December 08, 2009

The immaculate creations and the immaculate conceptions

[I originally posted this in 2006.]

The Church acknowledges that the Blessed Virgin Mary is "The Immaculate Conception." Today, December 8, is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

The first man and the first woman were created immaculate-- that is, unspotted by sin.

The Church testifies that God created Mary's soul immaculate-- that is, Mary was immaculate from the moment her mother conceived her.

Although we use the title "Immaculate Conception" for the person of Mary, we do not normally use the title to refer to Jesus, even though he also was immaculate from the moment Mary conceived him.

Non-catholic Christians readily agree that Jesus was immaculate. However, it seems to them that calling Mary herself the Immaculate Conception has no foundation in Scripture.

Nonetheless, the reality affirmed by the Marian title "Immaculate Conception" is grounded in Scriptural realities and affirmations.

The Book of Genesis begins with the words, "In the beginning". In that book, the first woman has no name until after sin. She, like the first man, was created Immaculate.

The Gospel of John also begins with the words, "In the beginning"-- thus telling us that a new "Genesis" has come. In the Gospel of John, the personal name of the mother of Jesus never appears. Jesus simply calls her "Woman" pure and simple. The Gospel refers to her as "the mother of Jesus," never as "Mary." No sin, no name.

The first time Jesus calls her "Woman" is "in the beginning" of his public ministry, his first miracle. It happens at a wedding. The mother of Jesus tells those who would serve to do whatever her Son tells them. This reverses what happenen in Eden: the first woman tells the first man, the first servant of God, to do what the Serpent says, rather than what God says.

The other time that Jesus calls his mother "Woman" is at the cross. It is the sixth day of the week, the same day that the first man was created. In Genesis, the first woman meets and obeys the deceiver, the serpent, at the Tree. Her obedience to the serpent brings her death. In the Gospel of John, the Woman meets and obeys the Son of God at his "tree", the Cross. Her obedience to him brings new life-- a renewal of motherhood and of childhood: "Woman, there is your son."

Just as the first man in the first garden was cast into a deep sleep and his side was opened for the birth of the first woman, so the new Man, Christ, falls asleep in death next to a garden, and his side is open, and out comes a flow of blood and water-- a sign of birth. In the Book of Genesis, after the Lord makes the first man, the Lord then makes a garden and puts the living man in the garden. In the Gospel of John, the dead body of Jesus is taken to the garden that is right there by the cross and is laid in a tomb in that garden.

In short (and cutting this short) the Gospel of John presents itself as the New Genesis, Mary as the new and sinless Woman, and Jesus as the New Man. The human race no longer descends from Adam and Eve. Instead, it receives new birth from Jesus by Marian-style obedience-- as the Gospel puts it, Jesus looks at his disciple and tells the disciple to be "born" from being like Mary: "There is your mother." "From that hour, the disciple took her to his own home." Into his life. Into his own way of life. He took into his life that Woman and her holy obedience, that Woman whose only two utterances in the Gospel of John are:
(1) an intercession voiced to her Son at Cana in recognition of the poverty and misery of man and woman "In the Beginning" of their marriage, "They have no wine";

(2) an exhortation voiced to the servants of her Son at Cana so that the wedding of man and woman can have a different, new, joyous, abundant and good "In the Beginning"-- "Do whatever he tells you."

The Gospel of Luke also affirms realities about Mary that point to her already sharing beforehand in the salvation that would come in the eventual death and resurrection of Jesus.

First of all, in the Gospel of Luke (1:28) the messenger ("angel") of God addresses Mary in Nazareth as already kecharitomene, already "filled through with grace" ... already "filled up with grace" ... already "graced thorougly"-- even though Jesus has not yet so much as been conceived and born, not yet died for sin and not yet risen in glory. Only God is actively "Full of Grace"-- he is the one who "thoroughly graced" Mary, making her kecharitomene.

The Gospel of Luke goes on a short while later (1:46-55) to have Mary speak as having ALREADY experienced the FULLNESS and FULFILLMENT of salvation-- decades BEFORE Jesus would die and rise to save humanity from sin and give humanity holiness.

