Of all the feast days in the liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church, only three birthdays are observed: the Nativity of our Divine Savior, Who is Holiness Itself; St. John the Baptist, who was sanctified in his mother’s womb; and Mary, the ever-virgin Mother of God, whose birthday is celebrated on the eighth of September.
But Our Lady was eternally present in the mind of God. The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His ways, before He made anything from the beginning. I was set up from eternity, and of old before the earth was made. (Proverbs 8: 22-23). God preordained from all eternity that Mary should exist. And, by a positive act of the Divine Will, God predestined Mary to be entrusted with the sublime mission of being the Mother of His only-begotten Son Who was to come in the flesh. This was an absolutely free act on the part of God. Because she was to be the Mother of God incarnate, God would accord to her all the gifts and prerogatives commensurate with that dignity, including the grace to merit a singular degree of sanctity and purity in order to render her worthy to be the Mother of God.
Now, the whole reason for Mary’s existence is Jesus. In fact, Jesus and Mary were predestined together. This is the teaching of two popes: Pope Pius IX, in his Apostolic Constitution, Ineffabilis Deus, defining the Immaculate Conception as a dogma of the Faith, and Pius XII, in Munificentissimus Deus, in which he issued the dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Both say that Jesus and Mary were predestined by God “in one and the same decree.” There is a hierarchical order here. Christ, because He is God, was willed initially, and Mary second. As St. Paul said, He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of every creature; for in Him all things were created in heaven and on earth. . . (Colossians 1:15-16). This order, however, does not imply chronology. Because of our creaturely limitations, we must speak as though God willed this order sequentially. But we know that in God there is neither past nor future. Time does not elapse in the mind of God; there is only the “Eternal Now.”
The Immaculate Conception
In his decree for Our Lady, God willed to grant her certain unique and wonderful gifts. The first of these was the Immaculate Conception. Since all men have Adam for their father and representative, each person is born into the state of Original Sin. But Mary would be free from this stain in view of the foreseen merits of Christ. In other words, Mary would be redeemed beforehand, in a completely singular manner. This would be necessary in order to make her a pure vessel in which to contain the Son of God. Had Mary not been preserved from the sin of Adam, it would have obscured the splendor of Christ because of the intimate union he would form with her. As St. Alphonsus Maria de Ligouri says, “Mary was conceived without sin that the Divine Son might be born of her without sin. Not that Jesus Christ could have contracted sin; but that he might not be reproached even with having had a Mother infected with it, who would consequently have been a slave of the Devil.” Some raise the objection that Mary’s Immaculate Conception takes away her need for redemption. The fact is, it does not. Which is better: to rescue someone who has been taken captive, or to prevent his capture from the beginning? The answer is obvious. Therefore, far from exempting Mary from the law of redemption, her Immaculate Conception is the very perfection of Christ’s redeeming grace.
Mary, Full of Grace
You might say that the Immaculate Conception is a “negative” holiness, since it means a lack of sin. But God also willed to complement this with another gift: the fullness of grace, thereby joining to her freedom from sin a positive sanctity. This positive holiness would include the infusion of sanctifying Grace, the theological virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity, and the four cardinal virtues of Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance, along with the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost.
Does this mean that God granted Our Lady absolute fullness of grace from the beginning? No. But she was to have all the grace that her dignity as the Mother of God demanded. However, this fullness would be able to enjoy increase, so that every time Mary freely and consciously cooperated with the will of God, her merit, grace and sanctity were augmented. Grace would increase in the soul of Mary every time she received the Sacraments. But of the seven Sacraments, Mary would receive only three: Baptism, Confirmation, and the Holy Eucharist. Mary would not need Baptism in order to free her from Original Sin, but to incorporate her into the Mystical Body of Christ and to impress upon her soul the sacramental character. And, as we know, Baptism is necessary in order to receive the other Sacraments. Mary was confirmed at Pentecost along with the Apostles, and received the Holy Eucharist as often as she could. Because of the perfect disposition of her soul, the effects of the Sacraments would be of such strength that Mary would enjoy a profound and rapid growth, which would deepen her original fullness of grace, so that at the end of her time here on earth, Mary would be ablaze with grace and love, truly a “Woman clothed with the Sun.”
No Actual Sin or Concupiscence
Was our Blessed Lady to be immune from personal sin too? Yes! God disposed all things fittingly for the Mother of His Son. By a unique privilege, Mary would be immune from all actual sin, both mortal and venial, as defined by the Council of Trent, Canon XXIII, On Justification. She would even be immune from the smallest imperfection and willful violation or omission of a counsel of God or of those exercising authority over her. She would owe all this, not to her own merits, but to a singular favor from the Most High.
But the favors would not stop there. As a consequence of her freedom from Original Sin, Mary would be free from the urgencies of desire known as “concupiscence.” If Our Lady were to suffer from the slightest movement of concu-piscence, then that would have been the clearest indication that she was under the power of Original Sin, of which concupiscence is a direct result. But of course, this would not be the case, because of Mary’s prior freedom from all sin. These privileges, plus Our Lady’s perpetual virginity, her confirmation in grace, her unique role as Co-Redemptrix and Mediatrix, her Assumption into heaven, and her universal Queenship, were all fore-ordained and freely willed by the Almighty. It was fitting, for God had the power to do it, and He did do it.
The Birth of Mary Immaculate
So, in the fullness of time, Mary, “our tainted nature’s solitary boast,” was conceived in the womb of her mother, St. Anne. At that moment, it was as though God stretched forth his hand and said to that Ancient Curse: “Thus far and no farther, You shall not touch her!”
Scripture tells us nothing about the birth of the Mother of God. But you can well imagine that all heaven was stilled in silent reverence and rejoicing, for now God’s plan of redemption was about to unfold. From Mary would be born God-in-the-flesh, the Redeemer of the world, Who would conquer the Enemy, restore the sons and daughters of Adam to grace and friendship with God, and lead the redeemed children of God into everlasting glory.
De Maria Numquam Satis
St. Bernard once wrote: “Of Mary, one can never say enough.” However, we must bring our consideration of God’s Masterpiece to a conclusion with this last point: Mary is intimately bound up in the plan of redemption. Jesus and Mary are indissolubly united in order to fulfill the selfsame mission. Thus it is impossible to speak of one without referring to the other, although Jesus is the principal Person in this divine plan. Perhaps a hymn taken from the Common of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Roman Breviary best expresses this reality:
Mary the dawn, Christ the perfect day;
Mary the gate, Christ the Heavenly Way!
Mary the root, Christ the Mystic Vine;
Mary the grape,Christ the Sacred Wine!
Mary the wheat, Christ the Living Bread;
Mary the stem, Christ the Rose blood-red!
Mary the font, Christ the Cleansing Flood;
Mary the cup, Chirst the Saving Blood!
Mary the temple, Christ the temple’s Lord;
Mary the shrine, Christ the God adored!
Mary the beacon, Christ the Heaven’s Rest;
Mary the mirror, Christ the Vision Blest!
Mary the mother, Chirst the mother’s Son;
By all things blest while endless ages run.