Friday, December 08, 2006

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

Today is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady, Patroness of the all the Philippines, of the Archdiocese of Manila, of the Diocese of Cubao where our diocese is located, and of countless other dioceses and parishes in our country and all over the world, including our very own and beloved Ateneo de Manila University. Pope Pius IX proclaimed the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, 1854 with the bull Ineffabilis Deus. God's love indeed trancends all description, in the mercy he has shown to our Mother and to all of us, by giving to us to be our Mother, the fairest of all the children of Eve!

Here is the article I wrote a couple of years ago for the 150th anniversary of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, which I published in our group: Mary's Army for Peace, as well as the Marian Prayer I composed that year for the annual alumni homecoming here in San Jose.

Fair as the moon, Bright as the Sun,
Terrible as an army set in battle array

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. The article seeks to understand anew this mystery of faith.

Throughout the ages, the Church praises the Mother of God for her exceeding beauty, highlighting the graces bestowed on her by the Lord. And in heaving such praises on her whom we acclaim as our prototype and exemplar, we are also discovering our identity as people of God. Amongst these praises is the ancient antiphon many of us are familiar with, used daily in the Catena of the Legion of Mary: Who is she that comes forth as the morning rising: fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in battle array?

The image of the dawn is truly fit to illustrate Mary, whom we acclaim as the Immaculate Conception. As the light of the sun is first seen in the dawn even before its rising, so did salvation bear its first and most perfect fruit in Mary even before the coming of the Savior. Many a time in Christian art the Immaculate Conception is portrayed as a young woman with folded hands wearing the blue and white robes of royalty. Yet in Scriptures, the apostle John sees a different vision as Juan Diego will also do in Guadalupe centuries later, of “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.” Moon, stars and sun all together in a picture evoke only a single image: dawn.

Who is She?

Devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, is an established Catholic characteristic. After Jesus, Mary is the most central figure in the faith. We honor her with various prayers and revere her under various titles. Her apparitions continue to draw pilgrimages accompanied by miraculous cures and astounding conversions. In the Philippine setting, she can even take center stage. Her festivals and images draw the most people to the Church. Some even fear that our devotion to Mary is but bordering on the idolatrous. The growing challenge then is to establish a Marian theology that clarifies rather than confuses the faith and a devotion that leads us to rather than distracts us from Christ.

One of the most ancient titles of Mary is the Immaculate Conception. Even if the dogma was proclaimed by Pius IX only in 1854, it has always consistently appeared in Catholic tradition. In fact, the over 400-year old archdiocese of Manila is dedicated to the Immaculate Conception. In 1830, Our Lady appeared in Paris to Catherine Laboure asking that a medal be struck with the inscription “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” And four years after its proclamation, in 1858, there was yet another apparition in Lourdes where she introduced herself explicitly as “the Immaculate Conception”.

The dogma states that “by a singular privilege of God almighty, in view of the foreseen merits of Christ the Savior, the Blessed Virgin Mary was preserved from all stain of original sin from the first moment of her conception.” But the idea isn’t as simple as that; at least while it wasn’t well laid out as “dogma”yet. It has been in fact subject of prolonged and extensive theological debate. The great Thomas Aquinas did not agree since he could not imagine Christ being the “Savior of all except Mary” since she was sinless and did not need any redemption. Thus the issue was resolved only when Duns Scotus came up with the clarifying clause: “in view of the foreseen merits of Christ”, making Mary pre-redeemed by the her Son who was yet to come and suffer, die and rise again; or in our present-day parlance, post-paid. But while the theological and philosophical underpinnings of the Immaculate Conception seems to be relatively settled and definitively (dogmatically, even) defined after the proclamation of the dogma, its pastoral significance remains a task to be done, and always to be done for peoples of every time and place. What exactly does this dogma mean to us and our faith? This article, even if insufficiently, attempts to address this problematic.

Fair as the moon

The moon doesn’t seem to be a very fitting image with our modern knowledge of it. It is but a barren mass of rock with plenty of ugly craters. The moon is barren and lifeless. And yet when we go out one clear night and gaze at the sky, we continue to look with wonder at the moon. The moon remains to be beautiful. It continues to enchant us despite its known unattractiveness.

The moon is nothing in itself. But it is beautiful because it shines with the light of the sun. In this sense does the moon qualify as an image of Mary. Mary is nothing without God. Deprived of all the graces God lavished on her, she would be just another woman. But she shines with the light of God living in her. Another woman also, when she lets God enter her life will find more meaning and purpose than being “just another woman”.

In cosmology we know the moon is made of exactly the same elements as our earth. When viewed from space, from a wider perspective, they still differ a lot but both are just as beautiful. As Catholics, we often see Mary as being more than us or greater than us. Hence we revere her so much yet care so little about imitating her. But in fact, she is just as frail and weak as any of us. Both planets would be nothing without the sun. The moon will be dark and the earth will die. The only difference is that she was “full of grace”. She was full of God. And this is not impossible for us but is even the invitation to us. Grace is offered to us at every moment. Grace never lacks. We only need to let grace work in our lives, to let God enter, like Mary did.

When we look beyond the light of the moon, we see that it actually points us to the sun. In the darkness of the night, the moon is our assurance of morning because as long as the moon still shines, we know that the sun is also there. Mary too, when we gaze at her would always direct us to the reality of a living God. When we look at her, it is not only her own greatness we see but also and even more, the glory of God who raises the lowly. “The Almighty has wrought marvels for me. Holy is his Name.” When we praise her, we are in fact praising God who is the Giver of all that is good in her.

One thing also about the moon is that it never leaves the earth. We know this is because of gravity. Mary too never isolates herself from us even when she is greatly exalted by God. It is this humility that makes her even more admirable. Thus she is truly the cause of our joy, the glory of God’s people, the highest honor of humanity. Her beauty is not something purely personal but a beauty which overflows and sheds its radiance on the whole Church, to the entire world just as the moon sheds on us its borrowed light. The gift of Mary may be singular but it is a gift that is shared. The graces lavished by God on Mary are his gifts to all his children in giving her to us to be our Mother.

Bright as the Sun

This image seems confusing at first since we know that the sun is almost always used to refer to Christ, the Sun of Justice which sustains all creation. It is dangerous because such perception of Mary may seem to obscure rather than elucidate Christ’s role in our lives. There is a spreading movement today which advocates Mary as Co-Redemptrix. The Church has not yet made any official pronouncement for or against the proposition. But it seems rather inconsistent with our faith and subtly misleading because it attributes to Mary a work, a faculty that is only God’s—to give new birth to creation.

Persons have only two God-given faculties for salvation: intellect that we may know God and freedom that we may choose God. “No man can buy his own ransom.” We can only accept God’s call to holiness. She did not help redeem us. She only allowed God to use her in this plan of salvation, with fullness of freedom. While it is true that Mary played a most important role in the story of our salvation, she is nevertheless only God’s instrument, though an instrument par excellence. “Everyone who hears my word and keeps it is my mother, my sister, my brother.”

Every vocation is most sublime. We should never equate Mary with God and separate her from us in the process. As a finite creature like all of us, she can only be so much but never like God. Like any of us, she is also in need of redemption, in need of God’s saving love which is shown in her Immaculate Conception. The Immaculate Conception is not a demonstration of Mary’s strength but of her weakness before God who embraced her frailty and became her strength.

And here comes the proper understanding of Mary as being bright as the Sun. Mary is bright as the Sun who is Christ, not because she is equal to Christ but because she is configured to Christ, attuned to Christ, wholly one with Christ. She is not the sun but “the woman clothed with the sun”, shining with the same marvelous light. Mary had the same call, the same vocation all of us share. She is our model of our aspiring and striving to be “holy as our Father is holy”, to be light of the world in Christ our light. Yet even when she has attained this perfection, she humbly acknowledges that it is all God working in her.

Mary’s story all started with her Fiat, a simple yet wholehearted yes to God. All the rest just followed. “For he has looked with favor on his lowly servant, henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.” By herself she cannot do it, just like any of us find the struggle to be good increasingly difficult. But “nothing is impossible with God”. And she believed and let God work in her life. Mary’s life was and is a continual yes to God’s call. Discipleship is but a faithful following of Christ. We do not go our own ways to heaven or use our own “techniques” on being holy. No one can be good or holy on one’s own accord. For where else can we get or produce holiness or goodness unless God, who is himself Holiness and Good will grant us? We simply follow Jesus, our only Way. And that is precisely what Mary did and what all of us should do.

