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Mary Immaculate | Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J. | A Homily for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception | From the November 2007 issue of
Homiletic & Pastoral Review
Immaculate Conception—December 8 | Readings: Gen. 3:9-15, 20 | Eph. 1:3-6, 11-12 | Luke 1:26-38
Title: The Immaculate Conception
Purpose: (1) to show Mary's unique role in salvation
history (2) as understood from her titles and honors from God.
We live in a world abounding in sin and sinners. But it is a
world that denies the existence of sin. Why is that? Because sin is an offense
against God, and many do not believe in God. Therefore, if there is no God,
there cannot be any sin. But we are surrounded by sin and read about it and see
it in the news media every day—murder, adultery, abortion, sodomy, theft,
lies and so forth. Because of original sin and concupiscence, in various ways
we all offend God, some mortally and some venially. Today, however, we
celebrate the feast of one of us, one woman, who never committed a
sin—Mary of Nazareth, the Immaculate Mother of God.
What is the meaning of the term, "Immaculate Conception"? It
does not mean the conception of Jesus. It refers to the conception of Mary in
the normal way through the marital embrace of her parents, St. Anne and St.
Joachim. Because of the first sin of Adam and Eve, all human beings are
conceived without sanctifying grace, the life of the soul. Since the coming of
Christ, we can attain grace through baptism, but we are conceived and born
without God's grace. The Church teaches that God endowed Mary's soul with grace
from the first moment of her creation, so she was never under the power of
"Immaculate" means without stain. Since sin is a "stain" on
the soul, which should be pure in the sight of God, the Church believes that
Mary was conceived without the "stain" of original sin, which means the lack of
God's grace. One proof of this is taken from the greeting of the angel Gabriel
to Mary, "Hail, Mary, full of grace..." (Luke 1:28). Because she was full of
grace, Mary was most pleasing to God in all she was and did.
The prayers of today's Mass stress that Mary was "preserved"
from sin. Jesus died on the Cross, rose from the dead and accomplished our
redemption. He is the fountain of supernatural life for us. We partake of that
through faith, baptism and the sacraments. So the Church teaches that Mary was
preserved from original sin by the foreseen merits of Jesus,
her son and her redeemer. Mary is, therefore, the first redeemed, the first
Christian; she is perfectly redeemed in every way—in soul and body and
Mary had a special mission in the redemption of mankind. So
God created her as a "fitting dwelling place" for his son Jesus, who crushed
the head of Satan (Gen. 3:15); Satan never had any power over him. He was to be
born of a woman who was totally free from sin, never under the power of the
devil. Just as God prepared a sinless paradise for Adam and Eve, so Mary is a
"second" sinless paradise where the Son of God will dwell nine months before
his birth in Bethlehem.
The Fathers compare Mary with Eve. In their view, which is
based on divine revelation in the Bible, Eve is the mother of all the
living—she gave us both life and death. Mary is the true mother of all
the living—those who live spiritually forever through her son. That is
why she is also called "Mother of the Church."
We were all conceived by our parents with original sin. Only
Mary was immaculately conceived. In a sense, this phrase sums up the total
reality of Mary and implies our whole Catholic faith in Jesus—Son of God
When little Bernadette asked the beautiful lady at Lourdes
her name, she said, "I am the Immaculate Conception." The poet got it right
when he summed up the reality of Mary in five words: "Our tainted nature's
Because she gave birth to the Savior, Mary is our mother in
the order of grace. In every way she cooperated with God in the redemption: "Behold
the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to thy word" (Luke
1:38). Thus she was totally open to God, available, humble and obedient.
Children naturally tend to imitate their parents. We see in
Mary all the virtues of a perfect Christian. We should strive to imitate her,
since she is our mother. We should strive to imitate her faith, her hope and
her love—her love for Jesus and her willing cooperation in his work of
redemption, even to offering him to the Father on Calvary.
We should strive to imitate her sinlessness by avoiding all
mortal sin and all deliberate venial sins. We should ask her to obtain for us
the grace to avoid all deliberate sins—so we can be a "fitting dwelling
place" for divine grace.
In the New Testament Mary's last recorded words at Cana are,
"Do whatever he tells you" (John 2:5). If we love God, we should try to do
that. When we receive God's Son and Mary's son in Holy Communion today, let us
say to him: "Be it done to me as you desire."
"O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have
recourse to thee."
Suggested reading: Catechism of the Catholic
Church, 411, 490-493.
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Kenneth Baker, S.J., is author of the best selling Fundamentals
of Catholicism (three volumes) and of the popular introduction to
the Scripture, Inside
He has been editor of Homiletic
& Pastoral Review for over thirty years.
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