of the Mass
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conceived without sin—
Pray for us who have recourse to thee.”
possessed me in the beginning of his ways,
before he made any thing, from the beginning.
I was set up from eternity, and of old, before the earth was made.”
On this very day in 1854, Pope Pius IX issued an Apostolic Constitution
entitled Ineffabilis Deus, in which he detailed the history of belief in
the Virgin Mary’s Immaculate Conception. Near the very end he wrote:
It is an article of faith that the Blessed
Virgin Mary by a special grace and privilege of God, on account of the
merits of Jesus Christ, the Redeemer of mankind, was from the first
instant of her conception protected and preserved from every stain of
Just to be perfectly clear, this
definition of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary refers to
her conception by her parents Anna and Joachim, in the normal
human manner. It says nothing about the conception of Jesus Christ. It says
only that Mary was free from original sin from the very first moment of her
Father Leonard Goffine, in his
monumental work on The Church’s Year gives a long list of documents,
going back nearly to the Apostles, which testify to the Church’s immemorial
belief in the Immaculate Conception.
It is too long to read here, but I have linked to Father Goffine in this sermon
on the Parish’s website, for those who would like to read his list.
To be sure, before the dogmatic
definition of Pope Pius IX, a few good theologians raised objections to the
doctrine. Most of them could understand how Mary could
benefit in advance from the redemptive act of her Divine
Son, but suggested that Mary would have had to have been conceived, and
then sanctified. Their objection seems trivial, suggesting that
Mary might have been in original sin for some fraction of a second after
conception. In some cases, their error was due to the medieval understanding of
reproductive biology, which held that a child was like a seed sprouting in its
mother’s womb, and that a considerable amount of time took place before God “animated”
the child with a rational soul—at which time it could be sanctified.
They lacked the knowledge of modern science, and cannot be blamed.
It probably did not help Mary’s case of
sanctification “from the first instant of her conception” that the Old Testament
prophet Jeremias and the New Testament John the Baptist were sanctified sometime
during their stay in their mothers’ wombs.
It is written of Jeremias (Jeremias
1:5): “Before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee.” And of Saint
John the Baptist it is written (Luke 1:15): “He shall be filled with the Holy
Ghost, even from his mother's womb.”
But Mary was radically different from
both Jeremias and John the Baptist, for they were merely mortal men, no matter
how holy. In the Divine Mind, from all eternity, God had conceived Mary as the
Mother of His Divine Son—Adam and Eve would fall, and only
the most spotless and immaculate virgin would be a fit dwelling place for Jesus
Christ, their Redeemer:
I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy
seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait
for her heel.
“I will put enmities” between them—that
is to say “I will make Mary the polar opposite of the devil.” For every bit
that the devil is evil, Mary will be good—she will be, to use the phrase of the
Greeks, pan agios—all holy!
Evil is the absence of good. It is
inconceivable that the Holy Ghost would “overshadow” a woman who was not
absolutely and completely good. Inconceivable that the Second Person of God
would take all of His humanity from a woman who was not absolutely and
completely good. Inconceivable that God the Father would make use of a
woman who was not absolutely and completely good to return Salvation to
But maybe we should consider this from
our own point of view: None of us was conceived, like the Blessed Virgin,
without original sin; none of us was even sanctified in the womb. But yet,
through the Immaculate Virgin’s Son, we have received the Sacrament of Baptism,
which took away every stain of original sin and filled us with sanctifying
None of us has lived a sinless life, as
did the Blessed Virgin Mary. But our actual sins were also taken away be
Baptism, and even after Baptism we have the possibility of recovering
sanctifying grace through Sacramental Confession.
Perhaps more to the point, we have just
seen how much God detests sin. Now is the time to resolve to sin no more. That
may seem impossible to many of us—but with God and the Blessed Mother of God,
nothing is impossible. He created her eternally sinless, and He worked His
first miracle through her intercession. A sinless life will take great effort
on our part, but with her motherly intercession it is certainly possible.
To this end, let us close with the
Collect prayed in today’s Mass and Divine Office:
O God, Who by the
Immaculate Conception of the Virgin,
didst prepare a worthy habitation for Thy Son:
we beseech Thee,
that as Thou didst through the foreseen death of Thy same Son,
preserve her from all stain,
so Thou wilt also grant that we may reach Thee
cleansed through her intercession.
Through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.