Happy feast day! Today is the feast day of the Immaculate Conception — and a holy day of obligation as well, so don’t forget to go to mass!
When I first heard about the Immaculate Conception, I assumed that it was about Jesus being conceived. Boy, was I wrong! While we do celebrate that day (which is known as the Feast of the Incarnation, or the Feast of the Annunciation, and is on March 25) this is not about the birth of Jesus!
It’s about Mary!
It’s about how she was conceived by God Himself!
Remember this lovely Psalm?
1For the leader. A psalm of David.LORD, you have probed me, you know me:2you know when I sit and stand;you understand my thoughts from afar.3You sift through my travels and my rest;with all my ways you are familiar.4Even before a word is on my tongue,LORD, you know it all.5Behind and before you encircle meand rest your hand upon me.6Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,far too lofty for me to reach.7Where can I go from your spirit?From your presence, where can I flee?8If I ascend to the heavens, you are there;if I lie down in Sheol, there you are.9If I take the wings of dawnand dwell beyond the sea,10Even there your hand guides me,your right hand holds me fast.11If I say, “Surely darkness shall hide me,and night shall be my light”—12Darkness is not dark for you,and night shines as the day.Darkness and light are but one.13You formed my inmost being;you knit me in my mother’s womb.14I praise you, because I am wonderfully made;wonderful are your works!My very self you know.15My bones are not hidden from you,When I was being made in secret,fashioned in the depths of the earth.16Your eyes saw me unformed;in your book all are written down;my days were shaped, before one came to be.17How precious to me are your designs, O God;how vast the sum of them!18Were I to count them, they would outnumber the sands;when I complete them, still you are with me.19When you would destroy the wicked, O God,the bloodthirsty depart from me!20Your foes who conspire a plot against youare exalted in vain.21Do I not hate, LORD, those who hate you?Those who rise against you, do I not loathe?22With fierce hatred I hate them,enemies I count as my own.23Probe me, God, know my heart;try me, know my thoughts.24See if there is a wicked path in me;lead me along an ancient path.
God knows who we are from the beginning, for God exists in eternity! We are fearfully and wonderfully made by God Himself!
Which begs the question… what does Mary look like to God, before she was even made? After all, she is the woman who accepted God in her very womb! She is the mother of God! How would God see her?
While we can’t possibly know what she must have looked like, we are given a tiny glimpse in Revelation:
1 A great sign appeared in the sky, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. 2She was with child and wailed aloud in pain as she labored to give birth. 3Then another sign appeared in the sky; it was a huge red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on its heads were seven diadems. 4Its tail swept away a third of the stars in the sky and hurled them down to the earth. Then the dragon stood before the woman about to give birth, to devour her child when she gave birth. 5She gave birth to a son, a male child, destined to rule all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was caught up to God and his throne. 6The woman herself fled into the desert where she had a place prepared by God, that there she might be taken care of for twelve hundred and sixty days.
And so! Artworks of the Immaculate Conception are often of that image of the woman in Revelation. Just take a look at this lovely image!
As you can see, this image attempts to capture the image set forth by Revelation!
The Virgin Mary seems to beam in radiance, her dress white for the brilliance of the sun. Around her head are twelve twinkling stars. Underneath her feet is an orb that is supposed to be the moon.
Then, look at her feet! At her feet is a serpent, holding a fruit to represent Satan and his temptations. Once, Satan was able to lead the first woman who was conceived without the stain of original sin — aka, Eve — away. But Mary steps on the serpent, a reminder of this biblical verse:
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.
Though Jesus is the one who will put the final distance between us and Satan (this artwork comes to mind immediately!), Mary plays an extremely important role, for she is the one who first brings Jesus to us! And, as His mother, she and St. Joseph protected Him until He was of age to finally make His appearance to us.
Finally, under her feet are the words, “Mater Immaculata ora pro nobis.” Or, in English, “Immaculate Mother pray for us.”
And so, we ask her, whom Jesus Himself gave to us as our mother, to pray for us and our intentions as we strive to follow her Son, Jesus Christ.
Mater Immaculata ora pro nobis!