Terrible as an army set in battle array

“Terrible” is not a very flattering praise, especially to a woman. On first hearing, it is sounds more becoming of the devil than Our Lady. An army in battle array is also not a very promising image. It seems foreboding of war and destruction. But it is in this last phrase that the true meaning of the Immaculate Conception seems to be unraveled.

We are used to seeing Mary as beautiful. We dress her in all these embroidered gowns and heave on her all these heavy crowns that if we do a real person would render him or her unable to move. But the real beauty of the Immaculate Conception is in the struggle. God made the first move when he preserved Mary from all stain of sin from her conception. But even more wonderfully did Mary faithfully preserve this life of grace which is God’s gift. If she did not, then all would have been a mockery and we will all remember her as one who wasted God’s singular gift. But she did. And so her Immaculate Conception is the glory and mystery of a person’s working with God, of the Creator and of all Creation. Her beauty is not static but the beauty of the ancient Greeks’ “logos”, a struggle that gives birth to order and of “cosmos”, the universe that grows ever more beautiful in the tussle.

She is not just a decoration in the Church but our model. Before she became our Mother, she has always been our sister and companion in this pilgrimage of faith. In Mary we see the restoration of the dignity and perfection we have lost to sin. Humanity is given a new beginning in her, a clean slate and she did not fail God. Thus we are also given a new chance. The old Testament begins with a fallen humanity that has lost its God and goes on to search for Him. The new Testament begins with God, seeking us out and finding us by the rise of Mary to answer God’s call. The Word-made-flesh is the Eternal Word of God and the Human Flesh of Mary on behalf of all humanity, and all Creation. Salvation is wrought by mankind’s accepting God once again through Mary after our isolating ourselves from him by sin. God enters the human scene once again and begins an Everlasting covenant in Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary. Mary is our prototype and model but she is not a statue or mannequin. She is a living embodiment of what we are called to be and what we shall be if we follow Jesus.

An army in battle array, indeed, speaks of a struggle to victory. Our situations may be hopeless and infinitely more difficult now. But she is our assurance that holiness is possible and the battle of struggling to be perfect can be won. “For he has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has lifted up the lowly.” This discriminated woman of a conquered people triumphed not because of the strength or power she did not have but because she worked and struggled with a God who is her everything. And with God as fortress and rampart, who will not be terribly assured of victory?

She comes forth as the morning rising

The Immaculate Conception after all is more than just a decorative title or a singular privilege that has meaning only to Mary who received it. More than that she be a worthy vessel, it was such that she may freely say her yes to God. So that her reflecting God’s light or sharing in God’s blessed life is not a passive accident but an active discipleship.

Her Immaculate Conception, then, not only awes us but spurs us on to pursue holiness with perseverance and fidelity. Hence, the gift of Mary is not only her honor but is extended to us as a challenge. Thus, she is the moon in this dark night of exile that promises us there is still the Sun which will soon rise. In these dark and distressing times, she shines as a beacon of hope which points out to Christ who is our true Hope. She is like the Sun, telling us that our struggle to be holy is not impossible if only we let God work in us. We are mere dust but kindled with the fire of God’s love we shine with brightest light.

And so she comes forth as the morning rising. This woman is radiant yet also pregnant and in labor. This sign is a promise of greater things that the glorious vision we now see. “The night is far spent” and the day draws near proclaimed by the luminous dawn. In that Morning, we too shall be “fair as the moon, bright as the Sun, and terrible as an army set in battle array”. Let us continue to struggle even as we wait. Let us march with her to the rising of the Sun.

Mary, Mother of Jesus, yours is the singular privilege, given by the Father, to be free from all stain of sin from your conception. The guilt of our parents and of all humanity is forgiven by the saving work of Christ and it is in you, O Daughter full of grace, that his redemption first shines in its fullness as the light of the sun is first seen in the radiant dawn even before its rising. It was necessary that you be without all sin, not only that you become a worthy vessel, but that you may give your yes to God with fullness of freedom.

As the ancient Eve opened herself to sin, you, the New Eve, gave yourself completely to God’s plan. It is through this disobedience that sin and death entered our world, the Old Covenant begins with this vacuum of humanity searching for God it has rejected. By your Fiat is this undone. The life in God we have lost is restored. And in your immaculate womb, the Word is made flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit. God Eternal enters the human scene once again to bring us back when we have gone astray. In Jesus, our New Covenant, every longing for God is fulfilled; sin is vanquished and life is restored by his Resurrection.

