Monday, December 9, 2013

Completely, perfectly, enduringly endowed with grace . . .

Here is a homily by Fr Lawrence Lew OP for today's solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of our Lady, taken from HIS WEBSITE.

“It is a sweet and pious belief that the infusion of Mary’s soul was effected without original sin; so that in the very infusion of her soul she was also purified from original sin and adorned with God’s gifts, receiving a pure soul infused by God; thus from the first moment she began to live she was free from all sin”. 

Who do you suppose said this? It was Martin Luther in a sermon for this feast day in 1527, a decade after he’d nailed his Ninety Five Theses to the door of Wittenberg’s church and six years after his break from Rome. And he very nicely summarizes what the Church celebrates today. 

This tells us, at the very least, that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was not something invented by the Pope in the 19th century and foisted onto Catholics, as some people might think. Rather, what Pope Blessed Pius IX did in 1854 was to solemnly confirm as a revealed truth what had been, from very early on, a “sweet and pious belief” held by many Christians. For although belief in Our Lady’s sinlessness was unanimous, an understanding of how Mary could have been uniquely preserved from the stain of original sin and yet remain a creature in need of redemption by Christ, still had to be worked out. It would take some time for a solution to develop and theologically mature over the centuries, and then a few more centuries for the theological position to settle and be accepted and finally be declared as infallible truth by the Church. 

A Scots Franciscan, Blessed Dun Scotus, came up with an explanation in the 13th-century that has prevailed. He argued that prevention is greater than cure and requires more skill, and so, Our Lady, in being prevented from contracting original sin, requires the Redeemer’s ‘skills’ even more. Pope Pius IX cites Scotus in his 1854 declaration and his teaching is echoed in today’s Collect. For Scotus also said that God “foresaw” the “merits of the Passion of Christ” which redeems all from original and actual sin, and God “applied them to the Virgin and preserved her from all actual sin, and also from all original sin”. 

But this understanding of Our Lady’s sinlessness and her immaculate conception is the theological fruit of centuries of pondering over the seed of truth revealed in Scripture. In the angelic greeting of today’s Gospel, Gabriel calls Our Lady kecharitomene. But this Greek form does not just denote that Our Lady is “full of grace”, or “highly favoured” as it is often translated.  Rather, it is a term that is only used once in the entire Bible; Our Lady’s immaculate conception is unique, a “singular grace and privilege”, as Pope Pius IX said. And what kecharitomene denotes is that Mary is “completely, perfectly, enduringly endowed with grace” in a way that completely transforms her and prepares her from the very beginning for her unique role in the history of salvation.

So, in this Advent season when we prepare to celebrate the coming of Christ as our Redeemer, we rejoice today in what God has done “for us Men and for our salvation” in preparing Our Lady to be a “worthy Mother for [his] Son”. As she is also our Mother, may we be her worthy children by daily rejecting the lure of sin and trampling the Serpent underfoot. Through our Immaculate Mother’s intercession, may we also have the grace to  say to God: “Yes. Let it be to me according to your Word”.


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