The Immaculate Conception

The 8th December is one of the greatest feasts of Mary, the Mother of God. By way of explaining exactly what this feast is about, perhaps the best place to start is the long name for today’s feast: the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

A solemnity means a day that is marked by particular festivity in the celebration of the Mass and the Prayer of the Church. It means that even though the day may be an ordinary weekday, like this year it falls on a Thursday, a solemnity it is kept as though it were a Sunday. Sunday is the holiest day of the week for Catholics because it is the day on which the Lord rose from the dead. So Sunday is the benchmark of solemnity in the Holy Mass, and so if a feast is called a solemnity, we should be on the look out in the Mass for things which we are used to from a Sunday.

For example on a solemnity, as on a Sunday, we say the Gloria at the beginning of the Mass. This is a song of praise to the Holy Trinity, using the words that the angels sang on the night Christ was born of Mary in Bethlehem. Why not Google the words of the Gloria if you’re not familiar with them? In fact, much of Western Classical music was based on the words of the Mass and if you were to type Gloria into YouTube, you’d find literally hundreds of Mass settings by composers such as Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven.

Also, we stand and say the Credo after the Homily. This Profession of Faith is our personal confession of belief in the Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, as well as the Church, that baptism washes away our sins, the resurrection of the dead, and everlasting life.

So the liturgy tells us that this particular feast is one of great solemnity, kept as though it were a Sunday.

The phrase ‘Immaculate Conception’ often gets confused with the Virginal Conception of the Lord. The Virginal Conception is the belief that Mary, while remaining a virgin, conceived the Son of God in her womb miraculously, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Immaculate Conception, however, refers not to Christ’s conception, but to Mary’s. It is the truth revealed to us by God, that Mary, conceived in the ordinary way by her father and mother, St. Joachim and St. Anne, was free of any spot or stain of original sin. Original sin means our sharing in that first sin of Adam and Eve has had on the world which that touches each of us as members of the human race. The consequences of original sin still remain even after baptism; death, suffering, and the desire to sin even though we know it to be wrong. Our Lady,  however, was conceived immaculate, without original sin. Indeed, immaculate itself means spotless, without stain, without fault, pure. So to put it simply, the Immaculate Conception means that Mary was without original sin, pure from the very moment her life began, and remained sinless for the whole of her life.

Mary received this from the Lord not due to her own merits, but due to a unique gift of grace. God is the only One who was able to chose his own mother, and in chosing Mary, he made her the most beautiful person he has ever created, beautiful in her soul from the moment of her conception. Anticipating the power that the death and resurrection of God the Son would have on the universe in freeing us from sin and death, the Holy Trinity preserved our Lady from all sin so that she would be a worthy dwelling place for God himself.

Why not look further into this wonderful teaching of the Catholic Church? It is a wonderful truth of our faith, and our Lady is so precious to God as without Mary he could not have come to us. To even think about that for a few moments would be a great way to mark this great solemnity and to ponder the mystery of Christmas for which Advent prepares us.

Here is a wonderful hymn to mark the Immaculate Conception. Why not say it aloud as a prayer to our Lady and ask her to show us how to live lives in friendship with God, and free from sin?

Holy light on earth’s horizon

Star of hope to fallen man,

Light amid a world of shadows,

Dawn of God’s redemptive plan.

Chosen from eternal ages,

Thou alone of all our race,

By thy Son’s atoning merits

Wast conceived in perfect grace.

Mother of the world’s Redeemer,

Promised from the dawn of time:

How could one so highly favoured

Share the guilt of Adam’s crime?

Sun and moon and stars adorn thee,

Sinless Eve, triumphant sign;

Thou art she who crushed the serpent,

Mary, pledge of life divine

Earth below and highest heaven

Praise the splendour of thy state,

Thou who now art crowned in glory

Wast conceived immaculate.

Hail, beloved of the Father,

Mother of his only Son,

Mystic bride of Love eternal,

Hail, thou fair and spotless one!

 

Post by Edmund Montgomery

Remembrance day and the Church

On April 19th 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected pope. He chose to be called Benedict, and was the sixteenth man to choose that name since Pope Benedict I in the year 575. But it was his most recent name-sake, Pope Benedict XV (pope from 1914-1922) that inspired Cardinal Ratzinger to take Benedict as his papal name. The new pope said,

‘I chose to call myself Benedict XVI ideally as a link to the venerated Pontiff, Benedict XV, who guided the Church through the turbulent times of the First World War. He was a true and courageous prophet of peace who struggled strenuously and bravely, first to avoid the drama of war and then to limit its terrible consequences.’

The First World War, was a disaster for the countries of central Europe. In the four years of the war, more than 15,000,000 people were killed, which represented at that time the bloodiest conflict in the history of the world. Pope Benedict XV tried desperately to bring peace between the warring parties, but was tragically unsuccessful. What was even more painful for the Pope was that many, if not all the countries involved were either Catholic or Christian, and still they were killing their enemies in their hundreds of thousands.

Pope Benedict did however call the Church to pray. And he asked priests all around the world to work with him in praying in particular for the souls of all those who had been killed by the violence of what was becoming known as the ‘Great War’. To do this he issued a decree stating that priests were able to offer three Masses on the 2nd November, All Souls’ Day, for the Faithful Departed.

This was intended by Pope Benedict not only to bring about a speedy end to the War, but also to pray that those who had died (and who were dying) would be granted eternal rest free from their sins. Ever since priests have been able to offer three Masses on All Souls’ Day, a unique privilege given by Pope Benedict in 1915. Here in our own parish of Our Lady and St. Christopher we had three Masses on All Souls’ Day this year.

