From the Immaculate Conception to the Blessed Sacrament

The Immaculate Conception (Philipp Veit)

St John the Baptist clearly states he is not the one who is to come, but that there is indeed one who is to come, the Christ, or Messiah, who had been expected through long ages. St John the Baptist’s exalted vocation was to be the last and greatest of the prophets, the one privileged finally to prepare the way for Him.

St Paul says that Our Lord is “before all, and by him all things consist.” (Col 1:17) In another place, he says that God “chose us in [Christ] before the foundation of the world.” (Eph 1:4) If we follow many theologians, especially those of the Franciscan school, we can read St Paul as indicating that the very incarnation of Christ was in the mind, or the wisdom, of the Blessed Trinity from before all creation, to bring us to the fullness of life in Him.

The means by which we are given the fullness of life here on earth is the Blessed Sacrament, our Holy Communion with God, through the body and blood of Christ. The sacred flesh and blood of Our Lord is united to His divinity because the human nature of Jesus is united to His divine nature in one person, in the hypostatic union. As Tertullian put it, Caro salutis est cardo, the flesh is the hinge of salvation. The divine Word became flesh to share our flesh, so that we, by sharing His flesh, should also share in His divinity. Thus we are reminded in the prayer that the priest says silently when he mingles water and wine at the offertory.

The flesh of Our Blessed Lord is essential to our salvation. Therefore it is of great importance how He took on flesh.

God prepared for the incarnation by choosing one woman to be, as Wordsworth put it, “our tainted nature’s solitary boast.” Since the sin of our first parents, no woman, no human person, has been conceived without original sin. Our Lady was, so that the flesh and blood of Christ would not be tainted, but would be as all flesh should have been from the beginning.

Our Lady gave her flesh to Christ. His precious body and blood were formed in the womb from her flesh and blood which itself began its existence at the Immaculate Conception. As Father Faber put it,

“… for each one of us that marvellous avenue of graces, which began in the Immaculate Conception, runs without a fault or break straight to the Blessed Sacrament. […] So at every mass, and in each communion we look up to the Immaculate Conception.”
(Faber. The Blessed Sacrament. p.179, 180)

In God, there is no parcelling out of one mystery and another, nor is there a set of compartments to close off doctrine, liturgy and devotion. To take as an example, the writer I have quoted, Fr Faber, in his hymns and devotions, cannot be reduced to Victorian indulgence in sentimental imaginings cut off from the supposedly stern and dessicated business of dogmatic theology.

It was because of his lively faith in the Immaculate Conception and the Incarnation, the Redemption and sacramental theology, that he was led, like St Bernard and many others before him, to fill out the picture described in the magisterium of Popes and Councils in a way that would draw people to follow Christ, to love Our Lady, to learn their catechism, to attend Mass and receive Holy Communion devoutly, to pray the Rosary, to sing hymns, to rejoice at Christmas, and to weep at the Cross.

In my favourite hymn of his, Faber speaks of the expectation of Our Lady, dawning at the Annunciation, bringing rapture to her ear, with overflowing grace. He speaks of the angels falling before her to adore Jesus in her womb. He tells of how Our Lady was thrilled with joy when she heard in the Jewish liturgy the words of the psalms and the prophets telling of Him, the One Who is to come, the One who is now the sacred burden within her. That burden, he says, became newer and newer over those nine months, pressing on her with new grace every moment.

Then finally, in the last verse, he makes the prayer that we may make our own as we approach the glorious feast of our salvation:

Thou hast waited, child of David!
And thy waiting now is o’er!
Thou hast seen Him, blessed Mother
And wilt see Him evermore!
O His Human Face and Features!
They were passing sweet to see;
Thou beholdest them this moment;
Mother, show them now to me.
(Faber. Hymns p.174)


PICTURE CREDIT: Oil on canvas "Immaculate Conception" produced in 1830 by Philipp Veit, - Orsini Chapel - Church of the Trinity of the Mountains in Rome (Italy). Wikimedia Commons. Author: Jean-Pol GRANDMONT

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