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Reflection: Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady

The Magnificat(Luke 1:46-55)

December 8

 

HILIGHT

The feast of the Immaculate Conception that we celebrate on December 8th is based on the traditional belief and Catholic teaching that the Blessed Virgin Mary was born free from original sin. The faith in the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin is supported by all the three pillars of the Catholic Church: Sacred Scripture, Apostolic Tradition, and Church Magisterium.  

 

The Canticle of Mary(Luke 1:46-55)

 

Bible Text

(46) And Mary said: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; (47) my spirit rejoices in God my savior. (48) For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness; behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed. (49) The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. (50) His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him. (51) He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart. (52) He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. (53) The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty. (54) He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy, (55) according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

 

Immaculate Conception

 

The feast of the Immaculate Conception that we celebrate on December 8th is based on the traditional belief and Catholic teaching that the Blessed Virgin Mary was born free from original sin. The faith in the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin is supported by all the three pillars of the Catholic Church: Sacred Scripture, Apostolic Tradition, and Church Magisterium.  

 

The Sacred Scripture:

 

The Blessed Virgin Mary was in existence from the very beginning of God’s design for the salvation of mankind. After the fall of Adam and Eve, God told the tempter Satan: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; They will strike at your head, while you strike at their heel.(Gen. 3:15). The woman here is not Eve but Mary and her offspring is the redeemer Jesus. Both Jesus and Mary will strike the head of Satan, and Satan in turn will hurt both Jesus and Mary, the new Adam and new Eve. That was what happened in the history of salvation.

 

Angel Gabriel greeted Mary saying: “Hail full of Grace.” (Luke 1:28). Mary’s fullness of grace is an indication that unlike other human beings, she is perfectly holy and free from any kind of guilt. That leads us to the conclusion that she was free from sin even before her birth.

 

When Elizabeth greets Mary, she proclaims: “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”(Luke 1:42). Elizabeth here sees two people who are specially blessed: Mary and her to be born son Jesus.

 

In Luke 1:47, Mary sings, “my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” Some, especially protestants argue that Mary was saved from the original sin because she calls God as her savior. It is true that her son Jesus is also her savior. However, God who can have exception in everything, saved her soul from original sin before she was born in the womb of her mother Anne. Jesus who is God was coming to a Holy Ark that should be free from contamination of all kinds of sin. So God, who designed the Holy Ark of the Covenant and made it through Moses with pure gold, also designed the new Ark made of a pure soul. That is why Mary has reason to rejoice in a unique way in God, her son and savior. Hence, Mary is a creation of God made free from original sin like Eve and selected to reverse the disobedience of Eve by her obedience to God.

 

Mary’s holiness and sacredness are mentioned in different parts of the Holy Bible.

 

Tradition:

 

Though officially decreed only in 1854, the faith in the Immaculate Conception was prevalent in the Eastern and the Western Churches. The Early Church Fathers like Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Origen, Hippolytus, Ambrose of Milan, Gregory Nazianzen, Augustine and others taught about the immaculate conception and compared Eve and Mary.

 

God created Eve as physical mother of all humanity. He created Mary in as the spiritual mother of all the faithful. Both were born free from original sin. Eve obeyed Satan and brought death to all. Blessed Virgin Mary obeyed Angel Gabriel and regained life. Eve lost paradise whereas Mary regained the lost paradise. Eve became partner with Adam in sin. Mary became partner with Jesus in bringing salvation. Eve was queen of the universe but lost it; Mary became queen of heaven.

 

Church Magisterium:

 

The Council of Trent taught that all people are born in original sin. However, the council did not include Blessed Virgin Mary as born infected of original sin.

 

Pope Pius XI defined in his encyclical “Ineffabilis Deus” on December 8, 1854 that “the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin”.

(http://www.papalencyclicals.net/pius09/p9ineff.htm).

 

This papal proclamation of the Immaculate Conception was a confirmation of the teachings of the Church fathers and the traditional belief. However, in less than four years on March 24/25, 1858 the Blessed Virgin Mary confirmed this doctrine by revealing herself in Lourdes to St. Bernadette: “I am the Immaculate Conception.”

 

Interpretation

 

            The Canticle of Mary (Lk. 1: 46-55)

 

In St. Luke’s Gospel there are the three Canticles: that of Mary (1:46-55), Zechariah (1:68-79), and Simeon (2:29-32). Mary’s canticle has also resemblance to the psalms and canticle of Hanna, the mother of Samuel (1 Chronicles 2:1-10).

 

(46) And Mary said: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord;

 

The greatness of the Lord is manifest in the universe where we live. Man even after centuries of research and studies have not yet explored the boundaries of the universe or details of the secrets of this world. However, there are many who doesn’t care about God. Many Christians have abandoned their faith under the misconception that they are the masters of their lives with the help of modern science and conveniences. Like the contemporaries of Noah before the deluge, they ignore God and decline to proclaim the greatness of the Lord. Mary, when raised to a higher call continued proclaiming the greatness of the Lord. Let us join Mary in praising God.

 

(47) my spirit rejoices in God my savior.

