Our Tainted Nature's Solitary Boast

Homily for December 8th - The Immaculate Conception of Our Lady

by Fr. Tommy Lane

O Mary Conceived without Sin,
Pray for us who have recourse to Thee.

This petition, honoring Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception, is included in many prayers and Novenas.

O Mary Conceived without Sin,
Pray for us who have recourse to Thee.

It is also the petition to Our Lady on the front of the Miraculous Medal, the medal Our Lady showed in apparition to St. Catherine Labouré in her convent chapel in Paris in 1830. Our Lady said we would receive great graces wearing the Miraculous Medal properly blessed and praying the petition,

O Mary Conceived without Sin,
Pray for us who have recourse to Thee.

In that medal and apparition, Our Lady is standing on a globe and crushing the head of the serpent and it reminds us of the first reading today, where God says there will be enmity between the serpent and the woman, but the offspring of the woman will crush the head of the serpent. Jesus is the one who crushes the head of the serpent and that victory begins with Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception which prepares her to give birth to Jesus who conquers Satan. In the first reading, even when the first sin was committed, God announces the offspring of Eve will crush the serpent’s head, sometimes called the First Gospel or Proto-Evangelium. That victory over evil and sin begins with Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception. So from the earliest years of the Church, another way we understand the one who crushes the head of the serpent is to see it referring also to Our Lady which is why that reading was chosen as our first reading for today, just as Our Lady crushes the head of the serpent in the Miraculous Medal and in the apparition to St. Catherine Labouré.

God and sin are total opposites so the mother to give birth to Jesus had to be completely without sin. To be without sin she had to be immaculately conceived - not having original sin - because our sinful inclinations spring from the original sin with which we are born. Yet just like us, Our Lady needed to be saved by Christ; we are redeemed but she was preserved from sin in advance as we heard in the Opening Prayer / Collect for Mass today,

you preserved her from every stain
by virtue of the Death of your Son, which you foresaw

and in the Prayer over the Offerings we will hear that she was untouched by any stain of sin because of God’s “prevenient grace,” prevenient grace meaning grace in advance, grace in advance of Christ’s death on Calvary. God is outside of time and so when Christ died on Calvary those who lived before Christ and after Christ can be saved by the grace of Christ’s death on Calvary. Our Lady was preserved from all sin in advance of Christ’s death by a prevenient grace while the rest of us are redeemed after Christ’s death. That is why the poet Wordsworth described Our Lady as “our tainted nature’s solitary boast.” (Ecclesiastical Sonnets, 2.25)

The second reading is a most beautiful hymn praising God for all the graces we have received in Christ. It reminds us that we have been blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing (Eph 1:3). Christ chose us before the foundation of the world to be holy and without blemish before him (Eph 1:4). That reading describes each one of us, being chosen from all time by Christ and receiving those blessings in baptism. But in a special way we can see it also referring to Our Lady because she is the one who above all has been blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ. She is the one who above all was chosen before all time, before the foundation of the world, by prevenient grace from Christ’s death on Calvary, to be holy and without blemish, to be immaculately conceived in order to give birth to Christ, to be “our tainted nature’s solitary boast.”

All these graces which Our Lady received in her Immaculate Conception are seen in today’s Gospel in the very first words of the angel Gabriel to her during the Annunciation, “Hail, full of grace.” (Luke 1:28) The way Luke wrote his Greek (κεχαριτωμένη kecharitōmenē, perfect passive participle) indicates that Mary has been full of grace going right back to one point in time and of course we see that as her Immaculate Conception. The angel calls her “full of grace” as if “full of grace” is Our Lady’s name, and at that time and place your name expressed so much about you. So the angel Gabriel is saying Mary is full of grace since her first moment, since her Immaculate Conception. She is indeed “our tainted nature’s solitary boast.”

No wonder that we often turn to Our Lady asking her to intercede before God on our behalf. Although immaculately conceived, she is a mother who is close to all of us and to whom we can turn in all our trials and struggles. She wants you to stay close to her, to know her love for you, her closeness to you. What better way to do this than to pray the Rosary every day, if possible as a family. No wonder that petition on the front of the Miraculous Medal is so popular,

O Mary Conceived without Sin,
Pray for us who have recourse to Thee.

In 1846, sixteen years after the 1830 apparition of our Lady in the form on the Miraculous Medal, all the bishops of the United Sates meeting for a council in Baltimore chose the Blessed Virgin Mary, Conceived without Sin as the Patroness of the United States of America. Four years later Our Lady appeared in Lourdes and described herself as the Immaculate Conception and four years later again Pope Pius IX solemnly declared the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Our Lady is the Patroness of the United States of America and when we also honor Our Lady under the title Our Lady of Guadalupe we honor her as the Patroness of all the Americas and it is most interesting that the word “Guadalupe” sounds like an Aztec word that means “crushes the serpent.”

Our Lady, conceived without sin, “our tainted nature’s solitary boast,” Patroness of the United States, Patroness of all the Americas, by the prevenient grace of her Immaculate Conception was preserved from all sin to give birth to Christ to crush the head of the serpent.

O Mary Conceived without Sin,
Pray for us who have recourse to Thee.

© Fr. Tommy Lane 2016

This homily was delivered in a parish in Maryland near where I have joined the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

 

You may be interested in The Bible and the Virgin Mary by Emmaus Road Publications

More Homilies for December 8th - The Immaculate Conception of Our Lady

Immaculate Conception of Our Lady

Immaculate Conception of Our Lady and the Miraculous Medal

Immaculate Conception and the Icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help

Mary Full of Grace since her Immaculate Conception: hints of Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception in the Bible

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