“SHE SHALL CRUSH THY HEAD” (GENESIS 3:15)
On the Mystery of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin, Maria and the Design of God to Retrieve Man from the Claws of the Serpent and the Clutches of Sin
With fitting liturgical solemnity and profound gladness, every eight day of December, Holy Mother Church celebrates one of those mysteries wrought by the ‘finger’ of Most High; and which by papal authority, with the encyclical Ineffabilis Deus, Pius IX defined and assigned the title ‘Immaculate Conception’, on the 8th of December 1854; and which providence apparently confirmed four years later in 1858, when the Blessed Virgin, Maria, appeared at Lourdes; describing herself to the barely illiterate, poor, little, sickly, 14 year old visionary, who would become St. Bernadette of Lourdes, who insistently sought to know her name, she said: ‘I am the Immaculate Conception’! On the threshold of this solemn festivity, I would like to take the delightful privilege of pondering on the divine motives for this prodigy; namely: the preservation of the Blessed Virgin from the smear of the corruption of sin and the slavery to Satan – the ancient serpent – which sin brings. I would like to engage in a contemplative adventure, to ‘peep’ into the mind of God, brooding, thinking on the mystery of the Immaculate Conception. But I do this only out of affection for the glorious Virgin and not out of scholarship or any theological skill.
The dogma of Immaculate Conception as defined by the Church – the teacher and protector of the true Faith – is both comprehensive and comprehensible. I do not intend to rehearse it or any of the traditional arguments for the magisterial teachings on Mary, the mother of the Son of Man and the Son of God; since we already ought to be acquainted with them, or if not, since one can easily learn of them by a simple inquiry or study. It suffices here to profess with the Church – without equivocation – her faith in the mystery of the preservation of Mary from the stain of original sin and its effects. Rather, I would like to give a practical/pragmatic interpretation of this doctrine – which here I prefer to particularize as a propitious gift – even at the risk of sounding utilitarian. I hope to draw inferences, mirroring and echoing God’s motives for this miracle and mystery. But again, I shall do so, only as a child of the Church pondering her mysteries, not as her spokesperson.
THE NEW EVE – GOD’S FLAWLESS ALLY
First, I would say that, in Maria, the Most High God made for Himself a true and trustworthy ally – one who is both worthy and dependable. In the realm of creation, the Blessed Virgin, Maria, is God’s optimum and only flawless ally! In the mystery and mission of the Blessed Virgin Mary, God can be likened to a householder who prepared for himself, for his household, a worthy dwelling; a mansion both dignified and fortified. At least in biblical history, we see that God made several alliances with men and women, but only in the instance of the relationship and collaboration between the Blessed Virgin Mary and God, regarding the project of salvation, do we find a human ally who manifestly accomplished God’s will in all things without flaws or faults frictions. The Blessed Virgin prevailed in pleasing God, whether it is in her mission as mediatrix between divinity and humanity or in her task as mother of the divine Saviour. But, was she not human? Yes, the Blessed Virgin was fully human! How then did she outsmart the subtle serpent and subdue the alluring world of sin? The reason that the Blessed Virgin excelled with God, in her mission, can be traced to that exclusive prerogative, the divine prodigy of the Immaculate Conception.
When Adam, through Eve, heeded the shrewd serpent, he yielded himself and his ‘household’ to the yoke of deception and surrendered to the falsehood of the deceiver instead of the truth of his creator, his God. In this way, Adam gave access into his being, to the devil whose distortion of truth obscures reality and results in evil. This situation is called the fall of man! But it is also the fall of creation, because the fall of Adam resulted in the enslavement of creation – which God placed in his custody – to the power of the serpent, the deceiver; so that creation groaned and yearned for redemption. (Rm 8:22-23) God confirmed the fall of man when He drove Adam away from the paradise of Eden. (Gn 3:22-24) Now, the serpent thrives by deception and deception leads to sin. By reason and by effect of that first fall, the serpent spread his deception in the world. Thus, sin and the effects of sin – corruption, imperfection, indecision, akrasia, pain, evil, death, etc – multiplied in the world. But the love of the Eternal God, Creator and Father, would not abandon creation to Satan and to the captivity of sin. Therefore, the wisdom of the Omniscient One crafted a grand design that would break the clutches of sin and retrieve creation from the claws of the serpent, and reinstate it into the plan of God. This grand design is what plays out in the story of salvation; and one of its cardinal elements is the miracle of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the new Eve.
