Things to Come
“Before ever the earth was, when there no
depths, I was conceived.” These words are taken from today’s Epistle
for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin
Mary. Our Lady herself seems to be speaking to us, applying to
herself the words of the eternal Wisdom. She explains to us how her
role in the story of our redemption has existed from all eternity,
even before the sin of Adam, even before the creation of the world.
When Our Lady was conceived in the womb of her mother, St. Anne,
this was not the moment when Almighty God decreed to exempt her from
all sin. He had decreed this exemption long, long ago in the far
reaches of eternity. “I was set up from everlasting, from the
beginning, or ever the earth was. When there were no depths, I was
conceived.” Conceived already in the mind of God. Conceived by a
Creator who wished to fill this, his supreme Creation, with all his
graces, to give her the extraordinary privilege of the Immaculate
Conception, exempting her from all sin: “Tota pulchra es, Maria, et
macula originalis non est in te—Thou art all fair, O Mary, and there
is no stain of original sin in thee.”
During the whole course of history preceding Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception, God was preparing for this great event which would play such an important part in our Redemption. We see it during the entire history of the Old Testament—starting immediately after the sin of Adam and Eve, when God said to our first parents, "I will place an enmity between thee and the woman…..She shall crush thy head." Later, she was prefigured by the Ark of Noah, which alone escaped the general deluge uninjured; by the closed garden mentioned in the Canticle of Canticles, the enclosure of which nothing could violate; by the virtuous Esther, who by a solitary exception was not included in the decree of death issued against the entire Jewish race to which she belonged. Think of the story of Judith, another Image of Our Lady: she delivered the people of Israel from the hands of the wicked King Holofernes. Judith cut off the king’s head, an act which was a precursor to the Immaculate Conception in which the Blessed Virgin crushed the head of Satan and saved the people of God.
During the Old Testament, and the whole course of history God wanted to prepare us for the coming of this most Holy Virgin. She was continually present in God’s plan; and when the time was fulfilled when the Redemption should come to pass, she was conceived by her mother St. Anne, without any stain of original sin. She was filled with the Holy Ghost, she was “full of grace” as the Angel Gabriel announced. When something is full, there is no room for anything else. Our Lady was full of grace. There was no room for anything in her soul and body, in her whole being, other than grace. No room for sin. No room for the devil. It is unthinkable that the devil could be present in the soul of the most Holy Virgin at the same time as the Holy Ghost, or in her body at the same time as the Son of God. How could we ever dare think that any stain of sin could be present in one who was “full of grace”?
So full of grace was she that the Blessed Virgin Mary was not permitted to taste of the corruption of death. At the moment God finally called her at the end of her life, she was taken up to heaven, body and soul. Like the rest of God’s elect, her soul was to find its final rest in heaven. But unlike the rest of God’s elect, her body too was assumed into heaven, never to be consumed by mortal decay, never to return into dust like the rest of us. For it was a body that was never stained by sin, that was full of grace.
What lesson, then, must we draw from this history of the Blessed Virgin Mary and her Immaculate Conception? Why did God grant to this particular young woman this extraordinary privilege? If the Blessed Virgin Mary was Immaculate in her Conception it is because she was to be the Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It was because she was to be the Mother of God, she was to carry within herself, physically, Our Blessed Lord, the Son of God. The living body of God was to be present in her womb, her blood was to flow through his veins, the very soul and divinity of the Creator were to dwell within her. But do we too not receive this same Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Lord Jesus Christ every time we partake of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar? Do we not receive the same Body, which was conceived by the Blessed Virgin Mary? Like our Lady, we receive Him within us, in our bodies….in our souls. If it was decreed that the Blessed Virgin Mary was to be immaculate in her conception, in order that she might receive the Body of Our Lord Jesus Christ, His soul, His divinity, must we not also be immaculate, pure, without sin, full of grace? Of course we can never presume to be as full of grace as Our Lady was. But we must strive to make sure that our souls are as immaculate as they can possibly be, by our prayers, by our repentance for our sins, by our dispositions, by our efforts, by the grace of God. So that we might earn this privilege of receiving Our Lord in Holy Communion. We must live without sin, we must struggle against anything that might tarnish our souls, so that Our Lord might say to our own soul: "Tota pulchra es, et macula non est in te -Thou art all fair, and there is no stain in thee." Let there be no stain in our souls so that we may worthily receive Our Lord Jesus Christ.
May Our Blessed Mother help us in this our firm resolve. The Feast of the Immaculate Conception always falls during Advent. Advent is the season of preparation. God prepared Mary by giving her the unique privilege of being conceived without Original Sin. And just as Our Lady was prepared by God for the coming of the Son of God in her womb, so let us prepare our souls for his coming. Not just at Christmas, but today, and every day that we receive him in Holy Communion. Advent is the season of Our Lady’s Expectation, and with her we should all look forward to Christ’s coming. Prepare your heart. Be as full of grace as you can be, be as immaculate as God gives you the grace to be. Receive Our Lord into your hearts, and live always close to him as Our Lady did, so that when Christmas comes, we might ALL bring forth Our Blessed Lord in our thoughts, our words, and our deeds, that all men might see, by our example, their Redemption.