I just spent a half hour reading a synopsis of the theological history of the feast that we celebrate today. It is called the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the Mother of God, and is perhaps the most misunderstood feast in the entire Church year. Many people think that it has to do with the moment Jesus was conceived in Mary’s womb but it is, rather, the belief that Mary, herself, was conceived without original sin -that “stain” that accompanies all of us into the world – not to be confused with “personal sin” for which we alone are responsible. It is comforting for me to know that the great theologians (Bernard of Clairvaux, Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, Duns Scotus and others) disagreed about the meaning and validity of this doctrine. It is clearly a matter of faith, a tenet that arose from the sensus fidelium (the sense of the faithful) among people who look to Mary as a model of love of God and mother to all people. There can be no scientific proof for this doctrine; we must – as with many religious practices – “take it on faith.”
What I take as important today as I note this feast of Mary is the esteem and devotion of millions of people who honor her for her willingness to live for God in an extraordinary way in a life that was often ordinary in its daily activities but also fraught with the worries of motherhood and eventually sorrowful as she watched her innocent son be vilified and ultimately murdered. I pray especially today for mothers but also for those who manifest in life those qualities that bring Mary especially close. In an early song of Gregory Norbert from the Weston Priory in the 1970s I recall simple, lovely lyrics that expressed this devotion to Mary and will be the anchor of my prayer today.
O, with what joy we sing of Mary, a woman of great love, whose openness and loving kindness gave birth to God’s own son. Mary, oh so gentle and discreet, be with us as we pray to know the whisper of his presence, the wonder of his love.