It's a day when, as a practicing Catholic, I'm required to go to church. (Catechism, 2177) Not that there's much arm-twisting involved, at least not in my case. I was impressed with Mary, long before I became a Catholic.
The Immaculate Conception; Saint Clare of Assisi and Television; and My Speculations about Need-to-KnowThe feast day is called "Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary," by the way. (Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary - Homily, St. John Paul II (December 8, 2004))
It's the conception of Mary we're celebrating, by the way. There's a prayer that goes with the day. This year, anyway:
"The image of the Virgin is found in your Church.There's more about this aspect of Mary's life in the Catechism:
"Mary had a faith that your Spirit prepared and a love that never knew sin, for you kept her sinless from the first moment of her conception.
"Trace in our actions the lines of her love, in our hearts her readiness of faith.
"Prepare once again a world for your Son who lives and reigns with your and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.
"--- from 'Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers' ")
"To become the mother of the Savior, Mary 'was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role.'132 The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as 'full of grace.'133 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,134 was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854:So, why wait until until 1854 for news that Our Lady is also Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception? Remember, I speak with the authority of some guy with a blog, and this is just my speculation. I've gotten the impression that we're given information from God's Throne on a 'need to know' basis.
"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.135"(Catechism, 490, 491)
Sure, God could have dumped everything on Peter, Paul, John, and the rest. Including:
- What to do when the Roman Empire crumbled
- How to handle the Black Death
- That Saint Clare of Assisi would be a patron saint of television
- Whatever's going to be important
- The day after that
- All days until my Lord returns
When Jesus was here, Clare of Assisi, for example, wouldn't be born for more than a thousand years, and television wouldn't be developed for about 19 centuries. God, for whatever reason, didn't give His Church a complete itinerary of what to expect.
Actually, on one key point, Jesus pointed out that His Father knew, But He, Jesus, didn't - and that's the way it is. (Catechism, 1040; Matthew 24:4-27; Matthew 24:36) (and see Matthew 24 footnote 9 in the NAB) (I discussed 'end times' in "God Knows, I Don't: And That's Okay" (November 14, 2010))
Who Says Mary is Special?Catholics make a fairly big deal over Mary. I have no problem with that, for a variety of reasons. Mostly, though, I'm okay with the Catholic Church's position on Mary because God decided to make a fairly big deal over her:
"10 In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin's name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, 'Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.' "You probably know the rest of that dialog, as recorded in Luke.
The point, for this post, is that Gabriel is an angel. And that's going to take a little explanation, since today's culture has some - interesting - ideas about angels.
"St. Augustine says: ' "Angel" is the name of their office, not of their nature. If you seek the name of their nature, it is "spirit"; if you seek the name of their office, it is "angel": from what they are, "spirit," from what they do, "angel." '188 With their whole beings the angels are servants and messengers of God. Because they 'always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven' they are the 'mighty ones who do his word, hearkening to the voice of his word.'189Gabriel, again, is an angel. He's one of the people who aren't human, who have been with God since He created them: not the lot who joined Satan's rebellion. And that's another topic. (Catechism 391-395, for starters) And Gabriel said "Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you."
"As purely spiritual creatures angels have intelligence and will: they are personal and immortal creatures, surpassing in perfection all visible creatures, as the splendor of their glory bears witness.190"
If angels are "purely spiritual creatures," how can they "say" anything? Or be seen (Luke 1:12, for example.) That's yet another topic1
Where was I? Gabriel and Mary. Right.
Another part of Gabriel's mission that time was to bring Zachariah up to speed on Zachariah's assignment - and that of Zachariah's son. Let's see how this agent of God talks to Zachariah.
"Then Zechariah said to the angel, 'How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.' And the angel said to him in reply, 'I am Gabriel, 8 who stand before God. I was sent to speak to you and to announce to you this good news. But now you will be speechless and unable to talk 9 until the day these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled at their proper time.' "Well, Zachariah asked for a sign: and he got it. We've heard from Gabriel before, by the way. (Daniel 9:21) He's one of the few angels named in the Bible. Yet again another topic.
Zachariah gets his lip zipped. Mary got called "favored one." In both cases, by someone who stands before God, and was on duty at the time. Offhand, I think it's reasonable to think that God thinks Mary is a fairly big deal.
Is it sensible to see Mary as a fairly big deal, just because the "God of gods," "Lord of lords," who "skillfully made the heavens," "struck down the firstborn of Egypt," "struck down great kings," and "gives food to all flesh" thinks she's special? (Psalm 136)
As far as I'm concerned, yes. It's nice to have other reasons, but - bottom line? God is large and in charge.
- "Christmas? Yeah, it's a Pretty Big Deal"
(December 24, 2009)
- "Three Things That Go By the Name of Christmas"
(December 24, 2009)
- "Giving Gifts at Christmas is Good: But Get a Grip!"
(December 22, 2009)
- "The True Meaning of Christmas"
(December 24, 2008)
1 How can angels, who are "purely spiritual creatures" be seen? (Luke 1:12, for example.) I don't know. I've got a pretty good notion of why they can be seen - and again, this is just my personal speculation. As human beings, we use our eyes a lot. As well as our other senses. I suspect that angels can be seen, heard, and otherwise sensed - because that's how they interface with us. We're composite beings, spirit and body. (Catechism, 2516) When communicating with us, I suspect that angels find it easier if we have something apparently physical to relate to.
But, like I said, that's just my speculation.