A MYSTERY WROUGHT BY THE MASTER CRAFTSMAN
The primordial Master Craftsman, the creator of heaven and earth, began on time to execute his plan, in the countdown to the incarnation. He closed the womb of Elizabeth and the mouth of Zachariah the Temple priest, until the appointed time, in preparation for the arrival of His Christ. They remained barren until they passed the time of childbearing. (Lk 1:5-7) Then through them, He sent John the Baptizer as precursor to the Christ; ordaining for him: the life of a Nazarite, a man of the wilderness, clothed with camel skin, whose food was but wild honey and locust and whose hair was to remain untamed. Marvelled at it all, Zachariah sang the Benedictus! Then God called Joseph, the just man, to be the chaste spouse of the Virgin and the foster father of His own Son. He made his heart willing and his spirit docile to the bidding of the divine will. It was God who got the workman Joseph to be attentive to the angels who always came visiting with good tidings and secret intelligence from heaven. Above all, He ‘prepared’ the maiden called Mary, to be the mother of the Son of God, the Son of Man. Mary is that daughter of Zion, (Ps 45:9-11), announced by the ancient prophets, who would conceive and bear a son whose name would be Emmanuel. (Is. 9:6-7) To achieve this, again God closed the womb of Anna until she has passed the age of birthing. Yet her husband Joachim was at peace with her and with her fate, because the hand of God was in it. It was God’s design! He planned it and worked it out Himself! So also, it would take the mind of God to explain all of its details. That’s why it is called a mystery!
But more than any creature ever created, God prepared the Virgin Mary in a manner so preeminent, seeing the mission of divine maternity ordained for her. For this reason, God clothed her with grace and overshadowed her with power. He sent His Spirit upon her and made of her a divine abode, a living temple of the Living God. He declared her ‘blessed’ among all women and assigned her the task and honour of being the ‘mother’ and the ‘matron’ of God Himself. But most of all, He made her a ‘bridge’ to bring about the ‘union’ or ‘reunion’ of God and man – it is in this sense that Mary is also a mediatrix between divinity and humanity. It was for this purpose that the Virgin Mary was fittingly and duly prepared and equipped by God. It was for this reason that she was given the gifts of ‘plenitude of grace’ and ‘overshadowing power’ which shielded her from the stain of original sin and its consequences. It was the same gift of grace that empowered her to live above the corrupted nature which is the bane of the children of Adam. Thus, she remained unblemished and fulfilled her mission as the spotless bride of the Spirit, the immaculate mother of the Son, the unblemished daughter of the Father. The Lord God made her ‘full of grace’ not from the moment of the annunciation, but from the moment of her conception. Thus, Mary is a product of the order of grace, not of the order of nature.
FROM EVE TO MARY – BETWEEN THE OLD AND THE NEW
However, to better understand the motive and divine purpose of the miracle of the Immaculate Conception, we would need to take a critical and comparative look at both the ‘First Eve’ who is the ‘First Woman’ and the ‘Second Eve’ who is the ‘Second Woman’. By God Himself, the former was declared cursed: “To the woman He said, ‘I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labour you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you’.” (Gen 3:16), but the later was declared blessed: “Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and in a loud voice she exclaimed: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear!” (Lk 1:41-42) The first woman would bring forth her children with pain, but the second woman would bring forth her children with blessing. It is in the context of the first woman that we understand the action of God in the second woman. In Mary, God repaired the fall of Eve. In Mary, through the privilege of the Immaculate Conception, God equipped the new creation with the infallible grace to overcome the serpent of deception and the destruction of sin. This is implied in the Scripture: “She shall crush thy head”. (Gen 3:15)
Eve was created for a purpose: to be the bride of Adam and the helper of the man, and to be the mother of the sons of Adam. Mary was created for a purpose: to be the bride of the Spirit and the helper of God, and to be the mother of the Son of God. Unlike Eve, who was an offspring of the natural order, the loins of Adam; Mary was an offspring of the supernatural order, the lions of grace. Unlike Eve, who was of the old creation, the old man, Adam; Mary was of the new creation, the new man, Christ Jesus. Unlike Eve, who was the spouse of the natural man, Adam; Mary was the spouse truly only to the Divine Spirit. Unlike Eve, whose offspring is from the loins of fallen man, Adam; Mary’s offspring is of the power of the Holy Spirit. Unlike Eve whose offspring inherited a curse; Mary’s offspring inherited a blessing and is called ‘Blessed’.. Unlike Eve, who rejected the command of God and yielded to the deceiver; Mary believed the word of God and yielded to it by a total fiat. Unlike Eve, whose disobedience enslaved humankind, her children; Mary’s obedience brought about the salvation of humankind, her children. Unlike Eve, whose sin stained and corrupted her offspring; Mary’s immaculate conception, Mary’s sinlessness, Mary’s obedience, frees her children from the stain of sin and its corruption. Unlike Eve, whose fall created a vicious circle of weakness and fallenness; Mary’s fiat broke the vicious circle of sin and corruption, of human weakness and fallenness. Thus, Mary is God’s remedy for Eve; and it was the Creator who so willed it and so wrought it.
