A telephone call came in to the front desk at St. Peter’s in the Loop of Chicago. The man asked: “What time are the Masses for the Immaculate Exception?” The friar who answered the phone was tempted to respond that the man meant the “Immaculate Conception,” but he simply responded with the Mass times. He later told the story over the dinner table.
The incident has stayed with me, and I have found myself turning the question over and over in my mind. While there is no denying that the man had misspoke, there was a nagging feeling in my mind that he was also correct. Today’s Feast, or I should say today’s Solemnity, is a celebration of an exception. Mary was conceived immaculately, without the stain of original sin. She is the exception to the rule. Because God knew that this woman would eventually be the vessel which would carry Jesus, she was preserved from original sin. No one else can make that claim.
Throughout Advent we find ourselves dwelling on the promises made through the prophets. God had promised to save us from the sin of Adam. This promise was made shortly after Adam sinned. It became God’s plan almost from the very beginning. There had been a different plan in place before this plan. God had intended that we would live with God in the Garden of Eden enjoying the benefits of creation forever. God created human beings because God wanted an outlet for love, the love that defines who God is. Sin derailed God’s original plan. So God put a new plan in place. That plan had as its end the same purpose as the first plan. Since we were meant to live forever with God, the new plan simply chose a different way to complete that dream.
What we celebrate today is the fact that God loved us so much that God chose to live with us as one of us. However, that love also means that God chose to accept even the punishment for Adam’s sin. God sent His Son to live with us and to die for us. Mary, his mother, was one component of that plan. Her Immaculate Conception simply is the natural unfolding of God’s plan to save us. We can only respond to God’s generous and freely given love by loving in return. Mary is also the example of how we are to respond – with a loving and generous “Yes.”
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator