Rorate Caeli

Fontgombault Sermon - Immaculate Conception: "She is younger than sin"

(Abbey of Our Lady of Fontgombault - sights and sounds)

Immaculate Conception

Homily of the Right Reverend Dom Jean Pateau
Abbot of Our Lady of Fontgombault
(St. Peter of Wisques Abbey, December 8, 2014)

Dear Brothers and Sisters,
My dearly beloved Sons,

Among the feasts of the liturgical year, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary holds a special place, insofar as its object is a gift granted to a human creature and far exceeding what anybody might have imagined. In the long series of human beings tainted by original sin, Mary is the exception. Blessed Pope Pius IX defined on December 8th, 1854:

The most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by God Almighty, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin. (Bull Ineffabilis Deus)

As with the Incarnation in her bosom, this privilege remained unseen by human eyes in Palestine. In Mary and Jesus are concentrated the two most beautiful gifts that God has made to mankind.

The “splendour of an entirely unique holiness” by which Mary is “enriched from the first instant of her conception” comes wholly from Christ: she is “redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son” (LG, n. 53, 56). The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person “in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” and chose her “in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before Him in love” (Eph 1:3-4).

The Fathers of the Eastern tradition call the Mother of God “the All-Holy” (Panhagia), and celebrate her as “free from any stain of sin, as though fashioned by the Holy Spirit and formed as a new creature” (LG, n. 56).

By the grace of God Mary remained free of every personal sin her whole life long. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 492-493)

Through Mary’s blessing her children, who rejoice at the gift their Heavenly Mother has received, are also blessed. The Mother’s feast is also the children’s feast. This holds for all Marian feasts and is due to Mary’s close relationship with her children. If the privilege of the Immaculate Conception has been granted to Mary “in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race”, we might add a reason of suitability. How indeed could she who was to remain always close to her children, who are sick and tainted by original sin as well as their own personal sins, she who would offer them a safe path towards her Son, how could she have tolerated in her life the slightest complicity with evil?

“She is younger than sin”, has said the French writer Bernanos, and she has always kept her youth. Mary has offered herself to the Lord as His handmaid not only so that the Incarnation of our Lord might take place, but also so that the fruits of this Incarnation might flow onto men. Her presence at the foot of the Cross when blood and water, signs of the sacraments, flowed from His pierced side, is a sign of that. If the privilege of the Immaculate Conception suits Mary, the handmaid of the Lord, the gift of God is according to God’s measure, but far beyond man’s measure. To look at the mystery of the Immaculate Conception as regards the sole object of the feast, is not enough. In the light of the gift that Mary makes of herself and of the privilege granted by God, the mystery of the Immaculate Conception appears in our eyes as a mystery of hope.

Hope, because we have an all-holy Mother; hope, because the Lord cannot fail to deal with us as He has dealt with Mary. Our little gifts receive a reward according to the measure of God, which is beyond measure. May this feast be the opportunity to renew our Marian devotion: let us allow ourselves to be taught in the school of Mary, Mary the handmaid, Mary Mother of God and of men. Holy Mother of God, we entrust the Church to thee in her path between the two Synods on the Family, and we entrust ourselves to thee.

Sub tuum præsidium confugimus, Sancta Dei Genitrix. Under thy protection we take shelter, Holy Mother of God. During this time of Advent the Church makes us sing the words of the Prophet Isaiah:

Soon your salvation will come. Why art thou consumed in sorrow? I shall save thee and deliver thee; fear not. (Rorate cæli desuper)

Indeed, God is faithful and His faithfulness goes far beyond what man may hope. If we repeat the words which open the Apostolic Constitution defining the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, let us never forget that God is ineffable, Ineffabilis Deus, and that His ways are mercy and truth. Let us thus draw salvation from the Lord, as today’s Epistle invites us to do.