The Immaculate Conception
of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Ephesians 1:3-6, 11-12
When I was a student at Catholic Theological Union, I decided to do a Scripture research paper about the Immaculate Conception since I was weak in Marian theology. I won’t give you all my findings and history, but I want to proclaim the central idea that ran as a thread throughout the paper: God’s original grace is stronger than original sin. God’s grace in us supercedes and helps us overcome the effects of the fall with which we are all so familiar.
I want to describe grace as "God’s initiative." We heard in the second reading that God "chose us before the world began." Notice, it was not when we were baptized or ordained or surrendered to Jesus. No, it was long before all of that. God had us in mind and chose us before we were born. The emphasis is on his election not our actions or any deeds we have done.
We are celebrating today that God chose a humble handmaiden from all eternity. Her song is ours. The opening prayer asked us to trace her love in our lives. She is the first disciple and shows us how to follow Jesus.
I’ve led pilgrimages to Rome and studied there while on sabbatical. In Rome, I saw many churches as well as works of art. Many churches have mosaics in their apses. For example, there are four major basilicas in Rome: one dedicated to Peter, one to Paul, one to John, and one to Mary. The one dedicated to Mary is the Church of St. Mary Major (where St. Paul of the Cross went when rejected by the Vatican).
When I visited the Basilica of St. Mary Major, the glittering mosaic in the apse of the church struck me. It shows Christ the King and on his right hand sits Mary, his mother. He is putting a crown on her head: the coronation of Mary. Another famous artist, Michelangelo, painted The Last Judgment in the Sistine Chapel. He shows Christ as judge, raising his right hand in stern judgment. Just to his right is the Virgin Mary with her face turned from the damned since not even she can intercede for them now. My point is that many churches include Mary in a predominant place.
This brings to mind the story of James and John, the sons of Thunder, as Jesus named them. They were seeking to sit at Jesus’ right and left when he came into his glory. Jesus replied that it is not his to give but is for those "whom the father has prepared it for beforehand." My personal opinion, like many artists, is that Mary will sit on Jesus’ right for all eternity, and Moses will occupy the place on his left.
Eucharist is all about celebration and surrender. At Mass today, like Mary, we celebrate the wonderful love of God at the table of the altar. We rejoice that original grace is more powerful than original sin. Because God has chosen and handpicked us from all others in the world, like Mary in the Magnificat, "our souls magnify the Lord and our spirits rejoice in God our savior!" With Mary, we offer ourselves to God, as we also do in the Kyrie. We surrender ourselves again, now, united with the self-emptying of Jesus on the cross.
Fr. Cedric Pisegna, C.P. is a missionary preacher, author of 16 books and creator of television and radio programs airing in many cities. You can learn more about his ministry at: http://www.frcedric.org/