IMMACULATE CONCEPTION OF THE VIRGIN MARY
The solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary places us before the original plan of God, who chose us “in Christ”, “before the world began”, “to be holy and blameless in his sight, to be full of love (Eph 1,4). He “predestined us to be his adopted sons –such was his will and pleasure– that all might praise the glorious favour he has bestowed on us in his beloved” (Eph 1,6).
The feast of the Immaculate Conception celebrates the history of Mary of Nazareth, the Mother of the Lord, as the realization of the plan traced by God, it is the history of exceptional grace and vocation. The grace received by Mary and her fidelity to God illumine our own Christian existence. Mary Immaculate, totally consecrated to God and to love in every moment of her life, in each particle of her being and in every dynamism of her will, is a motive of hope and a call to conversion. Contemplating Mary, the “Adam” that exists in each person is called to return to the original splendour of grace and to live with joy his or her fidelity to the ways of the Lord.
The first reading (Gn 3,9-15.20) places us before the magnificent wisdom reflection of Genesis 2-3 about the man of all times. Contrary to what was affirmed until recent years, these chapters do not come from the ancient period of the Davidic monarchy in the 10th century B.C., but as can be deduced from the analysis of the vocabulary and of the theological themes, they are a fruit of a later and mature Wisdom tradition, which probably should be placed in the time of the exile (VI-V century B.C.). We find ourselves then before a theological reflection in narrative form about the historical experience of Israel that concerns the terrible dark night of the exile in Babylon: the people lost everything for having disobeyed God and for not having followed His ways.
Chapter 2 of Genesis describes the original plan of the Creator, made of harmony and of light. Chapter 3, on the other hand, presents the outcome of an alternative plan that man has wanted to realize, disregarding God, and whose tragic results have been experienced by Israel and by all men, because all men sinned (cf. Rom 3,9; 5,12). Chapter 2 speaks of ’adam, a Hebrew collective noun which means “humanity”, a humanity that has received life as a gift from God, its Creator (Gn 2,7). In Chapter 3, however, man is described as carried away by a wisdom and a voice different from that of God’s. This “voice” is represented by the serpent, an animal that evokes the idolatrous Canaanite fertility cults and therefore all those that contradict God. In the biblical narration, the sacred author makes use of his literary skill to make the serpent “speak”, but precisely, speaking is a kind of “anti-word”. The words that the narrator places in its mouth represent, in effect, the total and radical opposition to the word of God.
The serpent, affirming that God does not want that man eat from any tree of the garden (Gn 3,1), represents a wisdom (a mentality), that imagines God as someone who is bad, who does not want man’s life and who, in a certain way, is his rival. In the Bible, wisdom is a way of life, a way of thinking, a series of attitudes that orientate everyday conduct. The serpent represents the wisdom that leads to death, that is opposed to God’s plan and that pushes man to live in idolatry, placing himself as the new and only god. It is the drama of human history and of our everyday life. It is the “original” sin because it is found in the origin of all sins. This is the original sin, radical, characteristic and proper of the first and of the last man, of all men who dwell on the face of the earth.
The text of Genesis announces an historical “enmity” between the serpent (the symbol of evil and of deceptive wisdom that opposes the word of God) and the offspring of the woman (the humanity). A continual hostility between humanity and what the serpent represents is announced. A tenacious and painful struggle that, however, will have a happy ending: the final victory will be of the humankind through its fidelity to God and to His will. Such victory is realized in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, conqueror of sin and death. This victory of Christ shines in an imminent way in Mary, His Mother, whose existence is a clear sign of the divine grace and of the total self-giving to God and, therefore, of the victory of the human race over the deceptive serpent.
The second reading (Eph 1,3-6.11-12) praises the plan of “him who administers everything according to his will” (Eph 1,11). A great saving plan which has as centre and goal Jesus Christ: “he likewise predestined us through Christ Jesus to be his adopted sons” (Eph 1,5). The Father has chosen us for love (Eph 1,3-6), the Son has redeemed us and has obtained salvation for us through His suffering (Eph 1,7-12), and the Spirit is the best guarantee that the action of the Father as well as that of the Son will attain its final objective (Eph 1,13-14).
The Gospel (Lk 1,26-38) of the Annunciation presents to us the Virgin of Nazareth who received the announcement of the birth of the Messiah.
She is the most perfect and beautiful realization of the people of the covenant. She is the Daughter of Zion, called to rejoice because “the Lord, your God, is in your midst” (Zep 3,17; Lk 1,28). From now on, she, the new Zion, will be the one who will carry in her womb the saving presence of God in the midst of men and women. Upon her, from whom “the Son of the Most High” will be born (Lk 1,32) as in a new creation, the Holy Spirit will come (Lk 1,35). On her, the power of Almighty will descend like a shadow that lovingly protects and covers (Lk 1,35). As it was announced in the Psalm, Mary conceived “under the shade of the Almighty” and “will dwell in the shelter of the Most High” (Ps 91,1). As another psalm says: “The Lord is your guardian; the Lord is your shade; he is beside you at your right hand. The sun shall not harm you by day, nor the moon by night” (Ps 121,5).
Mary is, in effect, the “full of grace” (Lk 1,28), an expression that translates the Greek verbal form: kejaritoméne. This verbal expression is a “theological” passive, that is, with her as subject of the action of God. Besides, it belongs to a Greek verbal time that supposes an action in the past, whose effects remain continually in the present. God has filled Mary with His grace forever. At the beginning of her existence there is a divine intervention in the roots of her totally “immaculate” life, that is, consecrated to the reign of God, there is an initiative of love from God.
Mary, the “full of grace”, is also the “handmaid of the Lord” who longs from the depths of her being to do God’s will in her life (Lk 1,38). Servant like Abraham, Moses and all the prophets, like His Son, the Servant par excellence. Mary is, in effect, a person chosen by God to collaborate with Him in the fulfilment of His plan of salvation in history. At the same time, she is someone who has freely and joyfully responded to God, consecrating herself totally to His will. The creature, accepting salvation, turn out to be a collaborator of God, becoming a sacrament and an announcement of this same salvation for all humanity.