Happy Feast Day of the Immaculate Conception!
When I was a wee Catholic, I thought that the Immaculate Conception referred to Jesus’s conception. After all, His conception was pretty wondrous. Wasn’t that the immaculate conception? Nope! It actually refers to Mary, who was immaculately conceived.
What does this mean?
Let’s take a look at today’s first (extended) reading to get a hint!
9The LORD God then called to the man and asked him: Where are you? 10He answered, “I heard you in the garden; but I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid.” 11Then God asked: Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat? 12The man replied, “The woman whom you put here with me—she gave me fruit from the tree, so I ate it.” 13The LORD God then asked the woman: What is this you have done? The woman answered, “The snake tricked me, so I ate it.”14Then the LORD God said to the snake:Because you have done this,cursed are youamong all the animals, tame or wild;On your belly you shall crawl,and dust you shall eatall the days of your life. 15I will put enmity between you and the woman,and between your offspring and hers;They will strike at your head,while you strike at their heel. 16To the woman he said:I will intensify your toil in childbearing;in pain you shall bring forth children.Yet your urge shall be for your husband,and he shall rule over you.17To the man he said: Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, You shall not eat from it,Cursed is the ground because of you!In toil you shall eat its yieldall the days of your life.18Thorns and thistles it shall bear for you,and you shall eat the grass of the field.19By the sweat of your browyou shall eat bread,Until you return to the ground,from which you were taken;For you are dust,and to dust you shall return.20The man gave his wife the name “Eve,” because she was the mother of all the living.
To be immaculately conceived is to be created like Adam and Eve… with no original sin staining us. So, the curse that God gives Adam and Eve is the direct result of original sin. (And by the way, God doesn’t curse them just because He likes to curse people… it’s just the natural state of things. They took the fruit of the trees when they weren’t supposed to, they get to face the consequences, just like if you drink way too much wine, you will also have to face the consequences!)
Now, what if that effect of original sin is washed away?
That’s what happens to us in the sacrament of Baptism. That doesn’t mean that the effects of sin don’t cling to us — hardly! Just as Adam and Eve could choose to sin, even though they weren’t born with the stain of original sin, we can still choose to sin… and then we suffer from those consequences of sin. But, the stain of original sin is gone!
But, Mary is special. See, she didn’t have to get baptized. God made her without the stain of original sin in anticipation of Christ’s birth… just in case. After all, God wanted her to freely choose whether she would be open to God’s plan or not. And to have her trapped under original sin would have not given her the freedom to do so. After all, sin is a way of enslaving us! So, just like Eve was made without original sin, so was Mary.
See, when we call Mary the New Eve, we don’t just mean it as a symbolic gesture. She really is the New Eve… she even was made just as all of us were first intended to be made!
So, let’s see how Mary handles God’s invitation, which also happens to be the gospel reading today!
26In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, 27to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. 28And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” 29But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. 30Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, 33and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” 34But Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?” 35And the angel said to her in reply, “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. 36And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; 37for nothing will be impossible for God.” 38Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.
Ah, the Annunciation! Whereas Eve disobeyed and rejected God, following a fallen angel instead, Mary is obedient and accept’s God’s will for her!
So, in honor of this special day, here is a picture of the Annunciation by Fra Angelico!
There’s an absolutely gorgeous juxtaposition here!
The main theme, of course, is the Annunciation. Gabriel, an angel of God, comes down to Mary in the scene of the Annunciation. Adorned in beautiful garments embroidered with gold while seated on what appears to be a throne, Mary looks to be royalty as she assents to God’s will.
Then, off to the left and dressed in coarse garments, there is Adam and Eve! Having defied God, they are sent away by an angel, banished from the Garden of Eden.
Given utter freedom to choose without the stain of original sin, Eve rejected God and embraced sin, while Mary embraced God and thus changed the world forever.
Questions to Ponder:
- What detail of the painting draws you in the most? Why?
- Did you notice Jesus, hanging out in the painting? (Look closely!)
- In moments of our life, do we tend to follow Eve’s path by choosing sin, or Mary’s path in following God?
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.
This picture isn’t featured in my new book, which contains 75 pictures of the Joyful Mysteries… but there’s a lot of other gorgeous religious art, including thirteen pictures of the Annunciation in there! Click here for more details.