Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
Feast of the Immaculate Conception A.D. 2001

"I am the mother of fair love, and of fear, and of knowledge, and of holy hope. In me is all grace of the way, and of the truth; in me is all hope of life, and of virtue."

    These words were not, in fact, spoken directly about our Blessed Lady -- but the Church has applied them to her in many of the Masses in her honor, during many centuries past. If they are not a scriptural revelation about the Immaculate Conception, they are, at least, an indication of the way the Church has always regarded this essential doctrine of our Catholic Faith. The technical term is that they are "accommodated" as a description of the Blessed Virgin. At least in general terms the Church has always held that our Lady possessed the fullness of grace from the first moments of her existence. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception refers, of course, to the conception of Mary, by her parents Joachim and Anne.

    After the Gospel passage, in which the Angel Gabriel addressed Mary with the words, "Blessed art thou among women,"1 -- this preservation of Mary from all stain of Original Sin has been a constant theme in the writings of the great Fathers and Doctors of the Church:

  •  St. Augustine: Eve willingly accepted what the serpent offered, and handed it on to her husband. . . . Mary, filled with the heavenly grace from above, brought forth life, by which mankind . . . can be revived.2
  •  St. Jerome: "More blessed than all other women. . . . whatever curse devolved upon mankind through Eve was wholly removed by the blessing given to Mary."3
  •  St. Peter Chrysologus, whose feast day we celebrated only a few days ago: "Gabriel takes [Mary] not from Joseph, but restores her to Christ, to whom she was espoused when she was first formed in the womb."4

    During the middle ages the only argument about this doctrine was whether Mary was conceived immaculate, or only purified instantaneously thereafter -- The only discussion was one about milliseconds! The Franciscans [like Saint Bonaventure] held that the only fitting doctrine was that the Mother of God had never at all been subject to sin. The Dominicans [like Saint Thomas Aquinas] agreed, more or less, but thought that being human, Mary would have to be purified like all others ... even if it happened immediately. [Franciscans 1, Dominicans 0].

    Even though there was fairly general agreement about this dogma of the Immaculate Conception, any discussion was resolved conclusively in the 19th century.

  •      Our Lady appeared to Catherine Labouré, a Sister of Charity in Paris, on November 27th, 1830, and asked that a medal be struck in honor of the Immaculate Conception. Most all of us have seen it -- we blessed them the other day on St. Catherine's feast -- what we know as the Miraculous Medal, bearing the inscription: "Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee."
  •      Twenty four years later, on December 8th, 1854 our holy father, Blessed Pope Pius IX, solemnly defined the Immaculate Conception as a doctrine of the Faith ... "that the most blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception . . . was preserved from any stain of original sin" ... something to which we must assent if we wish to call ourselves Catholics.5
  •     And a few years later, our Lady herself again confirmed the message of this dogma, when she told St. Bernadette of Lourdes, "I am the Immaculate Conception."

    Some of our understanding of Mary's Immaculate Conception, you will have noticed, is based on the biblical account. At a time when all human beings should have been subject to original sin ... before the birth of our Lord; let alone the Redemption ... the angel greets her with the notion that she is full of grace. She had to have been exempted from all sin, original and actual, for this statement to make sense.

    But most of our understanding comes more from a notion of what is fitting, rather than strictly necessary. It has seemed to people of all ages that the Son of God, although willing to be born in poverty and misery, was not willing to be born into sin. It is repugnant to think of Mary as one who was ever in the state of sin, just as it is to think of her committing sin sometime later on.

    If we learn nothing else from this feast of the Immaculate Conception, we might at least take our cue from this one notion. While there is nothing we can do about our conception or birth, we certainly can imitate Mary's sinlessness by virtue of our Baptism, and by trying to remain in the state of grace through frequent Confession and Communion. Just as Mary carried our Lord in her womb for nine months, we hope to be temples of God throughout our lives.

    Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!


1. Lk. i

2. Treatise of St. Augustine on the Creed, to the Catechumens, Bk. 3, ch. 4, in the Roman Breviary, 985.

3. Sermon of St. Jerome on the Assumption, in the Roman Breviary, 1:1660.

4. Chrysologus, Ser 140, in Dom Guéranger, OSB, The Liturgical Year, Vol. i: 320.

5. Acts of Pius IX in the Roman Breviary, 1:1662  


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