Having completed two of my favorite Marian days of the year, the feasts of the Immaculate Conception and of Our Lady of Guadalupe, I can take a moment now to pause and reflect on what they mean together.
In the Immaculate Conception, Mary speaks for humanity. That, I believe, is the deepest meaning of the Immaculate Conception. Not freedom from some kind “stain” of original sin, but the completely free capacity to speak a full and resounding “Yes” on behalf of the human race.
Narrative criticism has helpfully illuminated this point in its re-readings of the Genesis 3 myth. According to Genesis 3:20, Eve is named havva, But as Reuven Kimelman points out, hayya is the word that means “life-bearer.” This verse is totally out of place where it is unless there is more to it, coming as it does at the climax of story. And sure enough, havva is chosen because of its double meaning as “speech” and because of its etymological connection to the word for serpent, hivya. Havva is a neologism created by the author to combine the words hayya and hivya. Eve becomes, at the end of the story, the speech of every human being influenced as it constantly is, by both the voice of the serpent and the command of God. Eve bears within her both serpent and mother, and as such her speech represents the whole human race. We are all Eve.
What makes the Immaculate Conception so meaningful is that Mary, traditionally called the New Eve, speaks a pure speech, a speech untouched by the serpent that is inside of each one of us. She speaks with an “immaculate” voice, and speaks a pure “Yes” to Gabriel. By doing so, she is unique in the entire Bible. Jane Schaberg points out astonishingly:
In none of the twenty-seven Hebrew Bible commissionings, none of the ten nonbiblical accounts, none of the fifteen other commissionings in Luke-Acts, and none of the nine other New Testament commissionings… are the commissioned ones depicted as assenting verbally and directly to their commission.
Mary is the only prophet in the whole Bible to speak a verbal consent to God’s commission. There is no serpent within her. Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI) points to the uniqueness of this “consent” of Mary too in his new book on the Infancy Narratives. He explains that “betrothal was unilaterally pronounced by the man, and the woman was not invited to express her consent.” Yet God overrides human custom and, unlike her husband Joseph, asks for her consent. In her consent, Mary is offered a chance on behalf of humanity to speak with pure, un-serpented, speech. And she says her loud and clear “Yes.”
While in the feast of the Immaculate Conception Mary speaks for humanity, in the feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mary speaks for God. She relays God’s message of love and compassion to the Aztec people in a voice and language that they can understand. She becomes forever the prophet that she was commissioned to be at her calling. Having learned to speak with God’s voice at her commissioning, she spends even heaven relaying that voice to all who will listen. Let us thank God for such a prophet as Mary.