From the Blight of Sin to the Bliss of Grace

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Back to Creation’s Dawn

The mystery we celebrate on the feast of the Immaculate Conception takes us back to creation's dawn, to a moment of pure beauty in which all things, untouched by sin, sang the glory of God, praising in a perfect harmony. The nostalgia of it still haunts the human heart. Every human experience knows moments--as fleeting as they are precious--in which we seem to perceive something of heaven shining through the things of earth, glimpses and bits of another time and of another place.

The Nostalgia of Paradise

The nostalgia of paradise is painful and sweet: a longing for something remembered, strains of a symphony heard long ago and not quite forgotten. There are moments of silence in which it seems to come back to us: in a child's laugh, in a fragrance, in the palate's recognition of an unmistakable taste. "And God saw everything that He had made, and behold it was very good" (Gen 1:31).

A Royal Couple Clothed in Glory

Presiding over this cosmic liturgy, and fully themselves at its heart, were man and woman fully alive, a royal couple clothed in grace and glory, vested for their priesthood in light as in a robe. "So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them" (Gen 1:27). God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man (Gen 2:21) and, from his side, drew a helper fit for him,"bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh" (Gen 2:23), and she was called woman. "The man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed" (Gen 2:25) for they were clothed in garments of light woven by the hand of God.

Original Sin

Then, tempted and deceived by the serpent, the most subtle of all God's creatures (Gen 3:1), they rebelled against the Author of Life, using the gift against the Giver. They grasped what they were created to offer. They pulled down what they were to lift up and, immediately, they were cast into confusion. The order of the world was shaken. All created things were wrenched out of harmony. Heavy darkness fell upon them. The symphony of praise and glory was silenced with the silence of death, cold and empty.

Closed to the joy-giving beauty of God, their eyes opened in horror to sin's harsh and stony grimace. "And they knew that they were naked" (Gen 3:7), stripped of grace and of glory, exposed to the elements, vulnerable to evil, to sickness, suffering and death. "They sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons" (Gen 3:7): a futile attempt to cover with human artifice the devastating shame of sin.

Hiding for Shame

"They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden" (Gen 3:8) and shuddered. In their shame and nakedness, they "hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden" (Gen 3:8). Of trees, once transparent to the shimmering glory of God, Adam and Eve made a screen behind which they sought to conceal their shame, and avoid the grieving Creator's gaze of pity and of love. This is, of course, the most fundamental misuse of creatures. The very things created by God to lead us to Himself become, as a result of sin, the means by which we attempt to flee from God. This is the refusal of the sacramental, the denial of the iconic, the choice of the opaque over the transparent.

Adam, Where Are You?

In the stunned silence of death that followed the original sin, the Voice of Life was heard. "The Lord God called to the man, and said to him, 'Where are you?'" (Gen 3:9). God asked the question not because the man was, in any way, hidden from His sight, but rather, to disclose to man his alienation from himself. "Do you know where you are? You who were created in my image and likeness, you are lost in the land of unlikeness. You who were my prince, set over all of my creation; you who were my priest, presiding over the liturgy of my glory; where I am, you are not. Behold, the splendour of my creation has become oppressive and obscure. The things by which you knew me have become strange and unfamiliar. The things by which you praised me have fallen silent. Where I wanted songs of praise, there are but tears and laments. Where I planted a garden, there are thorns and thistles. Where happiness abounded, there is toil and sweat."

The Promise

Is there no hope in this devastated landscape? Is there no promise of redemption? An infinitely pitiful God, grieving over the work of his hands, promises to undo in his love what Eve and Adam had wrought in their sin. He promises salvation. He promises victory over the serpent and that victory, He links to the woman. "I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed" (Gen 3:15). A woman's innocence shall undo the serpent's cunning; the seed of the woman shall become the fruit of everlasting life.

The New Eve, Full of Grace

The searching question of a grieving God in a paradise lost, "Where are you?" echoed and re-echoed down through the ages, until at last, in the heart of a child, a new Eve, full of grace, it found a response. "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to Thy word" (Lk 1:38). The new Eve, exposed to the searching gaze of the Creator, was found spotless and lovely in his sight, and this, in advance, by virtue of the "yes" of the new Adam, a "yes" uttered from the tree of the Cross in night's darkest hour.

The New Adam

The response of the new Eve was made possible by that of the new Adam. Naked, like the first Adam, no longer hiding among the trees of the garden, but lifted high upon the tree of the Cross, the new Adam utters, in the Holy Spirit, the response so long awaited by the Father: "Father, into thy hands, I commit my spirit" (Lk 23:46).

The Immaculate Conception

In the unfathomable richness of the response uttered by the new Adam from the Tree of Life, is found every response to love, every surrender to grace, every "yes" to life, every new beginning in beauty and in innocence, and in hope. Thus was Mary, from the first moment of her conception in the womb of Saint Anne, her mother, clothed in the splendour of a vesture surpassing that of the first Eve in the beginning.

The Work of Mary in Every Age

The hidden but real work of Mary in every age, in every situation, in every human heart, is to weave, in cooperation with the Holy Spirit, garments of grace and of glory for all her children. Mary's joy is to lead the procession of the great return to paradise, singing as she goes, "Well may I rejoice in the Lord, well may this heart triumph in my God. The deliverance he sends is like a garment that wraps me about, his mercy like a cloak enfolding me. I am like a bride resplendent with jewels" (Is 61:10, Introit). We, children of the first Eve, baptized into the death and resurrection of Christ, come to the Most Holy Eucharist clothed, like our mother, the new Eve, the All-Holy, in wedding garments bestowed from above.

The Eucharistic Order Restored

The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the efficacious presence, here and now, of the "Yes" uttered once and for all from the tree of the Cross. In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, we recover what was lost by sin. In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, all created things are restored to order. In the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the beauty of holiness begins to permeate and suffuse the old order of the things with the undying splendour of the new. The liturgy interrupted by the serpent's hiss is here re-intoned by the voice of a child immaculate, the Virgin Mary full of grace, and by the voices of all who are still enough to hear her intonation.

All Things Made New

Might this be the uniqueness of today's Holy Mass: thanksgiving for the bright garments of Baptism, thanksgiving for the triumph of beauty over the blight of sin, thanksgiving for the "Yes" of the New Adam from the tree of the Cross and for the "Yes" of the New Eve? This is every Holy Mass: our "Yes," uttered in the Holy Spirit, and joined to theirs. As we wait for every tear to be wiped away, as we wait for the end of death and the passing away of former things (Rev 21:4), we are faithful to the "breaking of the Bread" (Ac 2:42) for without it we cannot go on, and by it we ascend, already, to him who says, "Behold, I make all things new" (Apoc 21:5).

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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