07 December 2022

Homily - On the Immaculate Conception and the Year of the Eucharist

The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

Opening of the Diocesan Year of the Eucharist

Dear brothers and sisters,

As we celebrate this great solemnity of the Blessed Virgin Mary under her title of the Immaculate Conception, we, as a Diocesan Church, are entering into a Year of the Eucharist. This Year of the Eucharist is intended, in part, to commemorate the one hundredth anniversary of the translation of the seat of the Diocese from Alton to Springfield. But, more importantly, it is Bishop Paprocki’s desire that this Year of the Eucharist will strengthen the faithful for humble and courageous evangelical witness in our communities.

It is fitting that we begin this Year of the Eucharist today because, as Pope Saint John Paul II said, “If we wish to rediscover in all its richness the profound relationship between the Church and the Eucharist, we cannot neglect Mary, Mother and model of the Church.”[1] Indeed, “Mary can guide us towards this most holy sacrament, because she herself has a profound relationship with it.”[2]

It is true to say we do not see Mary’s relationship with the Eucharist explicitly stated in the Sacred Scriptures, but it can certainly be deduced from what we find in them. The Evangelists do not tell us Mary was present at the Last Supper but, as a devout Jew, why would she not have been present at the Passover celebrated by her Son? Even if she were not, we know she was present at the early celebrations of the Mass. For example, we know that, after the Ascension of her Son into heaven, the Apostles gathered together for prayer, “together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus” and that when the early Church gathered, “they held steadfastly to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to the prayers” (Acts 1:14; 2:42).

There is, however, a more profound way we can discern the Eucharistic devotion of the Immaculate Conception. The Lord Jesus issued a great command at the Last Supper, one which the Church has never failed to keep: “Do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19). This word, “do,” is an important one and has a particular meaning we may easily overlook. “In most languages, the word, ‘do, make’ has a wide range of meanings; one of its frequent uses in the Old Testament means to offer sacrifice, as appears in many texts.”[3] As an attentive reader of the Scriptures, Mary would have known this.

When we hear Jesus’ command to “do this in memory of me,” how can we not also hear Mary’s command to “do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5)?

With the same maternal concern which she showed at the wedding feast of Cana, Mary seems to say to us: “Do not waver; trust in the words of my Son. If he was able to change water into wine, he can also turn bread and wine into his body and blood, and through this mystery bestow on believers the living memorial of his Passover, thus becoming the ‘bread of life.’”[4]

Mary’s command always leads us to the command of her Son.

Perhaps even more profoundly, it is not unreasonable to say that “Mary lived her Eucharistic faith even before the institution of the Eucharist, by the very fact that she offered her virginal womb for the Incarnation of God’s Word.”[5] Indeed, Mary was preserved from every stain of original sin from the moment of her conception because God knew she would consent to conceive the Son of God in her womb. As Mary’s obedient faith allowed her to share in the Redemption of her Son even before his death of the Cross, so, too, did she live a Eucharistic faith before the Last Supper.

The great mystery of Christmas, which we will celebrate in a few weeks, is, of course, intimately connected with the mystery of the Annunciation. As we heard in the Gospel today, that was when the Archangel Gabriel told Mary she would conceive the “Son of the Most High” “in the physical reality of his body and blood, thus anticipating within herself what to some degree happens sacramentally in every believer who receives, under the signs of bread and wine, the Lord’s body and blood” (Luke 1:32).[6] Whenever we gather to worship the Eucharistic Lord, “we are asked to believe that the same Jesus Christ, Son of God and Son of Mary, becomes present in his full humanity and divinity under the signs of bread and wine.”[7]

Mary is, for each of us, not only “an advocate of grace,” but also “a model of holiness,” in fact, the greatest model of holiness after her Son.[8] In this Year of the Eucharist, may the Immaculate Conception, patroness of this Diocese, pray for us and teach us anew that the Lord Jesus gave us the Eucharist so that, like Mary’s, our lives might become nothing less than a continual hymn of praise to God in, with, and through, her Son.[9] Amen.

[1] Pope Saint John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 53.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Mitch Pacwa, S.J., The Eucharist: A Bible Study Guide for Catholics (Huntington, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., 2013), 38.

[4] Pope Saint John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 54.

[5] Ibid., 55.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Roman Missal, Preface for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.

[9] Cf. Pope Saint John Paul II, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, 58.

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