The most obvious way Catholics both honor the Blessed Virgin Mary and seek her intercession is by praying her Most Holy Rosary. As I suppose nearly everyone here knows, there are four sets of mysteries we can contemplate as we rattle the beads, as the old saying puts it.
By the grace of God, the Rosary of the Blessed Mary presents us with a set of mysteries we call “Luminous.” The Luminous mysteries allow us to contemplate key events in the Lord’s life and ministry. We also have the Sorrowful mysteries that bid us reflect on Jesus’s passion and death. Next, we have the Glorious mysteries, by means of which we contemplate Christ’s Resurrection, Ascension, and the descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. The final two events we contemplate when meditating on the Glorious mysteries are Our Lady’s bodily Assumption into heaven and her Coronation as Queen of Heaven.
During the season of Advent, which we started last Sunday, we focus in a particular way on the Joyful mysteries of the Rosary. Of course, it is through the Joyful mysteries that we bring our attention to the events surrounding Jesus’s birth. First among the Joyful mysteries is the Annunciation. St Luke’s account of the Annunciation, which is the only account we have, is our reading for this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
To be clear, we celebrate the Annunciation as a Solemnity in its own right on 25 March each year. 25 March, as you might expect, falls exactly nine months prior to 25 December, the day on which we celebrate the Nativity, or birth, of our Lord and Savior.
What we celebrate today is the Blessed Virgin’s chosenness. Her wholly unique role in God’s plan of setting the world to rights. Once set right, God’s creation will be completed. Mary’s Immaculate Conception does not refer to the manner in which she was conceived. Mary, the Mother of God in the flesh, was conceived by her parents, who Tradition tells us were named Joachim and Anna, in the normal way. Her Immaculate Conception refers to the reality that by a unique and singular grace, through the merits of her Son, she was conceived without Original Sin.
Saying she was born without Original Sin, however, is to muddy the waters a bit. What her Immaculate Conception truly means is that, like our first parents, Miriam of Nazareth was born in the State of Original Grace. This is why our first reading is the account of our first parents’ fall from the State of Original Grace. It bears noting that the Church, practically from her beginning, sees the Blessed Virgin Mary as the new Eve.
It is in this State of Original Grace that God originally intended and still intends human beings, whom he made male and female in the imago Dei- the image of God- to live. For the rest of us, we are born into the State of Original Grace when are reborn through the waters of Baptism. But so strong is the weight of our fallenness that we tend to sin, even after being baptized. This tendency to sin after Baptism we call concupiscence. Nonetheless, as our reading from Ephesians tells us, like the Blessed Virgin, by virtue of our Baptism, we, too, are “chosen… so that we might exist for the praise of [God’s] glory” (Eph 1:11a.12a).
Each year during Advent we celebrate two great days for Our Lady: today’s Solemnity and the Feast of the Patroness of all the Americas, Our Lady of Guadalupe. I urge all of you to come next Wednesday, 12 December, for our celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
The spiritual fruit of the first Joyful mystery is humility. The Blessed Virgin is nothing if not humble. When she is greeted by the Archangel Gabriel with such grand words, she cannot believe this angel of light is referring to her. This is why, upon hearing the angel’s greeting, “she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be” (Luke 1:29 ). Once she received the news that she was to conceive a Son by the Holy Spirit- a development that put her at risk of being accused of serious immorality in her culture- she delivered her Fiat to Gabriel: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:28). Much to the delight of Star Trek fans, perhaps the most accurate way to translate the Latin word Fiat is, “Make it so!”
Arnold Geulincx, a little-known Dutch philosopher of the seventeenth century, in his best-known work, Ethica, wrote: Ubi nihil vales ibi nihil velis (John Calder, The Theology of Samuel Beckett, 16). What this sentence seeks to communicate is that where one is nothing, one should act accordingly, as though s/he is nothing. Because God is love, we are not made only something; through the Incarnation of his Only Begotten Son, God makes us children by rebirth in Baptism.
And so, my sisters and brothers, with the words of the Annunciation ringing in our ears, fresh in our minds, and hopefully rooted in our hearts, let us go forth and use this Advent season to humbly prepare ourselves to receive Christ anew. Praying the Joyful mysteries of the Rosary is a great aid in doing this. Christ wants to be born into the world through each of us and all of us together who comprise his Body. In his song “Distressing Disguise,” singer/songwriter and Bible scholar, Michael Card, beautifully tells us how this happens:
Every time a faithful servant serves
A brother that's in need
What happens at that moment is a miracle indeed
As they look to one another in an instant it is clear
Only Jesus is visible, for they've both disappeared