The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is the feast in which we celebrate the special grace given to the Blessed Virgin Mary, who was preserved from the stain of Original Sin from the moment of her conception in the womb of her mother, St. Anne. The life of grace begins for you and me at our baptism, when Original Sin is wiped away and we are filled with the life of Christ. Our Lady is different, however, for there was never a time in her life when she wasn’t united to God in grace. This was a special favor shown to her. As part of God’s plan for our salvation (and for hers), she was to receive the benefit of Christ’s sacrifice prior to it happening – something possible for God, who, in His divinity, is not subject to space and time.
I wonder what life was like for Mary in the world. I imagine that it was, in a way, rather lonely. After all, there was no one like her. Everything and everyone around her was touched by Original Sin. Even those of us who have received the benefit of baptism continue to suffer the lingering effects of Original Sin – including difficulty distinguishing good from evil, weakness in the face of temptation, and the tendency to fall into sin. Our Lady experienced none of those things. Not since the days when Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden had someone walked the earth in such a perfect state. While our first parents lived in a perfectly ordered world, however, Mary lived in a world ravaged by sin and disorder. And so, we can imagine that her suffering was great, including the feeling of profound loneliness that comes from being different from everyone you encounter.
The last time we hear of comparable loneliness in the scriptures is in the Book of Genesis. There we hear about how God created Adam from the dust of the earth and gave him the responsibility to cultivate the land and give names to all of the animals. Although he was surrounded by all of these other creatures, Adam was alone, for he was different from them. The Lord knew it was not good for the man to be alone, so He caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep, and from the man’s side He created Eve. When Adam sees her for the first time, he cries out: “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!” The loneliness of Adam is overcome by his encounter with Eve, whose name means “mother of all the living.” Tragically, however, Eve listens to the serpent and rebels against God, and Adam with her. The world is cast into disorder, and sin and death reign over everything – until, it seems, the moment of the Immaculate Conception. That’s when Mary, the “new Eve,” comes into existence. Unique in Creation, she is untouched by sin through the special grace of God. Her loneliness comes to an end when she listens to the angel and is obedient to God, and the “new Adam” is conceived in her womb. God himself becomes bone of her bones and flesh of her flesh. As the mother of the Savior, Our Lady would become the mother of all who live in grace; the Mother of the Redeemer would also be the Mother of the Redeemed.
And so, we celebrate this great Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception by marveling at how God deems it most fitting to redeem Creation from within, setting things right that had gone awry, and bringing forth the new creation from the old.