The solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a powerful feast that confronts us with the reality that, even as we are in the heart of Advent, we are in a spiritual battle. In the words of the antiphon for the Canticle of Zechariah, “The Lord said to the serpent: I will make you enemies, you and the woman, your offspring and her offspring; she will crush your head, alleluia.” We have an enemy who has invested interest in keeping us from remaining watchful and diligent as we seek to receive Christ anew at Christmas. Those who are offspring of the Blessed Virgin Mary, who follow after her in faith and humility, are hateful to the ancient serpent. This means that we are in need of the plenitude of grace with which God endowed Mary from the moment of her conception in order to ward off the devil in all his pride and malice.
But Praise God that we are given this feast as a reminder that Mary, the fairest honor of our race, has “crushed the serpent’s head with her foot” and thus has “filled the whole world with joy” (Responsories, Daytime Prayer). In Mary we have been chosen “in Christ before the world began, to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Reading, Midmorning Prayer). Therefore, today we remember that Christ gave himself up not only for Mary, but for the Church, in order “to make her holy, to present to himself a glorious church, holy and immaculate, without stain or wrinkle or anything of that sort” (Reading, Midafternoon Prayer).
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that in Mary “we contemplate what the Church already is in her mystery on her own ‘pilgrimage of faith,’ and what she will be in the homeland at the end of her journey… [Mary] is the image and beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected in the world to come” (CCC, 972). Insofar as Mary is Mother of the Church and is an image or type of the Church, today’s feast is a feast of the Church. In Mary’s Immaculate Conception, we contemplate she who “shared beforehand in the salvation Christ would bring by his death” (Concluding Prayer).
Altogether, this feast should bolster our faith and confidence in God because, in Mary we see what Christ has done for us. The grace that preserved Mary from Original Sin from the moment of her conception in the womb of her mother Ann is the same grace that cleansed us of Original Sin when we were born again from the womb of Holy Mother Church in baptism. In and through the Sacred Liturgy, we have been given everything needed for salvation, indeed everything needed to remain pure and holy and immaculate like Mary.
During this Advent, let us continually beg God for the grace to become like Mary, an immaculate vessel for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. In this way, we too will carry God within us and, crushing the head of the serpent, will “live always in God’s presence without sin” (Concluding Prayer).