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he HAS REGARDED the low estate of his handmaiden.
For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty HAS DONE great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is on those who fear him from generation to generation.
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 thrones,
and EXALTED those of low degree;
he HAS FILLED the hungry with good things,
and the rich he HAS SENT empty away.
He HAS HELPED his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his posterity for ever.

Notice there the past tense!

Also, there is a good bit more in the comments boxes.

I have posted a homily for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.
Click HERE for it.


Blogger onionboy said...

Warning, New convert ignorance about to present itself here.

I believe in the Immaculate Conception of Mary. It is not at all hard for me to believe nor is the reasoning behind it. A child like question comes to mind. If Mary was conceived without sin, why did she need a Saviour? She was free from original sin but was capable of committing sin and or did sin even venal sin? I have never heard any teaching on the idea that either of those things could be the case hence, my question.

6:00 PM  
Blogger onionboy said...

I should add that I have understood that Mary was given the grace of salvation at conception, her immaculate conception was an act of God's salvific, maybe I already know the answer to the question I asked but it's just a matter of getting my post Protestant head and heart around it?

6:03 PM  
Anonymous Andrew said...

I've never heard that before, about the past tense used in the magnificat. What a wonderful observation! Thank you so much for writing.

7:48 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

OnionBoy! You somewhat answered your own question. The merits of the suffering, death and resurrection of Christ were necessary for Mary to be conceived without sin. We might say they were applied to her before they happened in time (after all, the person of the Son of God existed from all eternity without beginning, even though his human life on earth had a beginning in time).

The Opening Prayer of the Mass on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception puts it this way.

you prepared the Virgin Mary
to be the worthy mother of your Son.
You let her share beforehand
in the salvation Christ would bring by his death,
and kept her sinless from the first moment of her conception.

She was not the only person who "got to be saved beforehand". In the Gospels (Matthew 22 and parallels) Jesus refutes the Sadducees (who reject the existence of the afterlife, heaven, hell, resurrection). Jesus tells them that God identified himself to Moses as the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Jewish faith of the Sadducees is, correctly, that God is God of the living, and not of the dead. However, Jesus points out that since the God of the living calls himself the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, those three men must be alive, risen from the dead. Jesus argument simply asserts the resurrection of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Since Jesus who is the Resurrection and the Life had not yet died and risen when he asserted this to the Sadducees, the understanding would be that God let Abraham, Isaac and Jacob "share beforehand in the salvation Christ would bring by his death" (as the Opening Prayer of the Immaculate Conception says of Mary).

8:39 PM  
Blogger said...

Hey, I even follow that :) Similar prayers and the Second Reading in the LOTH for that day tracked along similar lines and all of the above is helpful. Thanks.

2:57 PM  
Blogger said...

A friend, wrote me to ask me about this verse in relation to Mary and my asserted belief in the IC of M: ""All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." So, this excludes Mary and all didn't mean all? Or the verse itself is inaccurate because all but one fell short of the glory of God?""

I admit to being stumped. I am afraid my good bible college training for ministry did not include in depth original language studies.

3:36 PM  
Blogger Father Stephanos, O.S.B. said...

But what about Romans 3:23, "all have sinned"? Have all people committed actual sins? Consider a child below the age of reason. By definition he can’t sin, since sinning requires the ability to reason and the ability to intend to sin. This is indicated by Paul later in the letter to the Romans when he speaks of the time when Jacob and Esau were unborn babies as a time when they "had done nothing either good or bad" (Rom. 9:11).

Click HERE for the source of that with a much fuller exposition.

4:30 PM  
Blogger onionboy said...

Father S. thanks for your patience with me and for taking the time to provide the link. I actually recall reading this page well over a year ago now. There's so much to forget because there is so much to learn and learn again. I find nothing problematic in the explanation here. My friend reads it and does not receive it even as I do receive it, which seems to me to be explained by grace along.

9:25 AM  

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