Happy Feast of the Immaculate Conception!
A blessed Feast of the Immaculate Conception to you!
“I will put enmities between thee and the woman,” God said to the serpent, announcing to our first parents the wonderful prerogative that Our Lady would one day receive through Her Immaculate Conception.
The Blessed Virgin Mary, the second Eve, was never to be under the power of the devil, being preserved from all stain of sin, even Original Sin, from the first instant of Her life. As Dom Gueranger writes of Her unique privilege:
“The Archangel Gabriel proclaims Our Lady to be Full of Grace. Observe that he does not say merely that divine grace works in Her, but that She is Full of Grace. She is not merely ‘in’ the state of grace, as others are, but She is ‘filled’ with it. She is the Immaculate one among women, Who has always been blessed of God, and Who has always been the enemy of the serpent.”
O Mary, Conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee!
THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION of the Blessed Virgin Mary
by Fr. Francis Xavier Weninger
The name of this festival is sufficient to awaken delight in the hearts of all true children of Mary, and to incite them to the most tender devotion; but its grandeur demands to be spoken of in particular, and recommended to the special attention of the faithful.
Joachim and Anna, the holy parents of the Blessed Virgin, had been united almost twenty years, without having been blessed with a child to inherit their temporal possessions or their virtue. This barrenness, which in ancient times was considered a great dishonor and a curse of the Almighty, saddened the holy couple greatly; but they submitted to the divine will and bore with patience the shame which was attached to it.
The Almighty, however, who had chosen them to become the parents of the most blessed child, after having tried their patience for so many years, sent an angel to them, who announced that Anna would give birth to a daughter, who was destined to become the mother of the long-promised Messiah. Joachim and Anna, greatly rejoicing, asked God’s blessing, and thanked Him for His grace.
The angel’s words were fulfilled in due time. St. Anna brought forth the pure, unspotted daughter, who was destined to become the Mother of God, the Most Blessed Virgin Mary.
Several centuries ago, the question arose whether the Blessed Virgin was conceived in Original Sin like all other human beings, or if She had been exempted from it.
No one doubted that She was free from Original Sin at Her birth, and sanctified before She was born, as it is known from Holy Writ that the same grace was bestowed on both the holy prophet Jeremias and the forerunner of Christ, St. John the Baptist, neither of whom can be compared in dignity with the Mother of the Savior. The only doubt was whether Mary had been defiled, at least for a short time, by Original Sin, and had afterwards been purified; or if Her blessed soul had been created in Sanctifying Grace, and had thus been so entirely exempted from Original Sin that She had not been for one moment defiled by it.
There were several who, in their zeal for the honor of the Redeemer of mankind, maintained the former, without sinning by this against their faith, as the Church had not yet pronounced the latter as an article of faith. There were, however, a great many more who taught the latter, and confirmed it by many reasons. The latter were supported by several universities, religious societies, entire countries and kingdoms, ecclesiastical and temporal authorities; and the doctrine became so firmly established, that it was strictly forbidden, under pain of severe punishment, to teach or maintain the contrary.
The chief of these reasons is drawn from the high dignity to which Mary was chosen by God, when He elected Her to become the mother of His only Son. This dignity is so high, that it is but right to recognize Mary as free from Original Sin. “It is but just,” says St. Anselm, “that the Blessed Virgin should shine with a purity which, after that of God, must be recognized as the greatest.” Had Mary been defiled with Original Sin, and then purified from it, Her purity would have been no greater than that of St. Jeremias and St. John, who also were sanctified before they were born. It would not then have been the greatest, which, after God, we can imagine. Even the souls of Adam and Eve would have been more stainless in their creation.
St. Bonaventure says: “It is but fit that the Blessed Virgin should be without any stain, and that She should so entirely conquer Satan, that She was not even for one moment subject to him.” If Mary’s soul had been, only for one moment, spotted with Original Sin, She would have been subject to Satan for that length of time; She would have been a seat, a dwelling of the devil, a slave to him, and a child of divine wrath.
Would it have been suitable that the only Son of God should dwell nine months in the womb of a created being, who before, though for ever so short a space of time, had been a dwelling of Satan? Can we think, without trembling, that She, who was chosen from all eternity to become the mother of Our Lord, had been a slave of the devil, an object of divine wrath?
If this had been the case, Satan could have boasted that, before Christ, he had inhabited the Ark which was destined by the Almighty, not to preserve manna, or the lifeless tablets of the law, but to keep, during nine months, the holy Law-giver Himself. Would this have been worthy of Christ? No one will dare to say it. Hence, the honor of Him, whom Mary gave to the world, demands that She should have been conceived immaculate. The high dignity to which Mary was raised allows not the thought that She, even for one moment, was defiled with Original Sin.
Therefore the holy Fathers say that She was pure from all sin, entirely free from every spot, and that She was always more holy than the angels. “Who is now more holy than She? Not the Prophets, not the Apostles, not the Martyrs, not the Patriarchs, not the Angels, not the Cherubim or Seraphim,” says St. Chrysostom.
Jesus Christ redeemed all mankind, hence also Mary; but He redeemed Mary in a special and unique manner. “Other men,” says St. Bonaventure, “have been raised from their fall by the Savior; but Mary has been upheld by Him, that She should not fall.” And again: “He redeemed Her from Original Sin, not as if She had been defiled by it; but He preserved Her by an especial grace, so that She should not be stained by it.”
In a similar manner David thanked the Lord for having released him from the sword of the wrathful Saul, by preserving him from it.
Hence, it is evident, as we have said before, that Mary was conceived without Original Sin. To teach the contrary was, in former times, forbidden by several decrees of the Apostolic See. At present, it would be an error against the Faith; for although the holy Church believes only what God has revealed and what was taught by Christ and His Apostles from the beginning of Christianity, she does not always pronounce these truths in the same solemn and explicit manner.
The Apostles placed only twelve articles of faith in the general creed; but later, the errors which at various times were broached by heretics, required that the articles of faith should be more defined and made more explicit.
In regard to the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, it was not a heresy against it that occasioned the solemn declaration, but the universal desire of the Christian world, and the many miracles which had taken place by invoking Mary’s assistance, in virtue of this prerogative.
The holy Father, Pius IX, found himself therefore, at last, induced to ask the opinion of the bishops of the entire Catholic world. Having obtained this, he invited many of them to Rome, where in the Church of St. Peter, on the 8th December, 1854, surrounded by two hundred Prelates of the Church and a large number of the faithful, after invoking the Holy Ghost, the Pope, as successor of St. Peter and head of the Church, with tears of emotion and piety, solemnly declared, “It is a truth revealed by God that Mary was conceived without Original Sin.”
Rome and the entire Catholic world rejoiced at this definition, so consoling to us and so glorious to the Blessed Virgin. We do not profess to believe anything new by this, but we believe it now with that authority which the holy Church, built upon a rock, has given it as to an undoubted truth.
Hence, pay a special devotion to this article of faith, and honor it by saying the Office of the Immaculate Conception, or at least to say a short prayer in honor of the Blessed Virgin every day.
Only one request more: Endeavor, above all things, by frequent invocations of the spotless Virgin, to obtain grace from God, to continue without sin, a life which you began in Original Sin, and to close it without sin, whenever it shall please the Almighty to call you.
To the faithful of the United States of America, this devotion is so much more earnestly to be recommended, as Mary in Her Immaculate Conception has been solemnly chosen as their patroness, whom they are exhorted to invoke as their special advocate at the Throne of the Almighty.
- The Blessed Virgin was exempted “by a special grace” from Original Sin. Her soul was created in sanctifying grace, and constantly remained in it. Although you have not received a like favor, but were conceived and born in Original Sin, the merciful God ordained that you should be cleansed from it by holy Baptism. Thousands and thousands of persons have not had this grace. They died, and daily die, in Original Sin without holy Baptism. These can never go to Heaven, as nothing unclean can enter there, if they did not at least desire to be baptized.
Why then has the Almighty conferred upon you the grace of holy Baptism, in preference to so many thousands of others? Why did He not let you die in Original Sin, like so many others? Ah! there is no other cause to be found but the infinite mercy of God towards you. On this day, give fervent thanks to the Almighty for so great, so inestimable a grace which has drawn so many other graces after it, and will still draw many more.
But remember that Baptism alone is not sufficient for salvation. “To holy Baptism must be joined a Christian life,” says St. Augustine; “for He who said, ‘Unless ye are born again of water and the Holy Ghost, ye cannot enter into the kingdom of Heaven,’ has also said, ‘If your justice is not greater than that of the Scribes and Pharisees, ye can in no wise enter the kingdom of Heaven.’”
- As the Blessed Virgin was exempted from Original Sin, so also did She remain free from all actual sin. She never offended God, and never lost the grace which She received in Her Immaculate Conception.
There are several Saints, who during their lives committed no great sin. It is also known that many Saints earnestly endeavored to avoid the least evil; but it is not known of any Saint that he never committed a venial sin. Only of the Holy Mother of God are we assured that, by a special grace, She remained free from all, even the slightest sin.
How is it with you? How long did you preserve the sanctifying grace received at Baptism? No longer than until you committed your first mortal sin. And how soon after Baptism, and how often have you been guilty of such sins! How horribly have you defiled your soul! Repent, today, with your whole heart, of your misdeeds; seek to cleanse your soul most perfectly from every stain of sin, and to keep it henceforth unspotted. Heaven will be closed as surely for those defiled with mortal sin as for those who are not cleansed by Baptism from Original Sin.
Pray today that the Immaculate Virgin may obtain for you from God the grace to cleanse your conscience perfectly, and to keep it pure in the future. You can do nothing more agreeable to Her, and you cannot more surely gain Her protection, than by following Her example, and guarding yourself against all sin. “For,” says St. John of Damascus, “She abhors sin, and delights in virtue.”