Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
God specified with utmost care the instructions for constructing the Ark of the Covenant. He detailed the vessel that would hold the tablet of Commandments from the type of wood to its exact length, breadth, and height. The mysterious and resplendent ark was overlaid with pure gold inside and out with its covering lid a golden seat of mercy. On either side of God’s mercy seat were two carefully fashioned and placed cherubim with their wings spread, covering and glorifying God’s presence.
How much more care, then, would God draw in building the new ark -- the one to hold His only begotten Son, our Savior? Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant, to encase the living and breathing presence of God, needed to be a worthy vessel. She needed to be perfect. Perhaps for this reason, from the very beginning, God created Mary without original sin.
Some mistakenly believe the Immaculate Conception refers to the miraculous conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb. Rather, the Immaculate Conception refers to the grace of Mary's origin, of God preserving Mary from original sin from the moment of her conception.
Both of the important vessels of God’s presence came with fanfare, further highlighting their spiritual realities:
Ex. 24:16 tells us that the ark that held the 10 commandments was frequently seen in the guise of a cloud. And then, at night, it was accompanied by a pillar of fire.
Likewise, in Revelations, before the appearance of the Ark of the New Covenant, there is much splendor and majesty:
Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of his covenant could be seen in the temple. There were flashes of lightning, rumblings, and peals of thunder, an earthquake, and a violent hailstorm. 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.
While the above displays are grandiose in nature, more often than not, spiritual manifestations don't match the physical ones. The sacraments provide examples of the stark contrasts between the seen and unseen. Physically, during the Eucharist and Sacrament of Reconciliation, it seems as though nothing is really happening. To grasp the immense spiritual realities of these sacraments, the faithful are to lean in and look internally for movements hidden from our sight.
The same is true of the Immaculate Conception. In a meditation on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception in 2012, the Holy Father remarked:
“That which is truly great often goes unnoticed, and calm silence is more fruitful than the frenzy that characterizes our cities..."
The Immaculate Conception remained silently hidden until 1854, when the Church proclaimed it as an event for the faithful to believe.
Gift in the Silence
The Holy Father in his 2012 homily continued that "Mary’s Immaculate Conception is ‘a gratuitous gift of the grace of God’…”
Just like John the Baptist was a precursor to prepare the way for Jesus, the gracious gift of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady was a precursor for His birth.
In the busyness and activity of the season, we search for the perfect gift for our loved ones, but nothing under the Christmas tree compares to the real deal. Because what greater gift is there than the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Christ?
When we open our presents and watch with expectation as our loved ones unwrap our tokens of care for them, let’s imagine God’s gifts to us, given in the Immaculate Conception and then in a silent and humble manger. The gift of Mary’s unblemished beginning readied the way for the birth of Jesus himself, the gift of all gifts.
The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, cocooned inside of Advent, is a double present of God’s grace and mercy.
O Mary, Conceived Without Sin, Pray for Us Who Have Recourse to Thee