge to be open and receptive to the Spirit of God, so that we, too,
might be able to give birth to the Saviour in our hearts.