“The Immaculate Conception and the Open Space of Mary’s Heart, Full of Grace” (12/9/2019)
Fr. Ignatius John Schweitzer, OP
“Full of grace.” Mary is greeted, “Full of grace.” Although we say, “Hail Mary, full of grace,” in the angel Gabriel’s greeting, there’s no other name except Full of Grace. It’s her new name. It captures who she is. She is holy and immaculate, and full of grace, from the first moment of her conception.
As Full of Grace, Mary is full of receptivity, full of Advent expectancy, full of readiness for God, from the first moment of her life. Before her body is, her soul is already a womb open for God. Her faith will develop more and more as that womb open for God.
And so at the Annunciation, her soul that has been full of grace, full of receptivity, full of Advent expectancy, full of readiness for God, will give her full Yes to God. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done unto me according to thy word!” Grace has prepared her for that moment, and grace supports her in that moment, as she freely gives her unbounded Yes to God. Then, not only is her faith, but also her body, her whole being, is a womb open for God. Mary’s soul is a completely open space for God.
And even now, Mary’s soul remains that open space for God, an open space that we can enter into with our own faith and Yes to God. St. John Paul, in Redemptoris Mater says,
“In Mary’s faith, first at the Annunciation and then fully at the foot of the Cross, an interior space was reopened within humanity which the eternal Father can fill “with every spiritual blessing.” It is the space “of the new and eternal Covenant,” and it continues to exist in the Church.” “Within the radius of the maternal presence of her” who was blessed because she believed, we find a strengthening of our own faith (#28.4).
The space of Mary’s heart remains present for us today, so we can enter into it. What’s more, the space of Mary’s heart remains full of grace, full of receptivity, full of Advent expectancy, full of readiness for God. Entering into the space of Mary’s heart means we enter into a space full of grace, so we too may give our full and unbounded Yes to God. Grace goes before Mary’s Yes. And grace goes before our Yes and supports our Yes from within the heart of Mary, full of grace.
When the new translation of the Roman Missal came out almost ten years ago, I was delighted to see the term “prevenient grace” make it into our translation. It’s in our prayer over the offerings today. Prevenient grace should become more and more common parlance among Catholics. Little school kids on the playground should be talking about prevenient grace. It’s simple enough, prevenient. Pre: before. Venire: come. So “prevenient grace” is grace that comes before. Grace goes before us.
Prevenient grace, is a term especially dear to the Dominican theology of grace. Physical pre-motion is one way to talk about it, or we can talk about prevenient grace. We cannot do any lasting good or salvific good unless grace goes before us.
Grace went before Mary, and her complete and unbounded Yes. And grace goes before us and our Yes, especially as we enter that space of Mary’s heart, so full of grace. Through grace, Mary remained faithful to that initial unbounded yes. Mary Fidelis! Faithful to grace! Through grace, moreover, Mary in charity went to visit and serve her cousin Elizabeth. Elizabeth and Marie embraced and were joined in their Yes to the Lord.
And Mary sings her Magnificat. Faithful to her Yes, her soul proclaims the great things the Lord has done for her. And embraced by Elizabeth, in womanly fellowship, Mary is supported and encouraged in singing her song to the Lord. You all support and encourage one another in, individually, singing your unique and unrepeatable song to the Lord. You all support and encourage one another in speaking your fiat to the Lord and renewing it all your days. Hidden within the Fiat is also the Magnificat, because our fiat is to the Lord who does great things. After the fiat, sooner or later, the Magnificat is sure to unfold.
So on this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, we thank God for his prevenient grace to Our Lady and to ourselves. We are in awestruck wonder over God’s prevenient grace, doing great things in his lowly handmaids. We enter anew into the space of Mary’s heart, full of grace and full of readiness for God—this space that is open to us, welcoming of us, and receptive of us and receptive of God’s grace and blessing.
Here, the blessing of God pushes things forward, gently but surely. Don’t you feel the touch of God pushing you forward? Surely you do…in the Sacraments and in the depths of your soul. The gentle yet strong touch of God pushes things forward, the blessing of God pushes you forward, sweetly, gently, and freely in love. It is as we heard from Ephesians, “In him, [in Jesus], we were also chosen, destined in accord with the purpose of the One who accomplishes all things according to the intention of his will, so that we might exist for the praise of his glory!” Amen.