Anonymous, “Immaculate Conception,” San Francisco Church in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico (Wikimedia Commons)
“O most pure Virgin Mary conceived without sin, from the very first instant, you were entirely immaculate.”
No one has ever been better prepared for Christmas than the Blessed Mother. Despite the stress of needing to travel by donkey from Nazareth to Bethlehem, a four- to six-day journey over rough terrain with no place to stay at the end, Mary was spiritually ready to give birth to our Savior. God’s plan is always perfect. He wanted his Son to be born of a woman free of sin in a humble place—a manger, among animals.
The feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated during Advent, on Dec. 8. It is a beautiful time to ask for Mary’s intercession to help us prepare for the birth of Jesus. The Immaculate Conception refers to our Blessed Mother, not to Jesus, which is a common misconception — literally, in this case. It means that Mary was conceived without sin (CCC 490-491):
To become the mother of the Savior, Mary ‘was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role.’ The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as ‘full of grace.’ In fact, in order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God’s grace.
Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, ‘full of grace’ through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Blessed Pope Pius IX proclaimed on Dec. 8, 1854: ‘The most 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.’
On the feast of the Annunciation, March 25, 1858, the date of the 16th apparition to St. Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, France, the Lady answers the question as to who she is: “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
It had been three weeks since the first apparition and Bernadette had asked the Lady on three previous occasions who she was. The only answer she had received was a smile. Bernadette persisted and asked a fourth time, “Would you be so kind as to tell me who you are?”
The answer finally came, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” Bernadette immediately went to the parish priest to give him the name of the Lady. It was at that point that he realized it was the Mother of God who was appearing in the Grotto.
It is extremely relevant that it was revealed March 25. The feast is the day of the Annunciation, when Jesus is “conceived” in Mary’s womb. The Lady appearing to Bernadette expresses her vocation: She is the mother of Jesus, her whole being is directed toward conceiving the Son of God, and she is entirely devoted to him. For this reason, she is immaculate, wholly inhabited by God.
We too should desire to be immaculate and totally inhabited by God. Our first step should be to receive the sacrament of Confession to purify our souls from sins and ask God to fill us completely with his grace. Then, asking the Blessed Mother, the Immaculate Conception, to pray for us and help us to also be filled with God, is a beautiful way to prepare during Advent for the birth of Jesus at Christmas.
O most pure Virgin Mary conceived without sin, from the very first instant, you were entirely immaculate. O glorious Mary full of grace, you are the mother of my God — the Queen of Angels and of men.
The Prince of Peace and the Lord of Lords chose you for the honor of being His beloved mother. By the power of His Cross, He preserved you from all sin. Therefore, by His power and love, I have hope and confidence in your prayers for my holiness and salvation.
I pray that your prayers will help me to imitate your holiness and submission to Jesus and the Divine Will.
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. Amen.