Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary—8 December A.D. 2012

Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Ordinary of the Mass
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Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus


    About 160 years ago today (December 8th, 1854), Pope Pius IX declared the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception with the statement that:

The doctrine which holds that the most blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege granted her by God, was preserved from any stain of original sin, is a doctrine taught and revealed by God, and is therefore to be believed with firmness and constancy by all the faithful.[1]

    This one sentence in a thirty-two page document conveys the entirety of the infallible pronouncement.  The remainder of the document, called the Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus, discusses the history of the doctrine, and also has another sentence explaining what will become of those who refuse to believe what God has revealed through the Church.  These two sentences are something of a model, showing how the Church defines her doctrine; in relatively clear and simple terms, without ambiguity, and with serious consequences for those who dissent.

    Mary, we are to understand, was created in perfect sinlessness; not subject even to the sin of Adam and Eve; not even for an instant.  Indeed, the Old Testament reading today, from the Book of Proverbs, hints that Mary was conceived in her sinless perfection—at least in the mind of God—before He began to set about the work of creation:  “The Lord begot me, the first born of His ways, the forerunner of His prodigies of long ago....”[2]   It suggests that God knew that given the realities of free will, Adam and Eve would fall from grace; and that He felt compelled to design a remedy for sin into His plans for creation.

    That remedy, of course, was “the woman whose heel would crush the head of the serpent,” the woman “at enmities” with the devil, the Mother of the Redeemer.[3]  After the fall of Adam and Eve, Mary was radically different from every other human that would ever be conceived, being, with the exception of her Divine Son, the only person on earth never even touched by sin.  More than just a “fit dwelling place” for the Son of God, she was fit to give Him flesh of her sinless flesh and bone of her sinless bone.  In modern terms we can say that she give him every atom of His physical being from her sinless physical being.

    If there was ever any question about this doctrine, we might say that the question related to timing:  Was Mary conceived immaculate, or was she purified immediately after conception?  The answer, of course, is the former:  Mary was not a convert from sin; Our Lord did not take His substance from a sinner (even though He came to save sinners).

    Our Lord did not take his human substance from Joseph, whose ancestors we know from the genealogies given in Sacred Scripture to have been sinners.

    But rather, He comes to us from the Blessed Virgin Mary, free even from the least shadow of sin.  Free because in His plans from all eternity, God conceived in His mind that this “forerunner of His ways”  would be “preserved from all stain of sin by letting her benefit in advance from His Sacrifice on the Cross.”[4]

    Now, every time we come to Mass, we ought to ask ourselves, “What can I learn from today's celebration?  What can I take home with me to improve my life with God?”  Today it might be to recognize that it was God's plan to give mankind both a perfect example and a second chance.  He gave us this perfect example of sinlessness so that we might try to imitate it, even if our abilities are poor and our wills are weak.  And He gave us a second chance, so that even if we have fallen from our baptismal grace, we can call on Mary.  We can call on Mary to intercede for us, to gain us the moral strength and courage and the opportunity to benefit from that same Sacrifice of the Cross by Confessing our sins, attending Holy Mass, and receiving the Sacraments.

    Perhaps, as sinners we might, paradoxically, think of this as our patronal feast;  the feast of our spiritual remedy, the feast of our second chance:  the conception of one of our own—sinless through every moment of eternity, from the very moment of her being.

“Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”



[1]   Ineffabilis Deus 8 December 1854

[4]   Cf.  Epistle and Collect of the feast.



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