Throwback Thursday: The Incomparable Importance of Immaculate Mary in Our Life of Faith

The Blessed Virgin Mary is a beautiful, beloved, essential and pervasive figure in the Church calendar.  Tomorrow, we rejoice in her Immaculate Conception, celebrating her as God’s greatest creation – the vessel he fashioned to be his own mother, the woman who would bear him into the world.

Pope Francis explains that, in view of her divine motherhood, “Mary was preserved from original sin, from that fracture in communion with God, with others and with creation, which deeply wounds every human being. But this fracture was healed in advance in the Mother of the One who came to free us from the slavery of sin. The Immaculata was written in God’s design; she is the fruit of God’s love that saves the world” (Angelus address of December 8, 2013).  By her Immaculate Conception, Mary is truly a proper and pure living temple for the Son of God, a holy living house of the Lord.

Our Holy Father has stated that Mary is more important than the bishops and that without her, we could never truly understand the spirit of the New Evangelization (e.g. Evangelii Gaudium, 104, 284).  In fact, without Immaculate Mary, without her “yes” to God, the events of salvation that were to come could not have taken place.

Recognizing her unequaled importance in the incarnation of Jesus and his work of salvation, the Second Vatican Council devoted a substantial portion of its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium, to the Virgin Mary.  More than that, recalled Pope Benedict XVI, who served at the Council as a theological advisor when he was a young priest, the entire process was pervaded by a Marian dimension (Homily for the 40th anniversary of the closing of the Council, December 8, 2005).

Summarizing the Council Fathers, Pope Benedict said, “The Council intended to tell us this: Mary is so interwoven in the great mystery of the Church that she and the Church are inseparable, just as she and Christ are inseparable. Mary mirrors the Church, anticipates the Church in her person, and in all the turbulence that affects the suffering, struggling Church, she always remains the Star of salvation.”

The role that Mary played and continues to play in pointing the way for the Church is crucial, taught the Council.  “Adorned from the first instant of her conception with the radiance of an entirely unique holiness,” such that throughout her life she remained “free from all stain of sin, as though fashioned by the Holy Spirit and formed as a new creature” (Lumen Gentium, 56), we find in Mary both the most sublime example of God’s grace at work and also a sign that we too can be made new and grow in holiness if only we accept his grace.  Just as the Blessed Virgin is “the image and beginning of the Church as it is to be perfected in the world to come, so too does she shine forth on earth, until the day of the Lord shall come, as a sign of sure hope and solace to the people of God during its sojourn on earth” (Lumen Gentium, 68).

Everywhere the Church has spread there are signs of profound veneration of Our Lady.  There is a complete symphony of praise for her in poems, litanies and hymns sung in every language, giving voice to her vital role in our life of faith.

While we cannot equal Mary in the singular privilege of her Immaculate Conception, as we seek to renew ourselves in preparation for Jesus during this Advent season, we can certainly emulate her faith and her love for the Lord. Following her example as handmaid of the Lord, we can continually progress in faith, hope and charity, seeking and doing the will of God in all things (Lumen Gentium, 65).  In this way, we become more like her exalted type and help to manifest already in this world the beginnings of Christ’s kingdom of peace and justice, truth and love.