 

Mary is not a goddess. She knows that she is human and saved by God. Church teaches that she was born free from original sin that was the outcome from the fall of our first parents. Though we are saved through baptism after our birth, Mary was saved before she was conceived in the womb of her mother Anne. She needed to be clean to contain the most holy God in her womb. So Mary call her son as God and Savior. Her spirit is filled with joy even in the midst of human sufferings. That is what we need to seek: joy in God our Savior in the midst of hardships of our life. Mary finds this joy in offering her service to her cousin Elizabeth in her difficult times.

 

(48a) For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness;

 

Mary considers herself as the handmaid of the Lord. The same was her response to Angel Gabriel when the angel clarified her doubt on keeping up her virginity and motherhood together. Mary had said to the angel: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1: 38). Mary acknowledges that it was her humility that enabled her for this call. We, Like Mary need to be humble so that God can work great things through us. That is what we see also in the Apostles and early Fathers of the Church. They offered themselves with humility at the service of the Lord.

 

 

(48b) behold, from now on will all ages call me blessed.

 

When Mary surrendered to God and offered her service to Elizabeth, she realized that she will be considered blessed because she is blessed by God. This is also applicable to the saints of the Catholic Church. They also did the same like Mary did and are now known as blessed. We are all called to be blessed and let us try to imitate Mary. When someone told Jesus that his mother and brothers are standing outside wanting to speak to him, he said: ‘Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?’ And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.’ (Matthew 12:48-50). Mary did the will of the Father. Let us also do the will of the Father.

 

(49) The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name.

 

Mary glorifies the name of God because He who is Mighty had done great things for her. At a later stage, Jesus taught us to start the Lord’s Prayer by saying, “Our Father in heaven,hallowed be your name.” (Matthew 6:9). When we say “Holy be Your Name”, we give glory to God. The first way to identify or to understand a person is knowing that person’s name. Israelites did not call God by name. In many cultures, people don’t call those in authority or older than them by name as a respect for them. According to the 10 commandments of God given through Moses, the name of God is sacred and cannot be used in vain. When we recite the Lord’s prayer, we also glorify the sacred name or existence of God. What we are, is by the grace of God. Along with Mary, let us also glorify the name of God because he also does great things for us.

 

(50) His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him.

 

Fear of God in the Bible is to be taken in a positive sense. It means reverential obedience to God’s commandments. Fear becomes negative when one disobeys God. God withdraws support when we break our relationship with Him. That results in the victory of enemies over God’s chosen people. That has been the experience of the Israelites. They were subject to slavery when they disobeyed God and declined the message of the prophets.

 

Those who love God will respect God and his directives given through his representatives. Mary’s fear of God was not a fear of punishment but love and respect towards Him from her childhood. Those who are like Mary will benefit the mercy of God. Israel always experienced the mercy of God whenever they feared God. Those who do not fear God will have to face the consequence of their action at the final judgement.

 

(51) He has shown might with his arm, dispersed the arrogant of mind and heart.

 

The liberation of Israelites over the Egyptians under Moses was only by the hands of God. The ten plagues God performed against Egyptians and the crossing of the Red Sea are clear indications of how God showed the might of His arm. Later, the great victory of Israelites at Jericho under the leadership of Joshua was also an exhibition of God’s power. When the kings of Israel had arrogant mind and heart, they faced failures. It is evident in the history of many of the kings of United Israel, and later divided Israel and Judea. Mary is remembering the Salvation History and acknowledges God’s providence in the past.

 

(52) He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly.

 

We see this in the Old Testament times and in the New Testament times. The lowly apostles and other disciples of Jesus came up high in the history whereas those in authority were destroyed especially in 70 A.D. at the fall of Jerusalem.

 

(53) The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away empty.

 

When Israelites were wandering for 40 years in the desert, God fed them by sending manna from heaven. Jesus gives us the new manna, Holy Eucharist to nourish our souls. The worldly rich, those who trust is their riches and reluctant to share them with their fellow human being, go spiritually empty especially at the final judgement.

 

(54) He has helped Israel his servant, remembering his mercy,

 

Israel is presented as servant, first born, or spouse of God. Those comparisons help to understand how Israel is supposed to be faithful and loyal to God in human terms. God had made covenant with people through Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus. Even when humans failed to keep up the covenant, God kept his faithfulness to the covenant and showed mercy to his people when they turned towards him seeking his forgiveness. God even sent prophets in time to speak on behalf of him and help them turn back to God.  

 

(55) according to his promise to our fathers, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.

 

Besides the favors she received in her life, Mary is glorifying God for all He has done throughout the salvation history. She is now turning to be the coworker in the salvific sacrifice of her son Jesus. She reflects God’s promise to Abraham, the father of all the faithful and continued and renewed through his descendants. While Abraham is the father of faith and promise of salvation, Mary is the mother of all the faithful and the mother of salvation.

 

History

History of St. Thomas SyroMalabar Catholic Diocese of Chicago, established by His Holiness Pope John Paul II on March 13, 2001.

 

Liturgical Calendar

SyroMalabar Church Liturgical Seasons and Mass Readings in English and Malayalam

 

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