Accompany us in our constant search for God for you also longed for the promised Savior and found its fulfillment in your firmness of faith. Shine among us, O Star which guides our way, for you are the image of the Church in its perfection and where you are we all aspire to be. Especially in these difficult and confusing times, be the sure Beacon which points us to God who alone gives us true meaning and fulfillment. We take you as our model; help us open ourselves to God so he may dwell in us and work through us. You are the cause of our joy; be our consolation in this valley of tears. Always bring Christ in our lives, He who is our hope and our peace. Amen.

Rejoice, O highly favored daughter!
The Lord is with you.

Marian Prayer for thr 75th Annual Alumni Homecoming
150th Anniversary of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception
Eucharistic Marian Year 2004-2005

The people, bearing lighted candles, gather around the shrine of Our Lady. Near it are the ministers bearing the thurible and incense, processional cross and candlesticks. The presider is vested in white or blue stole with cope. A fitting hymn is sung.

Aba Ginoong Maria
Nemy Que, SJ

Aba Ginoong Maria,
napupuno ka ng grasya.
Ang Diyos ay sumasa’yo.
Bukod kang pinagpala sa babaeng lahat
at pinagpala naman ang ‘yong Anak na si Hesus.

Santa Maria, Ina ng Diyos,
ipanalangin mo kaming makasalanan
ngayon at kung kami’y mamamatay.

Introduction to the Celebration


In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

R. Amen.

V. The Lord be with you.

R. And also with you.

Gathering around the shrine of Mary
has been, through the years, an important and meaningful part
of our homecoming tradition.
Returning indeed to this house of the Carpenter,
we cannot miss the presence of this woman
who is Mother to us all.

This year is particularly significant,
as we celebrate the 150th anniversary
of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

Singularly privileged by God,
Mary shines among us as the first and most perfect fruit
of the renewed creation redeemed by Jesus.
In this valley of tears,
she is the cause of our joy
and pledge of our sharing in the divine life of God.

And so we come to honor Mary
asking her to continue to accompany us
and to lead us always to her Son.

Gospel Reading

A reading from the Holy Gospel According to Luke 1, 26-38

Rejoice, O highly favored daughter! The Lord is with you.

The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin bethrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. Upon arriving, the angel said to her: “Rejoice, O highly favored daughter! The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women.” She was deeply troubled by these words and wondered what the greeting meant. The angel went on to say to her: “Do not fear, Mary. You have found favor with God. You shall conceive and bear a son and give him the name Jesus. Great will be his dignity and he will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David, his father. He will rule over the house of Jacob forever and his reign will be without end.”

Mary said to the angel: “How can this be since I do not know man?” The angel answered her: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; hence, the holy offspring to be born will be called Son of God. Know that Elizabeth you kinswoman has conceived a son in her old age; she who was thought to be sterile is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible with God.”

Mary said, “I am the maidservant of the Lord. Let it be done to me as you say.” With that, the angel left her.
Laudes Mariae

Alumnus 1:

Rejoice, O highly favored daughter! The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women. The Father prepared you to be a worthy dwelling place of His Son. He never allowed sin to corrupt you and filled you with His grace. You in turn treasured God’s friendship and presence in your soul and kept your being pure and holy so you can offer it freely and wholly to Him. Obtain for us an ardent faith that we may believe and trust in God’s plan for us and seek to follow and fulfill his will for us. Help us follow our promise of obedience.

He places a rose at the foot of the image of the Blessed Mother.

R. You are all fair, O Mary!
there is not a stain of sin in you.
You are the glory of Jerusalem,
the joy of Israel
you are the highest honor of our race!

Alumnus 2:

Rejoice, O highly favored daughter! The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women. The Son shed his divine glory and embraced in your most pure womb our lowly humanity. Heaven kisses earth once again. And by assuming the face of man, Christ restores our dignity and claims us once more as His own. You said yes to God’s plan and stood by it even to the foot of the Cross. Obtain for us a persevering hope that will lead us to rise above our frailties and failings and sustain us in our calvaries with Jesus’ promise of resurrection. Help us fulfill our promise of chastity.

He places a rose at the foot of the image of the Blessed Mother.

R. You are all fair, O Mary!
there is not a stain of sin in you.
You are the glory of Jerusalem,
the joy of Israel
you are the highest honor of our race!

