DECEMBER really is the one month of the year when we cannot call our time our own and the Church doesn’t make it any easier — though in the best possible way!
It all stems from the fact that we need to cram the whole of Our Lord’s life, and a bit more into one liturgical year while trying to keep a certain amount of what I call “internal logic” in the system.
So we start off, of course, with Easter which we can pin down to Passover because the gospels tell us so and from that follows Ascension and Pentecost. But then we have the Church’s ancient decision to fix Christ’s birth for December 25 and His mother’s birth for September 8 which demands His conception for March 25 and hers for December 8.when we are in the middle of Advent, preparing penitentially for Christmas.
And is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception a distraction from our prayerful preparation for Christ’s birth (especially if we pray the Novena) or do our Advent devotions limit the extent to which we celebrate the Feast?
Well, my view is that we should not agonise over such things because there is really no conflict. The Church, as so often, seems to have made a wise decision even though, at first sight, it might appear strange that she has put such an important feast in a time of the year which is at least partly penitential. Because while we are spending these four weeks (and it is four weeks this year; this is a long Advent!) preparing for the birth of our Saviour what better time good there be for celebrating — and celebrating as gloriously as we can — the event that began the sequence of events that ended in our redemption.
As St Paul tells us in his epistle to the Galatians (4, 4-7)
when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of woman …
No-one is quite sure what “the fullness of time” actually meant but theologians generally seem to take the view that the extent to which civilisation and religion had developed and the the fact that the world was pretty much at peace (perhaps a little brutally enforced by the Roman Empire but the nearest thing to a peace there had been) meant that mankind was ready for the “next step”.
And God set that next step in motion very quietly, without any fanfare, no angels, no stars, just the normal meeting of sperm and egg but just this once the child that was conceived was spared the taint of original sin because she was intended for a glorious task with a Son for whom any brush with sin would have been an impossibility.
All hail, Mary, filled with the Grace of God. Blessed indeed are you among all women.
And as we celebrate this miraculous but necessary event we now look forward to its purpose: the birth of our Saviour. For the next two weeks we have the opportunity to prepare ourselves to celebrate Christ’s coming among us while not forgetting that we must also prepare for our next meeting with Him.