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Why divine grace is central to the Year of Mercy

A statue of Our Lady © Mazur/catholicchurch.org.uk

Yesterday was a double special occasion: the start of the Year of Mercy, and the feast of the Immaculate Conception. The two surely are connected more than coincidentally.

You may remember that in the Ave Regina Caelorum, Our Blessed Lady is saluted as the “door” to our salvation; a good thought to keep in mind during this year when so many will be going through Holy Doors in Rome and elsewhere.

Ave, Regina Caelorum,
Ave, Domina Angelorum:
Salve, radix, salve, porta
Ex qua mundo lux est orta.

The Immaculate Conception, one of the most important feasts of the year, underlines two things for us, both of which ought to be central for the Holy Year of Mercy.

The first is the centrality of grace. It was the grace of God that preserved Mary from original sin and actual sin: The grace that was won on the Cross was anticipated at the Conception of the Virgin. Just as Mary was saved through the grace of Jesus Christ, so we too hope to be saved by the grace of Jesus Christ. There is indeed no other way to be saved.

The second thing is this: The humanity of the Virgin reminds us that grace presupposes nature and brings it to perfection. God chose her and endowed her with His grace, and later took up the flesh from her. This shows us that God does not “shudder from the Virgin’s womb” (non horruísti Vírginis úterum) as the Te Deum has it.

Humanity is not utterly depraved or totally ruined by the fall, as some have claimed. Rather it is redeemable and, as the Virgin and all the saints show us, capable of the heights of holiness, through divine grace.

So, the Immaculate Conception reminds us of the power of grace, and the dignity of human nature as a recipient of, and collaborator with, the grace of God. Let us hope that the Holy Year will do the same by reminding us all that God’s grace is freely available, and remind us too that as human beings we can co-operate with that grace and rise to the heights of holiness.

We really ought not to be discouraged, and we certainly should not listen to those who want to tell us that we are too weak to be good. True, we often feel we are making little progress in the spiritual life, but with the example of Our Blessed Lady before us, we should also feel that as poor wretched human beings we are capable of much, if we acknowledge our weakness and rely on His grace entirely.

Let us remember poor downtrodden Bernadette, to whom Our Lady said: “I am the Immaculate Conception”. That awoke in Bernadette her vocation to greatness. May Our Lady inspire the whole Church to take the same path this year.