Liturgical Colour : White
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, on this day the whole Church celebrates together the great occasion of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, celebrating one of the four great Marian Dogmas of the Church, namely the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God, Mary. What does this Immaculate Conception actually mean, brothers and sisters in Christ? Quite a few of us still do not have the right understanding of what this celebration and event actually means.
We celebrate this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary on the eighth day of December, and it is related to another celebration, exactly nine months later, on the eighth day of September, that is the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This is where people often confuse between the term ‘nativity’ and ‘conception’. While the former means birth, that is the moment when a baby is born into the world, out of his or her mother’s womb, the latter means the moment when life is conceived, from a father and a mother, in the womb of the mother, which is ideally nine months before the date of birth, as in humans pregnancy lasts for approximately nine months.
Therefore, today’s celebration of the Immaculate Conception of Mary focuses on that very important, unique and pivotal moment when Mary, the Mother of God and the Mother of Our Saviour Jesus Christ, was conceived in the womb of her mother, St. Anne, as the child of her parents, St. Joachim and St. Anne. And the word ‘Immaculate’ has the meaning of pure and blameless, referring to the state in which Mary was conceived, free from the taints and corruptions of original sin.
Why is this significant, brothers and sisters in Christ? First, let us all examine what is this original sin that has just been mentioned. For those who are not sure what original sin is all about, it is the original and first sin of our ancestors’ disobedience as elaborated in our first reading today from the Book of Genesis. Surely all of us know the story of how Satan, in the form of a snake, tempted Eve, the first woman and companion of the first man, Adam, to eat of the fruits of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.
The Lord had specifically ordered man not to eat of the fruits of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, but Satan tempted them with many false promises of power and knowledge, glory and greatness, saying that if man were to eat of the fruits they would be like God and they would not perish unlike what the Lord had said. And through these sweet lies and tempting words, Satan led mankind down the path of disobedience, and through disobedience, sin entered into the hearts, minds and souls of man.
Ever since then, our human nature had been tainted by the corruption of sin, this original sin of Adam and Eve, the disobedience of man against their Creator, Lord and Master. They opened the floodgates that allowed sin to enter into us and enslave us, ruling over us and having dominion over us. And it was also because of sin that we have been cast out of the Gardens of Eden and having to endure suffering in the world, and eventually death.
Thus, through temptation, the first man and woman fell into sin and brought the whole race of mankind into sin and death. This is what original sin is all about. But if we notice, just as the Lord proclaimed the punishment due to sin in our first reading today, He also proclaimed at the same time, what would happen in the far future, that God would save His people and crush Satan who caused man to fall.
He said that while Satan would ‘strike at the heel of man’, meaning that all these while he has been trying hard to destroy us, by means of persuasion, coercion, trickery and temptations, but through the Woman, God will defeat Satan, and the Woman shall crush the head of Satan, a figurative expression of what would come to fulfilment in Mary and her Son, Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
And therefore, yes, Mary is the Woman mentioned by God, as the one through whom God would send His deliverance to His beloved people. Despite all of our sins, God’s love for us still endures, and that is why, He is willing to lift us up from our downfallen state, and He always seeks to be reconciled with us and to forgive us all our many sins. He did it all by sending none other than His own Begotten Son, the Word of God and the Son, into this world.
And the Word was made Flesh, according to the Gospel of St. John, and dwelled among man, and this is our core belief, that God Himself has assumed the body and essence of man, our human nature, that in the person of Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, exist two distinct yet inseparable natures of divine and human. And as all humans are, He is to be born of a mother, and this mother is none other than Mary.
However, because this Man is not just like any other man but God Himself incarnate in the flesh, there can be no taints or corruption of sin around Him. This can also be alluded commonly in the Ark of the Covenant of the time of the Old Testament and ancient Israel, where the Ark of the Covenant bears the Law of God, the tablets of the Ten Commandments, the heavenly manna and the rod of Aaron, as the symbol of God’s presence among His people.
If we refer to the Books of Exodus and other books of the Old Testament, the Ark of the Covenant was made of the most precious materials available to man, and it was hallowed and blessed by God, placed in the holiest part of the Tent of Meeting before the Temple of Jerusalem was built, and then in the Holy of Holies of the Temple. When the Ark was transported during the time of king David, one of the priests who accidentally touched the Ark was struck down, highlighting just how holy and special that Ark was.
And imagine then that there is this New Ark, crafted by the hands of God Himself, a Woman, prepared specially for this very purpose of containing the New Covenant between God and mankind. Christ, through His Passion, suffering and death has established that New Covenant between God and man, and because of that, His mother, Mary in whose womb the Lord dwelled for nine months before His birth at Christmas, is truly the New Ark of the Covenant, far greater than the old Ark of the Covenant.
That is why, coupled with the fact that God cannot coexist with sin and no sin can be in the presence of God, the Lord specifically set Mary aside from among all other sons and daughters of mankind, and by a singular grace, according to the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, Mary was preserved from original sin, and was conceived without any taints of sin at all, free from that original sin and therefore is ‘Immaculate’ from the moment of her conception, right through her birth, and according to our faith, she remained free from sin and in perfect state of grace throughout her life.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, in Mary we have seen the coming of the Saviour, through her Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ, born from her womb, she who is the New Ark of the Covenant, pure and blameless. And she is the terror of Satan and the demons, as through her, the Lord’s promise of Satan’s defeat has come true, crushing the head and pride of this wicked devil. But not only that, brothers and sisters in Christ, but Mary through her faith and complete obedience to God has shown us what we ourselves need to do as Christians in our lives.
Why is that so? That is because we must not forget that we ourselves are the Temples of the Holy Spirit, the Houses of God’s Holy Presence. We have received the Lord into ourselves, especially through the Eucharist, the Lord in His own Most Precious Body and Blood, His very essence into ourselves. Mary has kept herself faithful and she has devoted herself completely to the Lord, throughout her life, as challenging and difficult it had been for her. If she could do it, then we can do our best to follow in her examples too.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, as we celebrate in today’s great celebration of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, let us all therefore rejoice because God’s salvation has come to us through Mary, our beloved Mother, by her Son Jesus Christ. And through her example as the New Ark of the Covenant, let us all as God’s holy people, also be faithful in our own respective lives, that we show exemplary Christian attitudes and actions at all times, in our world today.
O Most Holy and Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, New Ark of the Covenant and the Immaculate Conception, pray for us all your sons and daughters who are sinners, and guide us all to your Son, Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Help us to follow the Lord and remain faithful to Him as you have done. May God bless us always, and may He strengthen us in our faith, now and forevermore. Amen.