Yesterday was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Monday night I went to the vigil mass at my parents’ church and the priest said in his homily something I heard before but didn’t contemplate until he said it. He said that many Catholics confuse this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception as the conception of Jesus through the Holy Spirit in the womb of Mary , but it really celebrates the conception of Mary in the womb of St.Anne. On the Miraculous Medal it says, “O, Mary conceived without sin, pray for us.” She was born completely without the stain of original sin. Pope Piux IX proclaimed in 1854:
“The 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, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.”
Mary’s desire to follow the will of God made her highly favored among women and it was her pure, perfect, and Divine holiness that made her the first tabernacle of Christ. It is her holiness that we celebrate on this feast day.
The readings for the Immaculate Conception are perfect. The first reading comes from Genesis 3: 9-15 telling of Adam and Eve’s disobedience in Eden; the second reading comes from Luke 1:26-38 when the angel Gabriel announces that Mary has been chosen to bear the Son of God. In Genesis, when God inquires as to the ongoings of Adam and Eve and it is revealed that they both have disobeyed God’s commandments. Eve confesses that the serpent gave her the fruit and she gives the fruit to her husband. God says (to the serpent) in Genesis 3:15, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Almost every sculpture (particularly those depicting Marian visitations) , she stands on the foot of a serpent indicating that she, being the one who brought forth Christ, has victory over the serpent (which is believed and indicated throughout the scriptures to be Satan). Jesus in his resurrection defeats the sting of death that could not have victory of him. Mary, as the bearer of Christ, shares in the victory.
Now, how is Mary the New Eve? How are these two women connected? Eve comes from the Hebrew word chawwah which means “to breathe.” From Adam’s rib, God made Eve and He breathed breath into her lungs. Chawwah is is closely linked to the word chayah which means “to live.” So as God breathed life into Eve, so did she breathe (or give) life to future generations as, what the Bible calls, the Mother of All.
Mary, like Eve, has become the Mother of All. Before Jesus drew his last breath on the cross, St. John writes that Jesus looked down to his disciple and said, Son, behold your mother” and to his Mother he said, “Woman, behold your son.” From then on, Mary would become the mother to the disciples and to us here on earth.
Both women were born without original sin. Both women were created by the hands of God. Both women bore life. What is the difference between them? Obedience to will of God. Eve disobeyed and Mary did not. St. Irenaeus explains, ” the knot of Eve’s disobedience was untied by Mary’s obedience: what the virgin Eve bound through her disbelief, Mary loosened by her faith.”
What is profound about Mary’s “yes” to God is that it was simple. The news from Gabriel was very startling, but she embraced it as a handmaid (servant) of the Lord. Mary’s consent gave us the Savior of the World and it was the purity of her heart, her humility as a servant, and her profound faith that made her the Mother of All.
Eve sinned and it was her generation that had need of a Messiah. For without Eve’s disobedience, there would be no sin, but without Eve, there would be no need for Jesus. Without Mary’s consent to the will of God, there would be no Jesus.