My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
This week we will celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The Declaration of the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was made on Dec. 8, 1854 by Pope Pius IX. The Holy Father explained in this Declaration that Mary was preserved from Original Sin by a “singular grace and privilege given to her by God, `in view of the merits of Jesus Christ’ as redeemer of the human race.”
Mary was not like every other person who was born into the world touched by Original Sin. Because of her special mission, she was preserved free from Original Sin “from the first of her conception.” She is unique among all members of the human race. In fact, the Fathers of the Church called her the new Eve, since she gave birth to a new people to be born through the merits of Jesus, her Son.
The Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is a good example of a belief rooted in Scripture, which only became clearer and was finally defined over a long period of time. From the earliest centuries of the Church, the feast was celebrated in honor of Mary’s conception, separated from the feast of her birth.
In the Old Testament, in the Book of Genesis, we hear the prophecy, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your offspring and hers. He will strike at your head while you will strike at his heel” (Gn 3:15).
The new Eve is then greeted by the Archangel Gabriel, who in coming to her said, “Hail full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Lk 1:28). And again, after Mary had conceived the Lord Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit, she is greeted by Elizabeth, “Blessed are you among woman, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Lk 1:42). With this basis in Scripture and with the development of the theological understanding of how it could be possible that Mary was assumed into heaven without undergoing the corruption of death, and how her virginal conception of the Lord Jesus could have taken place, it became clear to the faithful and to theologians that she must have been conceived without Original Sin.
Her Immaculate Conception reminds us of the great love that God has for His creation because He sent His only Son as our Redeemer and found a worthy mother for His Son in the Blessed Virgin Mary, who herself was preserved free from every stain of Original Sin in order to carry out this desire of the Creator.
The development of this doctrine illustrates how the Church grows in self-awareness with the basic truths of faith. Although these doctrines are based in Scripture, they cannot completely be explained by Scripture and need the tradition of the Church that matures over time, with the theological reflection of the Church. When we say Church, we mean not only theologians, bishops and priests, but also the faithful who bring the power of belief to understanding the truths of our faith.
This year, as we approach the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, Catholics in the United States may rejoice that finally we have completed the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, the National Shrine dedicated to Mary who is the Patroness of the United States. The building of the Shrine began in the early 20th Century. It started as a basement church and then, in the 1950s, it became the remarkable structure we have today. Little-by-little, the Basilica has been adorned and beautified. Several years ago, I, along with other Italian-American Bishops raised funds to finally have a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary of Pompeii.
On this Dec. 8, the final decoration will be revealed on the main vault of the Basilica. It is entitled the Trinity Dome, depicting the Blessed Trinity and Our Lady, who from the other side of the cupola adores the Trinity, giving us the invitation to do the same.
The Catholics of the Diocese of Brooklyn contributed just over $100,000 to the completion of this beautiful Trinity Dome. I take this time to personally thank all those in Brooklyn and Queens who made a sacrifice to complete this great monument dedicated to Mary Immaculate.
Mary, herself, was the first to put out into the deep mystery of God’s love for us by accepting the mission to become the Mother of God, not knowing where the words of the Archangel Gabriel would lead her. We now know where Mary’s saying yes has led us – to the mystery of the Incarnation. God has become part of our creation. We have the responsibility of caring for creation and perfecting it. One of these works has been the creation of a beautiful shrine dedicated to Mary, a place where every other year our own diocese travels on pilgrimage. We pray to Mary on this Feast of the Immaculate Conception, that she will lead the way for us to understand the mystery of God’s love for us.