Alumnus 3:

Rejoice, O highly favored daughter! The Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women. The Spirit came and gave birth to the Church which you nursed and cared for as you did you Son. You persevered in prayer with the disciples as they broke the bread and shared the cup. Obtain for us a generous love to give ourselves in the service of God’s people. May we become Jesus’ presence as we allow ourselves to be broken and shared for our brethren. Help us fulfill our promise of poverty.

He places a rose at the foot of the image of the Blessed Mother.

R. You are all fair, O Mary!
there is not a stain of sin in you.
You are the glory of Jerusalem,
the joy of Israel
you are the highest honor of our race!
Salve Regina

The presider intones the hymn. He may place a crown on the image of Mary when possible and incenses the image of the Blessed Mother.

Salve Regina,
Mater misericordiae,
Vita, dulcedo et spes nostra, salve!
Ad te clamamus, exsules filii Hevae.
Ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes in hac lacrimarum valle.
Eia, ergo, advocata nostra,
illos tuos misericordes oculos ad nos converte.
Et Iesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui,
Nobis, post hoc exilium, ostende.
O Clemens, o pia, o dulcis, Virgo Maria!

V. Ora pro nobis, Sancta Dei Genetrix.
R. Ut digni efficiamur promissionibus Christi.

Let us pray.

All pause for a moment of silent prayer.

God our Father,
the graces you lavished on Mary
are your gifts to all your children
as you give her to us to be our Mother
who brings us closer to your Son.
By her prayers,
may we who honor her sinless conception
come to the Banquet of Your Son with ever greater joy and fervor
enjoy the fruits of the Redemption He has won for us
and reach out to our brethren
to be the living Sacrament of your boundless love.

We ask this through the same Christ, our Lord.

R. Amen.

All proceed to the Chapel singing an appropriate hymn.

Ang Puso Ko’y Nagpupuri
Eddie Hontiveros, SJ

Ang puso ko’y nagpupuri, nagpupuri sa Panginoon.
Nagagalak ang aking Espiritu sa ‘king Tagapagligtas.

Sapagkat nilingap niya kababaan ng kanyang alipin
mapalad ang pangalan ko sa lahat ng mga bansa.

Sapagkat gumawa ang Poon ng mga dakilang bagay
banal sa lupa’t langit ang pangalan ng Panginoon.

At kinahahabagan niya ang mga sa kanya’y may takot.
At sa lahat ng salinlahi ang awa niya’y walang hanggan.

At ipinakita N’ya ang lakas ng kanyang bisig;
At ang mga palalo’y pinangalat ng Panginoon.

Ibinulid sa upuan ang mga makapangyarihan;
itinampok, itinaas ang mga mababang loob.

At kanya namang binusog ang mga nagugutom;
pinaalis, walang dala ang mayamang mapagmataas.

Inampon N’ya ang Israel na kanyang aliping hinirang
Sa dakila niyang pagmamahal at dala ng laking awa niya.

Ayon sa ipinangako n’ya sa ating mga magulang;
Kay Abraham at lipi niya at ito’y sa magpakailanman.

Luwalhati sa Ama at sa Anak at sa ‘Spiritu Santo
kapara noong unang-una, ngayon at magpakailanman.

Act of Consecration

All kneel.

Mary, Mother of Jesus,
our own loving Mother,
we give ourselves wholly to Jesus through you
and we commend ourselves to your care
that you may safeguard this gift of ourselves that we offer to God.

Accompany us in our pilgrimage of faith,
you who followed you Son even to Golgotha.
Persevere with us in prayer as you did with the disciples.
Beg with us the Spirit of God
to renew us and give us strength
to proclaim the Good News of Christ.
Teach us your Magnificat in our moments of joy
and to say your Fiat of faith even when it is most difficult.
Show us we are but God’s humble servants
and after your example, to surrender ourselves wholly to Him
that he may use us for his greater glory.

Lead us always to Jesus.
We give our all to Him through you.
Make us desire only Him
and help us to see him and serve him in our brethren.


Final Blessing


The Lord be with you.

R. And also with you.

May almighty God bless you +
the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

R. Amen.

Tota pulchra es, Maria et macula originalis non est in te. Tu gloria Jerusalem, tu laetitia Israel, tu honorificentia populi nostri! Trahe nos, Virgo Immaculata, post te corremus in odorem unguentuorum tuorum!

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