A HIGHER PERFECTION AND A HIGHER GRACE WAS NEEDED
To undo the harm done by the fall of Eve, which created the weakening of the human will, the corruption of human nature, the divarication of the human inclination, God needed a human being of a higher perfection; one endowed with a higher grace; who would be above the corruption of the fall of Adam; who cannot be swayed by the serpent, be deceived by the devil or ensnared by evil. Here the mystery of the Immaculate Conception – which, ab initio, not only preserved the Immaculate Virgin from the slur of the serpent and the smear of sin but also placed her above their power and contamination – comes to pertinence. From the moment the serpent led Adam into the fall, God resolved to send a woman whose heels would crush the serpent. (Gen 3:15) Thus, it was by the finger of God that this woman from God was preserved from sin. It was to serve the purpose of God that the God who can do all things, willed it so and made it so.
The preservation of the virgin Maria, from all sin is also a fruit or an effect of that same gift of the plenitude of grace which originally shielded her from the strain of original sin. This was so that the Virgin Mary would be fitting to bear God in her womb and share flesh and blood with Him; it was so that she would be an effective link between the all-holy God and sinful humanity. In her gift of perfect purity, she resembles God! In her flesh and blood, she resembles man! In this way, in the Virgin Mary, divinity created a fitting chain of connection with humanity. The Virgin Mary became the medium of communication for the divine gift and grace of salvation in the person of Jesus Christ her Son. It is in this sense that we believe that the virgin, Maria, is in fact, a messenger from heaven, a special ‘agent’ prepared and sent into the world for a special mission in God’s project of redemption; since she played a special role in the project of redemption. It is in this sense too that we regard her as co-redemptrix – one who works with God, without implying equality with God. While the office of redeemer belongs solely to the person and nature of Jesus; being only a creature, the title of co-redemptrix does not belong to the nature or person of Mary, but to her unique role in the project of redemption. This unique role and this tittle are directly consequent upon the prerogative of the Immaculate Conception.
MARIA: THE CUSTODIAN OF GOD
At this point, I invite you to think about this truth: God so much trusted the Blessed Virgin Maria; so much so that He placed the person and the principle of the project of the salvation of the world in her hands, in her care, in her custody. Jesus, the Christ, is the synthesis and the fullness of God’s plan for the salvation of man. To see that this plan is fully incarnated and protected, the invisible God placed it in the hands of a trustworthy woman. But it was a woman whom He had already prepared and equipped for this purpose. “So also, when we were children, we were enslaved under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive our adoption as sons.” (Gal 4:3-5) Interestingly, when the appointed time came to redeem and retrieve creation, God contacted a woman, the Virgin Mary. God sent an Archangel, who came knocking at her door at Nazareth. The God of all flesh sought the help of a lowly woman; then God trusted her and entrusted the plan to her custody. Gladly, she did not fail, like Eve did. She proved faithful and worthy. But it was because God prepared and equipped her for it. It was because God had clothed her in plenitude with grace and fortified her with the power of the Almighty; God had ‘unified’ her with His Spirit. (Lk 1:35) It was because from her conception, God had preserved her from the fallenness and corruption of the daughters of Adam. It was God Himself who did it! It was his design!
