Mary, the Immaculate Kecharitomene
As we celebrate today the Solemnity of our Blessed Mother, the Immaculate Conception, my thoughts dwell on the richness of our Catholic tradition. The circumstances and details of the family life of Jesus in Nazareth is not recorded in the Gospels. What has been handed down to us came from a long line of tradition that stretches back to earliest Christianity. Mary’s mother was named Anne, her father, Joachim. Sts. Joachim and Anne then are the grandparents of Jesus. We celebrate their feast on July 26 which we consider as grandparents’ day.
It is important to note that such details were not recorded in the Bible because the early Christian writers were first preoccupied in writing the core of the Gospel message: the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Its beginnings saw Christianity struggle to form its distinct identity by anchoring itself in the Paschal mystery of Jesus. Only later did the Church begin to explore the other details of Jesus rich life.
The belief in the Immaculate Conception is rooted in the belief of the purity of Jesus. The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews would say that Jesus was like us in all things except sin (Hebrews 4:15). It is important to hold on to this truth because our salvation rests on the fact that the Son of God became man. Being God, the Second Person of the Trinity had to be incarnated as the Perfect Man for him to become a worthy thanksgiving to the Father in behalf of humanity. But to be born as a man, Jesus needs a mother from whom He will receive His humanity.
Mary was chosen beforehand to be the mother of Jesus. And so, in a singular grace granted to her, she was given the grace of being born without sin in order to prepare her for her role as the mother of Jesus. It is only right that the flesh and womb that would carry the Son of God for nine months be preserved from all stain of sin. But this grace is not given to her because she deserved it. Rather, it was given to her in view of Jesus. This grace of being free from sin is not something that is outside the work of Jesus. Rather it is something that we can call as a “preview” of the salvation that is to be won on the cross. It is the same salvation that we have received at Baptism except that Mary had a foretaste of it at her conception while we receive it after the cross through the water and the Spirit.
This is why our Blessed Mother is often called the Tabernacle because she would carry in her womb the Son of God in the same way our tabernacles in churches would hold the reposed consecrated bread. She is also called theotokos, meaning God-bearer for the same reason. To do this singular role, she was designated and prepared beforehand by the Father.
The angel Gabriel would affirm this her state when he would greet her: “Hail Mary, full of Grace! The Lord is with you!” A more faithful translation would be: “Rejoice, O Graced one! The Lord is with you!” The original Greek would highlight the relationship between joy (rejoice) and grace. Not only is Mary given grace by God but she is graced to to the full. We would say to her fullness because this grace is but a manifestation of the presence of God (Lord) in her life. This is so unique to her that St. Luke’s Greek gave her a theological name: kecharitomene – a title that fully describes her unique role (Luke 1:28). Our Blessed Mother is the Kecharitomene.
The title Immaculate Conception is but a negative statement of the Kecharitomene. God and sin are mutually exclusive of one another. Sin the separation from God. To the Hebrew mind, it is ‘missing the mark’ of doing God’s Will, the Law, which separates us from the righteousness of God. Not doing God’s Will is separating, excluding, isolating ourselves from God (and not God separating Himself form us). Grace is its opposite: it is communion with God where we receive the fullness of God who is Grace Himself through whom we become just and saved. To be fully graced then is to be without sin!
Yet it is not our act that accomplishes this. It is only through God’s mercy that these things happen. Mary was the recipient and God was the benefactor. She only completed this preparation given her when she said her fiat: “be it done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). If through her human nature God has dwelt like the fire that dwelt in the bush before Moses, now her ‘yes’ allowed for God to dwell in her womb. Grace prepared her to be the Mother of God.
The Immaculate Conception is the most proper solemnity to prepare us for the Birth of Jesus which we celebrate every Christmas. When we see the Madonna embracing the little Child, we see in her the representative of all humanity that has been longing to embrace and receive salvation. The little Child that slept soundly on her breast should be able to sleep soundly on our hearts. We might not have been conceived immaculately in the wombs of our mothers but we have been spiritually born immaculately in the womb of the Church when the waters of Baptism have completely washed away our sins. Let us maintain this purity through the practice of the virtue of chastity and allow Grace to dwell in us especially as we await the birth of Christ in our hearts.