Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
(December 9th this year because the 8th fell on the Second Sunday of Advent)
Today, in. Mercy, we celebrate one of the many feasts honoring Mary, Mother of Jesus.
Today’s feast can be confusing to people. It is sometimes mixed up with the Virgin Birth – the moment when Jesus was born. What we celebrate today, however, is the moment Mary was conceived by her parents, Anna and Joachim.
From a young age, I have had a tender devotion to Mary under the title of the Immaculate Conception. Some of my local readers will be familiar with the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in the Germantown section of Philadelphia. Established in 1915, the Shrine promotes this devotion through its well-known novena and other means.
My Mom and Dad said that novena every day. Most Monday evenings, Mom and I would walk to our parish church where the community gathered to pray the novena together, celebrate Benediction, and sing the rousing hymn to Mary entitled, “O Mary, Conceived Without Sin”. ( I know some of my old friends are humming the tune right now🤗) When I received my First Communion, I was given my first Miraculous Medal which I treasured.
( A little reminiscence about that coming later today. Hope you enjoy it.)
These remembered devotions were the foundation on which the legacy of faith was planted in our young hearts. But as with any good foundation, a rich garden of understanding has grown from that early soil. Over the intervening years, many graced theologians have helped me grow in understanding of, and relationship with Mary.
One powerful impetus for this growth has come from Elizabeth Johnson, CSJ, a Sister of St. Joseph and Professor Emerita at Fordham University. Her magnificent work Truly Our Sister opens with this sentence:
“ This book proposes that one fruitful approach to the theology of Mary, historically the mother of Jesus, called in faith the Theotokos or God-bearer, is to envision her as a concrete woman of our history who walked with the Spirit.”
Reading Johnson and others has let me see Mary more fully, allowing Mary to move from an isolated perfectionism to a womanly humanity transformed by the Holy Spirit. Johnson says:
“ I am proposing that one fruitful way to work out a liberating feminist theology of Mary is to locate her in the communion of saints and there to remember her, dangerously and consolingly, as a woman with her own particular history among her contemporaries and before God. At first glance placing Mary in the company of the saints may seem strange to those accustomed to more traditional Catholic practice, even though the title ‘Saint Mary’ adorns many churches, schools, and other institutions. It may even seem a diminishment of the honor that is her due as the Theotokos, or bearer of God. But at root it grants her the greatest honor the Christian tradition acknowledges for a human being, namely, the core dignity of being created in the divine image and likeness and gifted, in community with others, with a graced relationship to the living God.”
Today, as we pray with our many images, devotions and understandings of Mary, may we open our hearts to be inspired by her singular witness to God’s desire to be among us.
Music: The Magnificat – Mary’s radical prayer for justice and mercy, sung here in Latin by the Daughters of Mary (English below)
My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior.
For he has regarded the lowliness of his handmaiden.
For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
And his mercy is on them that fear him throughout all generations.
He has shown strength with his arm.
He has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their seat s
and has exalted the humble and meek.
He has filled the hungry with good things.
And the rich he has sent empty away.
Remembering his mercy, he has helped his servant Israel
as he promised to our forefathers Abraham, and his posterity forever.