Bartolomé Esteban Murillo, El triunfo de la Inmaculada
We have prepared for this solemnity praying, for twelve days, the “Crown of twelve stars.” It is a chaplet—so named after the crown with which in the book of Revelation the woman clothed with the sun was crowned—whereby we consider the twelve main privileges of the Blessed Virgin Mary. What is a privilege? The dictionary defines it as “a special right or advantage that a particular person or group of people has.” Among human beings, Mary is undoubtedly the most privileged person. Why? Because she had been chosen by God to become the mother of his Son. Therefore, he filled her with a lot of graces, so that she could worthily accomplish the mission she had received.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states on this point: “To become the mother of the Savior, Mary ‘was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role.’ [LG 55] The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as ‘full of grace.’ In fact, in order for Mary to be able to give the assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God’s grace” (#490).
No human being can be considered “full of grace.” God has always filled his creatures with his manifold graces; but to none of them he has ever given the fullness of grace. It is precisely a privilege bestowed upon Mary alone. Reflecting on those words of the angel, which are a proper revelation, Christians have little by little understood that, if Mary is “full of grace,” there cannot be in her any stain of sin, not only any actual sin, but even that sin with which every human being is born, namely the original sin. Since we are marked by the original sin right from the first moment of our conception, Mary must be “full of grace” from the very beginning of her life. That is why Christians started talking of the “immaculate conception” of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Bull, by which Pope Pius IX in 1854 defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, reads as follows: “The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, … preserved immune from all stain of original sin.”
Well, from all eternity God loves Mary (In principio dilexit eam) and predestines her to become the mother of his Son, and so, at the moment of her conception, he preserves her from original sin. But there is a problem: we know from the revelation that Jesus Christ alone delivered humanity from sin. Peter said before the Sanhedrin: “There is no salvation through anyone else, nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved” (Acts 4:12). So, how could Mary be exempted from sin, if Jesus had still to be born? When, a little while ago, I read the text of the papal Bull, I skipped a clause that answers this question: “by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race.” You see? Mary was delivered from original sin not only by a special grace of God, but also by the merits of Jesus Christ. How is this possible, if Jesus had not yet been born? Maybe the English translation of the Bull is not so accurate: where we read “by virtue,” in the original Latin text there is written “in view of the merits of Christ” (intuitu meritorum Christi). God already knew that his Son was coming into the world to save the humankind by his death and resurrection. So, in anticipation of Jesus’ death, considering the merits he would have acquired through it, God preserved Mary immune from sin in advance.
We are happy with Mary for having been enriched with such great privilege. But we? We cannot rely on the same extraordinary grace. We are sinners. Yes, but Saint Paul reminds us that God predestined us as well “to be holy and without blemish before him.” We are not immaculate from our conception, but we too have been freed from sin through Baptism and receive the grace to live our life without sin. In a different way, we have the same possibility as Mary to be holy. Let us ask her to help us to be blameless like her.