A. On May 10th, 1846, Archbishop Samuel Eccleston, the 5th Archbishop of Baltimore, gathered with twenty-two bishops of the United States here at this Basilica of the Assumption of Our Lady. Together they celebrated the opening Mass of the 6th Provincial Council of Baltimore, one in a series of 19th century councils that helped organize the Catholic Church in the United States.
B. They then proceeded to meet in the Archbishop’s residence, adjoined to the Basilica, and on May 13th, 1846 adopted a degree by which they chose the Blessed Virgin Mary, conceived without sin, as the Patroness of the United States. One year later, in 1847, the Holy Father ratified their decision and thus, to this day, we call upon Mary Immaculate to watch over, protect, and intercede for these United States of America.
C. So, we celebrate today’s feast of Mary’s Immaculate Conception in a unique place, a holy place, where our ancestors in the faith, gave us Mary, “full of grace” as our patroness, as our protector, as our intercessor. As we celebrate this Holy Mass let us remember those went before us in faith, even as we thank them and pray for their eternal salvation. And let us honor their memory by focusing, if only briefly, on the meaning of this feast day for ourselves and the land that we love.
II. The Scripture Readings
A. In fact, today’s Scripture readings are the foundation for the Church’s teaching that God, in his love and mercy, preserved Mary from the stain of original sin, so as to prepare her to become the Mother of his Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
B. St. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, tells us (in effect), that God created us to share his love, to share, uninhibited, his friendship. Indeed, he chose us in his Son, even before the world was created, ‘to be holy and blameless in his sight’. The Book of Genesis tells us what happened next. At the dawn of creation, Adam and Eve rejected God’s friendship not because they ate a forbidden apple (as people sometimes say), but because they wanted not just to be like God but to take God’s place. That was the original sin which they passed on to their offspring and indeed, as we look into our own hearts and look at the condition of our world, it is evident that this flaw, with its propensity toward evil, still persists.
C. We would have been doomed were it not for God’s mercy who chose to reveal himself anew to the people of Israel. In the fullness of time, God raised up from that people a women by which his only-begotten Son could take upon himself our humanity and thus preach the Good News and give himself to us as our Redeemer. That woman was Mary, prepared by God in advance to be the dwelling place of Jesus. That is why, at the Annunciation, the angel addressed Mary as “full of grace”, just as we address Mary every day in our prayers, “Hail Mary, full of grace!” Through Mary Immaculate, Jesus our Savior entered the world. Mary became the Mother of God and she is our Mother also. Will she, who gave us our Redeemer, fail to listen to our prayers? Archbishop Eccleston and the 22 bishops gathered in Baltimore in 1846 were confident that Mary would hear our prayers & we should share their confidence.
III. Unsettled Times
A. We live in unsettled times when many people are filled with fear, when incivility stalks the land, when the order of society and of the world is unstable. We may try to insulate ourselves and our families from all of this but we cannot. The divisions that beset us are the result not merely of legitimate differences of opinion but also of sinful folly, a forgetfulness of human dignity and basics of a just, peaceful & cohesive society. Just as Archbishop Eccleston and his fellow bishops urged the people of their day to present to Mary the needs of a young country with lights and shadows, so let us present to Mary our needs and the needs of our fellow citizens, being especially mindful of the poor, of young people without family life, those enslaved by drugs, those caught in the snare of pornography. Let us ask her for great respect for religious freedom and beg that our country might be a beacon of freedom and justice the world over.
B. And thus we say: “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have resource to Thee.”
C. May God bless us and keep us always in his love!