Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

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Advent is a season of joy, quiet joy, as we await the coming of the Lord, our Savior. It is a beautiful season in which we hear and meditate on the writings of the prophets of Israel who invited the people to repentance and to joy when they announced the coming of the Messiah. In today’s entrance antiphon, we heard Isaiah’s words: “I rejoice heartily in the Lord, in my God is the joy of my soul, for he has clothed me with a robe of salvation, and wrapped me in a mantle of justice, like a bride adorned with jewels.” There is the invitation to joy in prophets like Zephaniah who wrote: “Sing aloud, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter of Jerusalem. The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst.” Or the prophet Zechariah: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble… and he shall command peace to the nations.”

The prophets spoke this invitation to joy because of God’s saving presence among His people and especially because of the coming of the messianic king. Well, all these invitations to joy reach their climax and their fulfillment when Gabriel appears to Mary. What is the first word that Gabriel says to Mary! In light of the prophets’ invitation to joy , it should not surprise us. Gabriel’s first word to Mary is an invitation to joy. He says to her: “Chaire!”, that is, “rejoice.” The Greek chaire is translated into Latin as “Ave,” and into English as “Hail.” I like the Spanish translation, “alegrate”; it’s closer to the Greek. The word is “rejoice.” Gabriel says to Mary “Chaire, kecharitomene!,” “Rejoice, full of grace!” Gabriel appeared to announce to Mary the fulfillment of messianic promise and announced to her the most high dignity of being called to be the Mother of the Messiah, the Lord. He could not but invite her to rejoice. It was the greatest good news ever communicated in human history. God was inviting the new daughter of Zion, the young virgin of Nazareth, to deep joy as He called her to be the mother of His Son. And on behalf of the people of Israel and of all humanity, Mary said “yes.” Mary accepted a wedding proposal, the proposal of divine love with her own spousal love. She welcomed in a quite special way the joy foretold by the prophecies, a joy which reaches its peak at the Annunciation. Pope Benedict XVI once said that the New Testament really begins with the dialogue of Gabriel and Mary. He said: “We can therefore say that the first word of the New Testament is an invitation to joy… The New Testament is truly “Gospel,” the “Good News” that brings us joy. God is not remote from us, unknown, enigmatic or perhaps dangerous. God is close to us, so close that he makes himself a child…”. This is the joy of the season of Advent.

Notice the name Gabriel uses when he invites Mary to rejoice. He calls her “full of grace,” in Greek “kecharitomene.” Mary is invited to rejoice primarily because God loves her and has filled her with grace in view of her divine motherhood. Saint John Paul II once said that “full of grace” is the name Mary possesses in the eyes of God. Today we celebrate the beautiful truth that Mary was filled with God’s grace from the moment of her conception. This is an extraordinary dogma of our faith, explained so wonderfully by the Franciscan theologian, Blessed Duns Scotus, who was so instrumental in the Church’s growth in understanding of this mystery. We celebrate our Blessed Mother today, as the woman filled with God’s grace, “entirely holy and free from all stain of sin, adorned from the first instant of her conception with the radiance of an entirely unique holiness” (LG 56). And in our second reading today, we are reminded that the sanctifying grace bestowed upon Mary at the first moment of her existence is bestowed in Christ on all believers.

Today, three of our friars, Brother Peter Marie, Brother Joseph Maria, and Bro