The Contemplative Meaning of the Mystery of the Immaculate Conception
In this text I will be endeavouring to help the reader see the connection between the mystery of the Immaculate Conception of Mary and the Mystery of Our Redemption, i.e. Jesus on the Cross saving us.
Let us go back to the definition of the Immaculate Conception as it is given by Pope Pius IX, a reminder of which is given in:
“Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, “full of grace” through God, was redeemedfrom the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854: The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.”(Catechism 491)
“Immaculate Conception” means that Mary was born without inheriting original sin, as we all inherit by conception in the womb of our mother.
It is a « grace » and a « privilege » that Mary received. What I would like to go into in depth here is the relationship between Our Lady as the Immaculate Conception and the Lord Jesus our Saviour.
It is important to realise from the start that the grace was not given to Mary by shortcutting the Redemption realised by Christ. It is a temptation in fact to forget from where and how this “privilege” comes and is given. It is because of Christ, foreseeing his Redemption on the Cross, and coming from it that Mary who receives the grace of being saved from original sin! Otherwise, if Mary were not saved by Jesus, She would be a parallel being to Jesus, coming directly from God. However, in fact, Mary is a daughter of Adam and Eve, but by a preventive act doesn’t receive original sin. She is saved by Jesus on the Cross, and therefore, by a mysterious design of God, is conceived redeemed, i.e. without allowing Original Sin to touch her soul and her being.
Therefore, the difficulty for us is not to accept that Mary was saved by Jesus. The difficulty is just to accept that Mary saved by Jesus is born before the event itself of the Cross, that God, foreseeing and knowing about the Cross, chose to do it even before the birth of Christ. This is the main difficulty I think. We all believe that “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23-25) as St. Paul puts it, or better said that all inherit “original sin”. Mary also is supposed to inherit it, but by the grace of the Redeemer She not only fails to receive it, but it also fails to touch her being, from the first instant of the creation of her body, soul and spirit.
In this sense, the Eternal project of God to have us holy and immaculate in his presence, as St. Paul expresses it (Ephesians 1:3-6), is realised in Mary, from the first instant of her creation. Does this mean that after her birth She didn’t need to remain faithful to God? Of course not, She had to walk the walk, and fight the fight, to remain faithful to God’s Grace. Being preserved from Original Sin, being full of the Grace of God from the first moment of her conception, doesn’t mean that She didn’t grow in the Grace of God in ways that we can’t fathom, it doesn’t mean that she was locked in the impossibility of sinning! Of course not! Being in God doesn’t lock our free will but maintains our freedom because we are in a real friendship and not in a state of slavery to the Grace of God. One remains free, keeping his free will! And therefore, She had to fight when all the opportunities of disobeying God presented themselves! Hence all her acts are meritorious, as we say in theology, because of her use of her free will, her corresponding to the grace of God and doing God’s will.
Note: The absolute merit comes from Christ! Nobody can merit the Redemption for we only have one Saviour! Only one who is God and man. But her merit comes from the fact that She is following the grace of God. So the grace of God growing in her merits more graces. “The charity of Christ is the source in us of all our merits before God. Grace, by uniting us to Christ in active love, ensures the supernatural quality of our acts and consequently their merit before God and before men.” (Catechism 2011)
In this sense: from all Eternity, God knew that He would accomplish our Redemption through His Son, on the Cross, and offered the first fruit of the Redemption to Mary.
Why is this so? Because only the New Skin can bear the New Wine, only a being that was never touched by any form of sin can bear to carry the Son of God incarnate; She is truly the Golden and real Ark of the Covenant, bearing the Living Word of the Father in her being! Her being had to be “solid” and not touched in any way, in order to carry the Holy Holy Holy.
This is the thought of the Fathers of the Church. They always considered Mary as the Most Holy Mother of God, “God” here being Jesus, the Incarnate Son of God.
Therefore, it is mandatory for us to better understand our contemplation of the relationship between Jesus and Mary and Jesus and the Church, on the Cross. We know that traditionally Jesus was considered the New Adam. St. Paul speaks about Him this way. Very early on, the Fathers of the Church went back to Genesis to the moment of the Creation of Eve, and saw in a comparable image of the birth of the New Eve from the side of Jesus “sleeping” on the Cross.
If we ask ourselves the question: “who is the first being that comes from Jesus’ side on the Cross?”, there is a tendency to think that it is the Church! While if we pay greater attention to the sequence of events and the connection between the mysteries of our faith, we will find that the first being to come out of Jesus’ Side on the Cross, the New Adam’s side, is not first the Church but truly Mary.