We recall that after the fall, God could no longer trust Adam to take care of the Garden of Eden. He drove him out of it. (Gn. 3:22-24) In a word, God lost confidence in man! At a point, God was grieved and repented that He made man. (Gen 6:6-7) But when the time came to begin the work of the new creation, destined to restore the old creation, God trusted and entrusted the protagonist and the plan unto the care of another woman. This new Eve could not have been subject to the serpent that seduced the first Eve; she could not have been subject to the enslavement of the children of Adam. The mother of God could not have been a slave of Satan! No! In making her mother and custodian of the Saviour, God was indicating His implicit trust in this woman. This trust is a statement to the effect that, sin and the serpent, together with the depravity they bring, have neither power nor place in her. The Eternal Father preserved the Virgin Mary from the corruption of sin so that she would be a vessel by which God would break the cycle and power of the corruption of sin and so that she would be a channel of that same grace by which God would preserve His children from the same smear of the corruption of sin; starting from Jesus Christ, His only Begotten Son, who was to come into the world as a man.
MARY AND THE POWER THAT PRESERVES
Because God prepared and equipped her, God knew that whatever was placed in the hands of this very woman would be protected, preserved and saved. God knew it! He was the cause of it! By His power that preserves, God preserved the Blessed Virgin, so that she would be a vehicle to convey both God’s plan of salvation and God’s power that preserve, to humanity wrecked by the corruption initiated by the fall of Adam at the wiles of the serpent. This is true of the Blessed Virgin even today; and this is why the Church summons her children to a solemn feast, every eight day of December, in memory of this prodigious mystery. We rejoice, since this gift, this mystery, is a perpetual one, like every gift that the Lord gives. Having been perpetually preserved from sin and made a vessel of the grace which saves and preserves, whatever is placed in the custody of the Blessed Virgin is protected, preserved and saved, even today; by means of the same grace and power, by which she was preserved and by which she preserved the Son of God at his incarnation from the smear of sin. This is possible because there is no corruption in her; there is no sin in her! Sin and corruption have no power or place in her! In the same manner, sin and corruption have no power over whatever belong to her, starting from Jesus and on account of Jesus. This is true even today! Thus, with joy we can repeat: whatever is placed in the care of the Blessed Virgin Mary is ultimately preserved and protected from being lost to sin, to evil or to the devil.
Following in the footsteps of God Himself, If one wishes to keep anything from the power of sin and the serpent, from evil and the author of evil, then, one should entrust such unto the care of the same woman, by whom God broke the cycle of sin’s corruption and preserved His Son from the stain of sin; the same woman through whom salvation was introduced. If one wishes to save or secure a person or a cause, it would be divine wisdom to do what God did, to place such in the hands of the custodian of God, over whom, neither sin nor the serpent can prevail. We can say, without any fear of error, that this is one of the reasons why God made her pure and spotless from the very moment of conception; so that in this way the power of sin and the deception of the devil will be put at bay from her; so that in her and through her, God would preserve not only His own Son, but all his children, from the roaring foe who prowls around seeking to devour, (1Pt 5:8) from the foe of God who comes to steal, to kill and to destroy. (Jn 10:10)
HOW TO HONOUR THE MYSTERY OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION
It has already been noted that God preserved the Virgin that through her He would preserve His Son. But it is not His divine Son alone that God wishes to preserve though the Virgin, rather all those who would seek the patronage of the Mother of God, in the same manner God did at the incarnation. The Virgin Mary is not only the mother of God, she is also the mother of God’s people. She is not only the mother of Jesus, but also the mother of those brothers and sisters who are co-heirs of God with Jesus. She is the mother of Christ as well as the mother of Christians. Jesus confirmed this on the cross when he said to His beloved John: “Behold your mother.” (Jn 19:27) The Church, on her part, never relents in urging her children not only to imitate Mary, but to seek her help in all things. The Virgin herself, in her many apparitions, calls all men her children and urges all men to consecrate themselves to the care and custody of her Immaculate Heart.
Therefore, one wise way to keep the solemn memorial of the mystery of the Immaculate Conception is to cease the occasion to place ourselves and our cares in the custody of the Immaculate Virgin. The Immaculate Conception is both an action and evidence of the power of God to preserve or to save. The dogma of Immaculate Conception is evident and undeniable! There can be no reasonable doubt that Maria, the virgin mother of Jesus was conceived immaculate. The proof of it is that indeed she bore the substance of God in her womb, giving to God her own flesh and blood and becoming indeed the mother of Jesus Christ who is truly God and truly man. The affirmation of it is that Jesus her son was without sin. (Hb 4:14-15) The wise thing to do is to honour and to seek to profit from such a prodigy. Let me thus, urge us to consecrate our lives, our families, our welfare, our salvation, our health, our work, etc, to the protection and patronage of the Immaculate Virgin; and through her obtain from God the same grace and power that preserves and saves. We should not be afraid to do so. God Himself was first to do so; being Himself also, both the first and the final cause of the Immaculate Conception.
THE POWER OF THE PLENITUDE OF GRACE – HOW GOD UNDID SIN AND DEATH
“The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.” (Rm 6:23) The Virgin Mary was preserved from sin – which is the power of death and damnation – by this she become a means to preserve God’s people from the same power of sin, which brings death and damnation. The first to be preserved through Mary, from the stain and death that come from sin, was Jesus. This same Jesus became the conqueror of both sin and death. At her Immaculate Conception, God conferred on the Immaculate Virgin the grace and the power that not only preserved her, but also preserves others from damnation – that death whose power is sin. Eternal damnation is the ultimate evil, the ultimate loss, the ultimate harm done by sin. The ultimate protection we receive from grace is to be saved ultimately from damnation, the second death, the ultimate reward for sin. The one who faithfully places himself or who is placed, under the patronage of the Immaculate Virgin, may be tainted by the corruption of sin, but such a one would not be damned or lost forever to the author of sin, since the serpent has no power over Mary, the new Eve.
Let’s reiterate this fact: the devil, the father of evil, imaged by the serpent, the symbol of the spirit of deception, has no power over Mary, the new Eve, because God’s gift of the plenitude of grace, announced to her by Archangel Gabriel, (Lk 1:28) placed her above Adam’s sin, which gives access and power to the devil over the soul of the sinner. From her conception, the virgin who would be the mother of God was filled with grace and clothed with power to preclude the fangs of the subtle serpent. The ancient serpent, the ancestor of sin, the deceiver, seduced and swayed the first woman Eve and she fell. But when God created the second woman, Mary, He fortified her with grace which placed her above the deception of the devil. Divine wisdom made the Blessed Virgin full of grace and full of the Holy Spirit for this very purpose. Thus, the Virgin Mary – the one so highly favoured – is the first fruit of the new creation – those who belong to the order of grace. By the miracle of the plenitude of grace, the Blessed Virgin became the prototype of God’s handwork, untainted by sin. She became the purest reflection of perfected humanity, the model and mirror of the redeemed in Christ, who embody the power of grace and the victory of Christ. There is no doubt that sin and the serpent can have no power over her; but on the contrary, Scripture affirms: she shall crush the serpent. (Gen 3:15)
THIS IS WHY GOD PRESERVED THE IMMACULATE VIRGIN FROM SIN
It was not for her own sake that the Most High so greatly honoured Mary and so graciously endowed her with the riches of grace and the treasures of God. It was for the sake of you and me. It was for the sake of humankind, whom God so loved that He gave His Only Begotten Son, (Jn 3:16) whom God wishes that they all may be saved. (1Tm 2:3-4) The Immaculate Conception is a gift that God gave to all His children through Mary – aiming to restore them to grace and glory. It was part of the design of God to introduce an end, a remedy to the smear of sin, to rupture the vicious cycle of original sin, to break the captivity of sin that empowers evil, to bring into the world, in human form, without the stain of original sin, the Saviour of all things. It was important that the Redeemer should Himself be guiltless. If the Redeemer was also guilty of sin, He would be in the same prison of sin and so would be incapable of redeeming the prisoners of sin. But through the Immaculate Virgin, God gave us a Redeemer who is both human and guiltless. Scripture confirms that Christ was like us in all things but sin. (Hb. 4:15; Jn. 8:46)
The prodigy of the Immaculate Conception is indeed a cause for celebration, since it is a gift God bounteously predesigned and granted us to effectuate grace and salvation. Benevolently, God gave us a mother who is placed above the subtleties of the serpent, the wiles of the diabolus, the allurement of evil, the enslavement of corruption. We ought to joyfully take hold of this love of God manifested for man in the Immaculate Virgin. Therefore, at the joy of the solemnity and festivity of the Immaculate Conception, in imitation of God Himself and in gratitude to Him, we ought to place ourselves and our concerns under the patronage and protection of the Immaculate Virgin; whom God, by grace, preserved from sin and the serpent; whom God employed as a mediatrix to offer the world the author of the same grace that saves; and whom God has granted us as mother, able to preserve us, by the same grace, from the claws of the serpent and the clutches of sin. Hail Maria!
Michael Richmond Duru
Rome, December 1, 2021