'Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!'

Guido Reni, "The Immaculate Conception (detail)," 1627, Metropolitan Museum of Art/Open Access 

Homily for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception – December 8, 2022

Readings:
Gn 3:9–15, 20
Ps 98:1, 2–3ab, 3cd–4
Eph 1:3–6, 11–12
Lk 1:26–38

By Fr. Kenneth M. Dos Santos, MIC

“Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!”

On this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, we hear the exalted greeting of the Archangel Gabriel to the Blessed Virgin Mary, she who is conceived free from the stain of any and all sin is called “full of grace.” And this truth proclaimed by the Archangel emphasizes that God gave Mary an unparalleled grace which prepared her for this moment, that she freely and perfectly conform her will to what God wills for her.

A Syrian Father of the Church, Jacob of Serug, speaks of the Blessed Virgin’s purity within his homilies on the Nativity: “The very fact that God has elected her proves that none was ever holier than Mary; if any stain had disfigured her soul, if any other virgin had been purer and holier, God would have selected her and rejected Mary.”1

Yes to God
It is this pure soul who offered her fiat, her yes to God, to conceive and bear the Word, the Son of the Eternal Father, Jesus Christ. And, it is through this most important yes, that the Second Person of the Trinity, by means of the power of the Holy Spirit, took on flesh in her womb.

Therefore, is it not fitting that the Divine Word, Jesus Christ, take on flesh within the womb of a woman untainted by the stain of any sin? That the Father send His Son, through an act of God, an act accomplished by the very One Who is to be conceived and take on flesh in her womb? Not only does Christ have the power to offer His Life in Sacrifice and take it up again, but also the power to preserve the Blessed Virgin from the stain of all sin — at conception, in advance of His Sacrifice within the order of time. His Sacrifice was undertaken that this unique and singular preservation be accomplished, as well as the remission of the sins of mankind.

Thus, we should not be astonished that the Church has selected this Gospel account to be proclaimed during this Solemn Liturgy, proclaimed within the season of Advent, because we anticipate with great expectation the celebration of the Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Also, most especially, this Gospel is fitting because we are aware that the Birth of Christ marked a particular beginning in time, the point at which the Eternal Son physically entered time, that He complete His salvific mission, offering His life in sacrifice for our sins, that we might have life and have it abundantly.

But, when the Blessed Virgin hears the proclamation of the Archangel, we know that the Gospel passage states: “She was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.”2 Surely, the Blessed Virgin must have known that she was different, that, due to the fact that she was preserved at conception from the stain of any and all sin she must have stood out to others. So, why would Our Lady be unsettled at hearing the Archangel pronounce these words? Why would she, who possessed such faith in God, be concerned?

Never doubted
Her will was so united with God’s will as a result of being full of grace, that Mary would not have doubted the will of God for her. And although, she, like us, had the ability to reject the will of God, it would seem almost impossible that she not always choose the greatest good.

It seems, then, that the Blessed Mother, in the depths of her humility, could have simply been astounded to hear these words addressed to her, and been uncomfortable with them due to her profound sense of humility. The Blessed Virgin did not search for honors or to be exalted, rather, she sought to live out a holy life with St. Joseph to whom she was betrothed, praising God daily for His many blessings.

When Mary listened to the Archangel Gabriel speak the will of God for her, that she, a virgin, would conceive and bear a Son, whom she will name Jesus and Who will be called Son of the Most High, she must have known within her heart that this is what God was asking of her, that this is what she was created for.

This being true, what can one say about the Blessed Virgin’s question, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?”3 This short phrase is understood more fully only when we consider the Greek text of this passage, the question of Our Lady is not phrased: How can this be [as it has been translated into English]. Rather, it is phrased: How shall this be, in other words, in what manner shall this take place.

In response to this question, St. Ambrose wrote: “She does not appear to have doubted the event but asked how it would take place. Clearly, if she asked how it would happen, she must have believed in its fulfillment. Thus, she merited to hear the words, ‘Blessed are you, because you have believed’” (Lk. 1:45).4 The Archangel immediately answers Mary’s question: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” And, a few verses later, we hear of Mary’s consent: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.”5 This is the manner in which the mother of Jesus will conceive and bear the Word, and from the moment of His conception she will not cease being there for Him.

Mary was there
Like light which passes through a clear pane of glass, the Blessed Virgin Mary gave birth to Jesus, she took care of Him, raised Him, and prayed for Him. She was there when He made His way to Calvary suffering with His every step. And, it was Jesus, her Beloved Son, who gave her to us from the Altar of the Cross that she might watch over us, and guide us, as she guided her Son. These are the events that Our Lady pondered in her heart, the mysteries that we contemplate when we pray the rosary. And, just as pondering these events brought Our Lady ever closer to her Son, so also with us.

Thus, let all who live in the hope of eternal life contemplate and imitate the life of the Immaculate Conception, of whom St. John Eudes writes so eloquently:

“The most holy Heart of Mary is indeed an excellent image of divine purity and holiness. Not only was her most pure and holy Heart always far removed from every kind of sin, but it was entirely free from attachment to created things, and intimately united to God by its pure and holy love for Him together with the eminent practice of all the other virtues which Mary’s Heart possessed in so high a degree. The Queen of Virtues is called by St. John Damascene ‘the abode and the sanctuary of all virtues’ (cf. Virtutum omnium domicilium. De fide orthodoxa, lib. 4 Cap. 15).

“. . . The most holy Heart of the Queen of all Saints remained forever immaculate, preserved in eminent purity and holiness, and entirely filled with the purity and sanctity of God Himself. Her being was transformed and submerged in divine purity and holiness, to the surpassing extent that her Heart merited to obtain the world’s salvation. As St. Anselm expresses it: ‘The pure sanctity and holy purity of Mary’s devout Heart, surpassing by far the purity and sanctity of all other creatures, merited for her the sublime dignity of becoming the Restorer of the world wrapped in perdition’ (cf. Pura enim sanctitas et sanctissima puritas piissimi Pectoris ejus, omnem omnis creaturae puritatem sive sanctitatem transcendens, incomparabili sublimitate hoc promeruit, ut Reparatrix perditi orbis benignissimi fieret. De excell. B. Virg. Cap. 9).

“If you would find a place in the sanctuary of Mary’s admirable Heart, which so perfectly mirrors the purity and sanctity of the Most High, you must purify your heart and realize the meaning of the words: ‘This is the will of God, your sanctification’ (1 Th. 4:3). These words are not meant just for souls specially consecrated and set apart. You must apply them to yourself, you who bear the name and imprint of Christ and membership in His mystical Body. The sanctification of your spirit, heart and body is more than a commandment; it is a privilege, a participation, granted to you through the purity and sanctity of the heart of Mary, Mother of the Redeemer and your own Mother.”6

Father Kenneth M. Dos Santos, MIC, is Provincial Secretary for the Marian Fathers. This homily was first published in Homiletic & Pastoral Review.

Notes:
1. Jacob of Serug. Homilies on the Nativity.
2. Catholic Biblical Association of America, 1986, Saint Joseph edition of the New American Bible, Lk. 1:29. (Hereafter cited as NAB).
3.NAB, Lk.1:34. 
4. Luigi Gambero, Mary and the Fathers of the Church: The Blessed Virgin Mary in Patristic Thought (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1999)., 196, as quoting Expositio in Lucam 2, 17; PL 15, 1640. 
5. NAB, Lk 1:35–38. 
6. St. John Eudes, Heart of Mary, Mirror of God’s Strength and Purity.

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