The great Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception! A marvellous feast day. In Ireland, traditionally, it is the country people's shopping day, when they travel up to Dublin to do their Christmas shopping. While that may sound awful to those who realise the importance of a day of rest - this day was, traditionally the only day the country people could get off. Farmers work six days a week, Sunday was the day of rest: the Solemnity was the day they did not work even when it fell on a week day, and so they availed of the opportunity to get some of the presents bought for Christmas. In Dublin some saw it as "Culchie Day" - culchie being the term for country people. In America you would say "Rednecks". I'll stop there lest this post turn into a dictionary of abusive terms for non-city people, i.e. those who live in "the sticks", etc. (Ahem..)
Moving on quickly.....This wonderful feast day of the Immaculate Conception should be one which unites Christians around the world: it should not just be Catholics who celebrate it, after all the event which we mark is revealed in Sacred Scripture. Here we come to one of my bugbears - translation! As we read the Gospel today the Scriptural basis for this feast is, I feel, undermined by the translation.
In Luke 1:28 the Angel Gabriel greets Mary as "kecharitomene" which is translated in the Gospel today as "highly favoured one". Now while that translation "will do", it is not wholly accurate for the term. The better translation of the word is "full of grace", and even that lacks the depth of the word which is even more fulsome. The word means that Mary is now already filled with God's grace in preparation for the role she is to play in human salvation, and that of course points to the Immaculate Conception. I think we need a better translation for this Gospel.
Today may also be the day when St Bernard and St Thomas Aquinas hang their heads at the celestial banquet and sip their wine in silence, as Blessed John Duns Scotus takes the toast with the Holy Mother. Blessed John defended the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception when St Bernard and St Thomas had their issues. Indeed Bernard was up in arms when some churches of the West were celebrating the feast. No doubt all are friends now, and I'm sure Blessed Pius IX will pop over for a little ribbing at the two Doctors and tell them they took their eyes off the ball. The lesson: humility.
Indeed that is one of the messages of this feast day: she who was most humble, the handmaid of the Lord, has been raised to great heights and all generations call her blessed, for her dedication to the will of God.
Happy feast day!