Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

“All my own perception of beauty both in majesty and simplicity is founded upon Our Lady.” -J.R.R. Tolkien
"What a great gift to have Mary Immaculate as mother! A mother resplendent with beauty, the transparency of God's love."-Pope Benedict XVI, Angelus address for the Immaculate Conception (2007)

Mary in her Immaculate Conception
Today in the Catholic Church we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, which is a holy day of obligation. This was dogmatically defined by Blessed Pope Pius IX in 1854, but held to be true by many in the Church since ancient times.

To quote from his bull Ineffabilis Deus, the doctrine is as follows: "Concerning the most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, ancient indeed is that devotion of the faithful based on the belief that her soul, in the first instant of its creation and in the first instant of the soul's infusion into the body, was, by a special grace and privilege of God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, her Son and the Redeemer of the human race, preserved free from all stain of original sin. And in this sense have the faithful ever solemnized and celebrated the Feast of the Conception." 

Blessed Pius explains that the 'supreme reason' for the Immaculate Conception is that she is the Mother of God. She was a fit habitation for Christ, who chose her, because she was 'always in light...and always united to God in an eternal covenant."

Mary as the New Ark
Blessed Pius appeals to the liturgical and devotional practices. Mary's conception had been celebrated in the liturgy since the Patristic era as something extraordinary, and indeed, numerous places, confraternities, and religious communities (including the United States of America in 1846, at the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore!) had been placed under the patronage of Mary in her Immaculate Conception. 

Now, it was never her sanctification that was celebrated. Original sin was not removed, like it was for us at Baptism; it was completely excluded from her soul at its creation and infusion into the body. Also, it is an error to say that she did not need a Savior. In actuality, it was because God is capable of foreseeing events that He delivered her from original sin. 

Scripture is not very conclusive on this subject, but once one reasons that only the Immaculate Conception can be true (like Blessed John Duns Scotus did in the 13th Century) then it falls into place. Mary is addressed as, "Hail, full of grace!"at the Annunciation by the Angel, and then declared to be "Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb," by Elizabeth at the Visitation. Also, she was said by the Lord in Genesis 3:15 to strike at the head of the serpent. What other way then to 'utterly triumph' than being immaculate? Being preserved from original sin, and always united to God (thus free from actual sin), created this enmity between her and Satan, which also existed between Satan and her Son, who of course delivered the world from sin.  

Mary as the New Eve
This above-definition of the dogma is from  Sollicitudo Omnium Ecclesiarum promulgated by Alexander VII in 1661, which was just one of many instances of the Immaculate Conception being articulated with the full and support and praise from the Church. This means that the Church in 1854 was only looking for "nothing more than by the most persuasive means to state, to protect, to promote and to defend the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception," which was found in Alexander's definition from two centuries earlier that stemmed from Tradition, most especially the Church Fathers. Also, this could only come about if the Church was the center of Truth and the guardian of the deposit of Faith, and if the Pope can proclaim a doctrine infallibly (The latter was formally defined at the First Vatican Council in 1870.)

This is my favorite version of 'Immaculate Mary,' a hymn associated with Our Lady of Lourdes who told Ste-Bernadette, "I am the Immaculate Conception in 1858.

A picture of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, in Washington, D.C.:

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