Catholic Activity: Advent — The Immaculate Conception
Mary Newland gives an explanation on how to teach the Immaculate Conception to children and the relationship of this feast to the Season of Advent.
There is a special dearness about Christmas gifts that are made. Even when they are clumsily made, they are lovely because the loveliness that goes into them is from the heart and the mind and the hands — hours and days of tacking and tying, fitting and pasting, stitching and hammering, chiseling and modelling — all of it with a permeation of love and effort that cannot be priced. The making of gifts should be a special part of Advent; an outpouring of self into something we make for someone we love, entirely in the spirit of the remaking of our hearts for Christ, for receiving the gift Someone who loves us made for us.
With this making go long evenings of work together, wonderful conversations, meditations, evening prayers. We need only work together to have an early dinner, clear away the dishes, tidy the kitchen, get the littlest ones off to bed, keep the TV and radio turned off, and there — we have a long evening before us. Perhaps it is not possible to do this every night, but much can be accomplished in even two nights a week when the family works together and talks together. They will soon discover that this kind of creative recreation grows on them.
The making of gifts has a counterpart in the greatest of the Advent feasts, the feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, and we learn from this feast with what infinite pains God prepared the gift He gave to us.
God always knew Our Lady just as He always knew us. It is easy for a child to learn this and understand it. You simply tell him and he knows. You know in your mind what you are going to do before you do it; so, God knew us all in His mind before He made us.
One Advent a six-year-old of our acquaintance asked: "Mother, was I in Heaven with God before I was in you?"
"Oh, that's right But I was in His mind, wasn't I?" He settled back on the couch contentedly. If someone has told you this, you know you're important to God. No fear He is going to forget you when He has had you in His mind since forever.
Thus He also knew Our Lady since forever. In her humanness she was to be like ourselves, but in another way she would be different
When God knew us in His mind before He made us, He knew that we would be conceived and born with original sin on our souls But when He knew Our Lady in His mind before He made her, He knew she would be conceived without original sin. He was going to make her to be the Mother of Our Lord; so He would make her perfect Even though she would be one of the children of Adam and Eve, she would not inherit original sin like the rest of us, nor any weakness that might lead her to commit sin.
Now, it is not necessary for God to give any reason for this except that it pleased Him. He is God. Surely He may do as He wants. And of course it is easy for us to understand that the Mother of God should be perfect, the most holy and beautiful of all creatures. But we like to know that things are "fair," that things fit together like the pieces of a puzzle; and this great privilege of Our Lady's is not only God's right and her due, but it is also "fair" — in another word, just.
THE REASON FOR CHRISTMAS PRESENTS
Why are we making gifts for each other two, three, four weeks ahead of time? working as hard as we can to make something beautiful? to wrap it beautifully? to tie it beautifully? to think of something full of love to write on the card that goes with it? Because we know that Christmas is coming. That Jesus should become man and save us from our sins is more than good reason to prepare — to anticipate. We want everything to be perfect for Jesus and for our beloveds when Christmas comes.
Just so, God the Father prepared for the coming of Jesus. He prepared for His divine Son a perfect Mother through whom He could come into the world. This is how He prepared:
God the Father knew that when the time came, from Our Lord's death on the cross would flow graces which would never end, which would make it possible for Godlike powers to be given to men. For example. He knew that Our Lord would institute a sacrament through which grace would come to wash away the original sin inherited from Adam and Eve, and to fill the soul with marvelous beauty where God Himself could dwell.
In creating a Mother for His Son God used this grace ahead of time — not to wash away original sin but to make a Mother whose soul was untouched by original sin. This is what we mean when we speak of Mary's Immaculate Conception, the name she used for herself when at last she told St. Bernadette who she was.
God does not live in time. He invented time for us so that we could keep track of ourselves, but He has no need of it, and in the foreverness of Heaven He used all the magnificent graces His divine Son poured forth from His death on the cross in time to merit for Our Lady a perfect soul from the instant He breathed it into being.
That is why when Gabriel came to her in Nazareth he could say: "Hail, full of grace. . . ." That is why when Mary went to visit Elizabeth, Elizabeth could cry out: "Blessed art thou amongst women. . . ."
This does not mean that Our Lady was conceived in a miraculous manner as her divine Son was conceived. She was born of the lawful union of Anne and Joachim, loving husband and wife. It does mean that at the moment the seed of life which was to become Our Lady was united to her immortal soul, it was to a soul God had created perfect.
Our Lady was made immaculate so that when the time came for the plan of the Redemption to unfold, her pure and holy body would be a perfect resting place wherein the love of God — His Holy Spirit — would breathe and His divine Son would begin to live.
This beautiful doctrine explained to the children on the vigil of her feast will help form the spirit in which the entire family will assist at the Mass in her honor and receive Holy Communion. If it does not seem possible for the school children — especially those going to public school — to receive Holy Communion on a weekday morning, why not give this a try: have a picnic breakfast in the car, with good whole-wheat raisin bread-and-butter sandwiches, fruit you can eat out of your hand, and hot cocoa in a thermos.
The great Advent mysteries in the life of Our Lady relate in many ways to the knowledge we must give our children about their bodies. Now we see again why we must have reverence and awe for our bodies. They are made for great and holy things. All the little girls in the world who will grow up to discover that God's will for them is to be wives and mothers will, as mothers, carry their babies the way Our Lady carried her baby. Every mother we see who is expecting a baby can remind us of Our Lady.
It is so good of God to have His Son come to us this way, and so sanctify the bearing of babies. He could have come in thunder and lightning. He could have come like a wild storm riding the sun, driving the moon and the stars before Him. But, loving us in our littleness and our struggles and our pains and worries, He chose to be like us in all things save sin, so that we would always know that God knows what it is like to be a man.
If we have children for whom it is time to learn something of the way babies are born, Advent is an especially appropriate time to continue with that part of sex instruction. This carrying of babies within the mother's body, is it not beautiful? This is how Our Lady carried her Baby, close to her heart, protected and sheltered there by her own pure body. This delivering of babies, as we call it — the emergence of the baby from its mother's body — is it not wonderful? It is God's way. He decided it was to be like this. If there were a finer way for it to be, He would have it be that way. "Let us pray tonight and ask Our Lady to help us have reverence for our bodies, and for the bodies of others, and never to do anything with them God does not want us to do."
These things and a host of others relating to the meaning and spirit of Advent make beautiful, rich, prayerful conversations that go with the making of gifts. Some are for parent and child alone, some for the group; both ways, the treasury to explore is inexhaustible.
Activity Source: Year and Our Children, The by Mary Reed Newland, P.J. Kenedy & Sons, New York, 1956