Good Zeal

Full of Grace

Immaculate Conception Chapel WindowThe Gospel message we just heard this past Sunday (Second Sunday of Advent, Cycle C) awakens us to John the Baptist’s role of prophecy:
“John went throughout the whole region of the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah: A voice of one crying out in the desert: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make straight his paths. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be made low. The winding roads shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God” (Luke 3:4-6).

Whenever I hear this passage, the melody of Handel’s Messiah “Prepare the Way of the Lord” immediately pops into my head. Just like Isaiah, John calls the people of his time to straighten the paths, make the winding roads straight, and the rough ways smooth so that all humanity shall see the salvation of God. We, too, are called to repentance and conversion that we may be blessed with grace to carry on God’s plan of peace and love to all. As we look at our world today with its widespread turmoil, our Advent hearts call us to ponder how we can carry on with the call to “Prepare the way of the Lord” in our world today.

But wait a minute! Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This feast emphasizes “the extraordinary fullness of grace granted to Mary in the first moment of her conception. We likewise celebrate her exalted prerogative of being the only person who through the merits of Jesus Christ was preserved from every stain of original sin” (The Church’s Year of Grace: Advent to Candlemas, Pius Parsch, Volume 1, pg. 160). Parsch goes on to explain that “today’s feast has no relation to Advent. It was placed on December 8 simply to complete the needed nine-month period before September 8, the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.” However, as one ponders the readings for this feast, Advent themes do emerge. “During the time when we are awaiting the Savior, when we are striving to arouse in ourselves a deep consciousness of the need for redemption, when we lovingly look up to Mary as our chiefest model, then indeed does this feast seem like the golden dawn before the rising sun of Christmas. December 8, therefore, is a genuine Advent feast” (pg. 160).

The song that comes to mind on this feast from my childhood days is “Immaculate Mary.” Dressed in my First Communion dress and carrying a bouquet of white roses, I would process to the sanctuary with my classmates to place our bouquets in front of the white marble statue of Mary. After all the flowers were placed, the class returned to the pews to sing the following:
Immaculate Mary, thy praises we sing;
Who reignest in splendor with Jesus our King.
Ave, ave, ave, Maria! Ave, ave, Maria!

In heaven, the blessed thy glory proclaim;
On earth we, thy children, invoke thy fair name.
Ave, ave, ave, Maria! Ave, ave, Maria!

We pray for God’s glory; may His kingdom come;
We pray for His vicar, our father, and Rome.
Ave, ave, ave, Maria! Ave, ave, Maria!

We pray for our Mother, the Church upon earth,
And bless, dearest Lady, the land of our birth.
Ave, ave, ave, Maria! Ave, ave, Maria!

One of the books I treasure each Advent is Caryll Houselander’s The Reed of God (Sheed & Ward, 1954). Houselander gifts us with the following quote for this feast:
“As soon as children can walk, they walk to our Lady’s altar and put one more candle to shine among the countless candles at her feet, one more bunch of flowers from the fields is pushed into her hand or laid across her gilded shoes; and when the child is old and nodding before the altar, it is the same thing.

[Our Lady] is not wearied with our littleness; her smile comes down to us like a benediction through the sea of flickering candles, and she blesses our wildflowers withering at her feet. For each of us is “another Christ”; each one, to Mary, is her only child. It is therefore not tedious to her to hear trifles that we tell her, to look at the bruises that we bring to her, and seeing our wound of sin, to heal it” (pg. 121).

Mary, full of grace, models for us and reminds us of our own calling to respond just as she did in faith and trust: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Pope Francis, in his Angelus Address on December 8, 2018, pays the following tribute to Mary: “She is a masterpiece, whilst remaining humble, small, poor. In her is reflected the beauty of God which is all love, grace, gift of self… Mary’s ‘yes’ to God takes on from the beginning the attitude of service, of attention to the needs of others…May the feast of our Mother help us to make our whole life a ‘yes’ to God, a ‘yes’ made of adoration of him and of daily gestures of love and service.”

By Sister Priscilla Cohen, OSB

Back to Blog