Gregorian chant is usually divided into eight modes. Each mode is considered suited to conveying something deeper than the words: to quote a Benedictine friend, ‘music is for when words are not enough. There is a mystical mode, an angelic mode, a sad mode, a perfect mode. It should then come as no surprise that the antiphon Gaudens Gaudebo for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is mode V. Joyful, bringing happiness to those in pain. The antiphon is a combination of Isaiah 61:10 and Psalm 30:1-2.
‘I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, and my soul shall be joyful in my God: for He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, and with the robe of justice He hath covered me, as a bride adorned with her jewels. I will extol Thee, O Lord, for Thou hast upheld me: and hast not made my enemies to rejoice over me. I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, and my soul shall be joyful in my God: for He hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, and with the robe of justice He hath covered me, as a bride adorned with her jewels.’ The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary is not to be confused with the virginal birth of Jesus. The Immaculate Conception is all about Jesus, through Mary. Mary was immaculately conceived, meaning ‘at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind, [Mary] was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin.’ This does not mean she was conceived virginally; in fact the idea of the virginal conception of Mary was condemned by the Church in the 17th century.
Why? What is the point of the Immaculate conception? What is Mary being prepared for? What is she being prepared to receive? She will hold within her womb, God incarnate, the Word made flesh. It is the will of God that Jesus, the Son, the second person of the Trinity, be born of the ‘woman’ (Rev 12:1, John 19:26), Mary. The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception is a feast which, like Advent, recognises the need for preparation to receive the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. It is a solemnity which recognises, like the genealogies in the Gospels, that Jesus is part of a much longer and wider history. Our being made ready is part of his grace for us. Throughout all time God has been working to bring about our salvation, preparing us, and the Immaculate Conception is part of that preparation for the coming of Jesus. Just as the temple and the ark of the covenant were made beautiful and lovingly prepared as the home of the word of God, so too Mary was prepared to receive the Word of God into her being.
The Church with Mary rejoices at the unique graces God has bestowed upon her, clothing her with the garments of salvation and the robe of justice. Covering her with jewels, which we can take to be the graces he bestows upon her. The Lord upholds her and her enemies do not rejoice over her – from the moment of her conception, she is alive with the joy of the Lord.
We may hear echoes in the antiphon of the Magnificat: the raising of the lowly; Mary’s overflowing joy to God for his fidelity to his covenantal love for her and for his people. She will be an instrument of his grace, and through her Israel is an instrument of grace, because through her the Saviour is born. Through her, the Prince of Peace is born, the Word is made flesh in her womb, he dwells amongst us. We are reconciled with the Father through the Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit by the life, death, teaching and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Son of Mary, Son of God. Blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it (Lk 11:28) – Mary pondered all these things in her heart (Lk 2:19).