Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Immaculate Conception and a little steam

Immaculate Conception
Bartolome Esteban Murillo, 1678
Today was the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.  If you are Catholic and didn't go to Mass--YOU'RE wrong.  There is a misconception about this particular solemnity.  It is the only Holy Day of Obligation that is not moved to Sunday, even if is on a Saturday or Monday.  Why?  She is the Patron of the United States, making this day the Patronal Feast of the United States.  It is not up to the local bishop; it is still a Holy Day of Obligation, no matter what. 

For some reason, our priest did not have an Immaculate Conception Mass scheduled today.  So, our parish put out a schedule of other parishes that did.  We went to Mass this morning in the next town over.  I was pleasantly surprised to see a few of the families I know from our parish.  The majority of people however were the over 70 crowd. 

I was, however, feeling sadly transported to the 1970's.  The goofy architecture, the awful stick figure stations, the ugly tabernacle and the bench seats don't make me feel as if I am in a real worship space.  I don't understand why there's an American flag just behind the lectern but the tabernacle is off to the right, almost in the choir.  Why is the Book of the Gospels on a shelf and not being read out of ?  Very odd.  And, when it was time for communion, everyone got up at once???  My children were a little weirded out by that one.  We were close to the back of the church, so, I did not drink from the chalice.  My daughter was right behind me and did partake of the Blood.  But her breath smelled like she had just eaten a bucket of mold.  It was awful. 
Immaculate Conception
Peter Paul Rubens, 1628
(An aside:  I only partake of the chalice if I am sitting close to the front.  I teach First Communion--that combined with sitting near the front of the church--I've just seen too much.  I cannot bring myself to from a community cup at a certain point.  Plus, if I am at all sick, like now with a very bad sinus cold, I don't want to share germs.)

However, the homily was quite wonderful.  All about how Mary was conceived in the usual manner but given the gift of grace from her first moment of creation.  She was conceived without Original Sin on her soul because God wanted her to be the perfect (Immaculate) vessel from which would be born the Son of God, the Savior of the world.  God loved her and blessed her from that first moment. 

What a wonderful grace, indeed!!  "Hail, full of grace!" said the angel, "The Lord is with you.  Blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb!"  Luke chapter one tells us that the angel declared her Immaculate state.  And, if you believe the words of Revelation, it is stated clearly there also.  19 Then the sanctuary of God in heaven opened, and the ark of the covenant could be seen inside it. Then came flashes of lightning, peals of thunder and an earthquake and violent hail.1 Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman, robed with the sun, standing on the moon, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. (chs 11&12 NJB)

Immaculate Conception
Francisco Pacheco, 17th c.
Now, before any readers get there panties in a bunch, yes this is Church teaching.  It is one of the earliest Traditions of the Church--that John did indeed refer to Mary with these words.  Are there more than one meaning to these words?  Of course, like many, many other prophecies and visions in the Bible, there is more than one meaning.  However, the fact that this symbolizes or visualizes Mary is one of those meanings.  In the next verses, it talks about the woman and her child being pursued by the dragon.  I find it ironic that the child, son, man is almost universally said to Jesus by Christians, but that the woman is cannot be Mary.  Huh???  That doesn't even make logical sense.  Reading chapter 12 in light of Luke and Genesis gives us a pretty darned clear picture of Mary.

Also, when we read John chapter 19 we see how Jesus gave His mother to John.  "Behold your mother.  Woman behold your son."  Jesus gave Mary to be the mother of the Apostle and by extension of the mother of his brothers and sisters.  Note what it says in Revelation:  17 Then the dragon was enraged with the woman and went away to make war on the rest of her children, who obey God's commandments and have in themselves the witness of Jesus.  Why was the dragon so enraged with the woman?  Maybe, just maybe, because the Church teaching is correct--Mary was untouched by the sin that he had helped bring into the world (Original Sin).  Maybe because he could not corrupt her (Mary's personal sinlessness).  The Church Traditions about Mary, which date back to the first century of the Church, might just have some meaning after all, eh?  This is why we call her our mother--Jesus gave His mother to be ours ("on the rest of her children, who obey God's commandments and have in themselves the witness of Jesus").  When looked at in the proper light, the light of Scripture and Tradition, it is pretty clear!

I saw something on facebook today that I thought was pretty appropriate.  It said (paraphrasing from memory):  If you think the Catholic Church spends too much time on Mary, think about the fact that Jesus spent ten times more time with His mother than with His Apostles.  Think about it.

Some Reading and Resources for those interested:
National Catholic Register Article, "8 Things You Need to Know About the Immaculate Conception" by Jimmy Akin.
The Immaculate Conception (An Explanation of the Dogma) New Advent/Catholic Encyclopedia
The Immaculate Conception explained Just for Catholics
The Immaculate Conception, devotional Catholic Harbor of Faith and Morals