This Thursday, December 17, the Church will begin praying what are known as the “O Antiphons” each evening during Vespers, or Evening Prayer. Outside of Vespers, the O Antiphons are more familiar in their adapted form as the verses for the quintessential Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”
“Am I not here who am your Mother?” These very words were spoken by Our Lady of Guadalupe to a Mexican indigenous man nearly five centuries ago, and they changed the course of evangelization in the new world. The Spanish had already spent several years trying to convert the new world, but nothing was working. Hostility between the indigenous people and the conquistadores was the only thing coming out of their many attempts. Into this environment of hostility, our Blessed Mother came to the aid of those in need. She came to St. Juan Diego and gave him all of her motherly love and compassion. Now, she is known as the Queen of Mexico and Empress of America.
Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. Occasionally this dogma is confused for the doctrine of the Virgin Birth of Jesus. According to the Catechism, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception pertains to the “splendor of an entirely unique holiness” that, among humans, belongs only to our Blessed Lady, because she is “enriched from the first instant of her conception”—a singular grace coming wholly from Christ. Mary is “redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son” (CCC, §492).
Hard as it is to imagine, the season of Advent and the new liturgical year is just days away. As we are reminded each year, Advent is a season when Christians throughout the world rededicate themselves to waiting in hope. We anticipate the coming of Christ, the light of the world, who scatters the darkness of sin and shatters the bonds of death. We prepare to celebrate Christ’s coming in history at Christmas; we ponder the ways that he comes to us in mystery even now, especially in the Eucharist; and we look forward to his coming in glory at the end of time.
In 2016, Pope Francis raised the rank of today’s celebration of Mary Magdalene from Memorial to Feast in the liturgical calendar. This means that not only will the special readings for the day be proclaimed, but the Gloria will be prayed, and, for the first time ever, a special Preface to the Eucharistic Prayer will be included in the celebration of the Mass.