This is in fact one of the deepest aspects of the mystery of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. We say that She has been redeemed in anticipation! Therefore who comes first? Mary or the Church? The Mother of the Church or the daughter i.e. the Church? Who is the real Bride of Jesus? Mary is virgin and mother, and the Church can only be the Church if she is found to be in the image of Mary, virgin (giving all her faith to her Groom) and mother (bearing many children to the groom).
She shall be called ‘Woman’”!
Let us now contemplate something even deeper about the mystery of the origins of Our Lady, from whence She comes! Let us enter deeper into the Mystery of the Cross. Let us re-read Genesis, the mystery of the creation of Eve but under the light of Jesus and Mary.
“But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, “at last, this bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”” (Genesis 2:20-23)
Without neglecting the more literal level of the reading, or the first intention of the human writer of this passage, the Fathers of the Church saw in it a deeper layer where they saw through Adam in a “deep sleep”, Jesus himself on the Cross, Jesus the second Adam.
If we continue in the same vein seen already by St. Paul and the Fathers of the Church, and if we contemplate in Eve Mary herself, the Bride, the New Eve we find in Adam’s words something very deep, an explanation given by Jesus as to who Mary is and on her origins:
“at last, this bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh”. “At last” after this long thirst to find a being that is similar to him (“suitable”) and a “helper”: when Jesus contemplates Mary He sees her the other way around: not him coming from her (he is her son) but her coming from him, extracted from him: “bone [taken out] of my bone and flesh [taken out] of my flesh”! Isn’t this the best definition of the Immaculate Conception, the best scriptural text that embodies it?
Jesus should be saying: I am from her, I am bone of her bone and flesh of her flesh! But strangely, and truly, He says the opposite, going deeper: She comes from me! Where and when? On the Cross, when my side has been opened up, the first redeemed being is the true and only bride: my mother, Mary. All her being is woven from the fibres of my being: She is bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh, She is extracted from me! What a mystery! I am her Saviour, one hundred per cent. She comes from me on the Cross! If She contemplates this wound in my side She can truly say: “this is where I come from, this is the Source of my being! I have been saved, redeemed by Him and She would sing the everlasting Song with great power, the only Song that can exist for it is eternal: My soul magnifies the Lord and Spirit rejoices in the Lord my Saviour: Jesus, the Son of the Eternal Son of God. I am his servant.
Note: Dante Alighieri said something very simple and at the same time extremely profound about Our Lady, when he said to her: “figlia di tuo figlio”,i.e. “daughter of your son”. He is indeed her “Father” in the sense that He is truly, truly her Redeemer! She is attached to Him and clings to Him as her Redeemer! “My Saviour”.
Let us now examine to the continuation of Jesus’ statement when He contemplates deeply his Mother profoundly: “she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man”. “taken out of”, extracted! She finds in Him her source and origin! This is why She is called “wo-man” (Ish-sha in Hebrew), because She is “taken from” man (Ish in Hebrew).
The only two times Jesus addresses his Mother in the Gospel of St. John (Chapter 2 and Chapter 19) He calls her: woman! In fact, He is saying much to us when He calls her “woman”; He is inviting us to delve deeper into our understanding of the origins of Mary… He is saying to us: here is my mother, yes, true, but I am her Redeemer, on the Cross, you will see, and She is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh. This is the true way of contemplating her and understanding who She is.
Isn’t She the Immaculate Conception? Isn’t it written in the Scriptures? Yes.
Now consider this: St. John is the only Evangelist not to mention the institution of the Eucharist in His Gospel! He witnessed it, but despite that, he doesn’t mention it! It should seem strange to us! But instead, John does something very deep in Chapter 19, while witnessing the last will of His Saviour. He tells us the following:
“When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.”” (John 19:26-27)
When a person is about to die, he or she might pass on his last will and testament. And his will is the most precious thing one can receive and one can consider it a duty to fulfil. The Lord’s will is to offer us his Mother. But He starts by talking to the mother of the Church and not to the Church itself. He says: “Woman, here is your son”. Which means: I see in you the one who comes from my side, the first redeemed creature. But also, you are the mother of the Church, the mother of all my Children.
But when Jesus says: “here is your mother” to each one of us, He is in fact giving us the one who is “bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh”; the one who will beget us to Eternal life, and the one who is so much part of Him. What is the Eucharist? His Flesh, His Blood (Bones produce the blood). He is offering us the possibility to be born again from Her, as his Body, his Flesh, his Bones.
It has taken the form of giving us something as profound as the Eucharist.
Read also: The Practical Use of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception