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!
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!
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.