The War did finally come to an end, and it was not accidental that the Armistice, the Peace, signed between the warring countries was concluded in the very month, November, dedicated to praying for the Faithful Departed. Whilst the speedy end to the War that Pope Benedict XV had hoped for was not realised, the ending of the War on the eleventh day of the eleventh month did restore to Europe something that had been lost; the remembrance of the Dead in the month of November.

So every November when across the United Kingdom people of all ages pause and remember the sacrifice that men and women have and continue to make in the defence of our country, we are forming part of a chain of prayer that goes back to even before Christ, when in honour of fallen warriors, the Maccabees offered prayers for the Dead that God might forgive their sins and grant them His peace.

This Remembrance Sunday, let us not just ‘remember’ or ‘think about’ those who have died, but pray for them. November is a month dedicated to praying for the Dead, so with hope in Resurrection of the Dead, we pray asking for their eternal rest.

Eternal rest grant unto them, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon them. May they rest in peace. Amen.

Post by Edmund Montgomery, Pastoral Associate at Our Lady & St. Christopher’s, Romiley.

Is death the end?

Today’s post is Edmund’s reflection after the Gospel at the Masses of Sunday 6th November

November is the month of the Holy Souls, during which we remember, pray, and offer the Holy Mass for all the Faithful Departed. We bless graves as we will do this Sunday with Holy Water as a sign of hope. For burial places have been sites of pilgrimage for thousands of years, in every culture, in every corner of the world. The graves of our loved ones seem to us to be ‘holy ground’ a place where we can go to touch them, a marker that witnesses to the fact that they were once here with us, and a sign to others of how much we loved them, and that they are not forgotten in death.

If you were to travel to Sri Lanka, you would see enclosed in a shrine, the final resting place of Siddhartha Gautama, otherwise known as the Buddha. He is revered by some as a great teacher of the path to enlightenment, but he too died and despite his followers acclaiming his spiritual teaching he could not overcome death, nor avoid the grave.

You might travel to Medina, a city in Saudi Arabia, where you would be able to visit, as millions of faithful Muslims do each year, the tomb and remains of Mohammed. He lived, only to die, and his bones remain sealed in that tomb, silent and unmoved. He gave the Muslims the Qu’ran and a religion, but great and final prophet they claim him to be, there he lies in his tomb.

But let us travel instead in our imagination to Jerusalem, where twenty centuries ago the grey and life-less body of a thirty three year old man was wrapped in a shroud and sealed in a tomb newly hewn from the rock. Placed in that grave many would have been forgiven for imagining this was the end, for he was a man like us, and surely death was the final act in the drama of his life. Yet faithful to the one who had died, the women who followed him and served him so faithfully came early one Sunday morning to visit his tomb. And coming to the tomb they are told that ‘He is not here – he has risen!’. This truly is a grave like no other. For this grave is empty.

This tomb, empty and bare, stands as a silent witness to the truth of Christ’s victory over death. And whilst we could visit the graves of many religious leaders or founders of religions those who were buried in those tombs are still there. But go to Jerusalem, go to the tomb of Christ, and you will not find him there, for he is risen – the tomb is empty.

By dying Christ gained the forgiveness of our sins, but it was by rising that he destroyed the power of death therefore our graves too will one day be empty. That is the Faith of the Church and it is the reason why St. Paul can write to the Thessalonians with such confidence,

We want you to be quite certain, brothers, about those who have died, to make sure that you do not grieve about them, like the other people (that is the pagans) who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and that it will be the same for those who have died in Jesus…

And yet, while we are taught not to fear the grave, we are taught to be vigilant, to live conscious that the hour of our death may be this very hour, to

stay awake, because you do not know either the day or the hour.

To keep death before us is not to be morbid or miserable, rather the reality of our death puts our life into context, and forces us to ask ourselves, what is truly important? What has true value? And knowing that at death we leave behind us all we have ever worked for, all we have ever earned, all we have ever owned, all we have ever saved, all our property, and return to Him who made us, should not our deepest desire be for God alone? After all we surely desire to go to Heaven when we die,but what is Heaven? It is not an abstract concept or a kind of never-never-land of treats and pleasures, Heaven is being with the Lord Himself face-to-face, forever.

It is traditional to pray to St. Joseph for what the Church calls a ‘happy death’. A ‘happy death’ is not as contradictory as it sounds; essentially it means dying in friendship with God strengthened by the Sacraments of the Church, above all the Holy Eucharist. St. Joseph, tradition tells us, experienced a truly happy death, for he had at that moment, not only his spouse the Blessed Virgin Mary with him, but also the Lord Himself.

 

To claim for ourselves that ‘happy death’ we must live today in company with Jesus, Mary, and Joseph; that is to love God, love our Lady, and to strive to be holy, after the example of St. Joseph and all the saints. To stay awake does not mean to be terrified of our approaching death, but is a reminder to us that death is the inevitable and unavoidable means of passing from this life to God. And because we do not know the day or the hour, the Lord calls us to watch that we are in friendship with Him always so that whether die today, tomorrow, or some distant hour in the future, if we die in friendship with God death becomes the gate through which we walk and return to God.

If our death were to come now, am I in friendship with God? And if I were to die now, what would I wish I had put right, said, done? For it is at death that all the choices we have made in life take a final and permanent effect and shape our eternity. God has given us the gift of life, and invites us to receive the Sacraments to sustain us in that life, and to keep us in friendship with Him.

Come back to the Lord, become friends with him again, remain friends with him by frequent Confession and receiving the Lord Himself in Holy Communion, and if you do so whatever the hour, whatever the day of our death, we will go to Him who made us and be with Him forever.

 

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: