I Am the Immaculate Conception
Thomas A. Droleskey
Words are so
inadequate to communicate the beauty of the great feast of Our Lady's
Immaculate Conception. As we begin the second week of Advent, the Church
gives us a chance to meditate upon the great mystery of God
's Redemptive Love as He fashioned His own Mother in the womb
of her mother, Good Saint Anne. Yes, as we continue to use Advent to reflect
on the many comings of Christ in our lives--as well as His Second and
Glorious Coming at the end of the world - and as we prepare once more
to commemorate His birth in time in Bethlehem, the Church invites us
to step back and to consider Our Lady's key role in salvation history.
For Our Lady was destined from the first moment of her conception to
be the Mother of the Redeemer, thereby making her the Co-Redemptrix,
Mediatrix of all graces, and Advocate.
The Book of
Genesis tells us that the first woman Eve, was the instrument by which
the first man, Adam, disobeyed God, causing the fall of the human race
from the state of Original Innocence. The fall of Adam started
the reign of sin in the world. Human nature would be forever changed
by the choice made by our first parents when they were put to the test
by the tempter. All human beings thereafter, except the Mother of God,
would be born with the stain of that Original Sin. And it is Original
Sin that is at the root of all personal and social problems in the world.
did not abandon His creatures. He promised that He would send them a
Redeemer. He made a covenant with Abraham , choosing
his stock to be the means by which time and eternity would meet in the
person of His only begotten Son made Man in Our Lady's virginal and
immaculate womb. He prepared His chosen people for their liberation
from the effects of sin by showing His power to liberate them from captivity
to the Pharaoh. He led these people, who grumbled all the while, out
of the wilderness to the land of milk and honey, clearing out scores
of people to give it to them. He constantly used miracles to demonstrate
His mighty power when all appeared hopeless.
The chosen people
were stiff-necked. They quickly forgot what God had done for them. They
ignored the prophets, who were given to them by the Holy Ghost
to prepare them for the coming of the Messiah. They sought
after their own lusts. Time and time again God rescued them from one
disaster after another. But they had hearts of stone, not hearts of
So it was when
the New Eve was conceived by her parents, Saints Joachim
and Ann. Our Lady's parents were faithful observers of the Mosaic Law.
They looked with anticipation to the fulfillment of God's promises.
Little could they have realized that the daughter they begot on December
8 over 2,000 years ago was to be the divinely chosen vessel through
which the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity would become man.
Yes, Our Lady
became the New Eve at the moment that she was conceived. She was preserved
from all stain of Adam's sin by a free act of God to bestow upon her
the merits of the Redemption which would be wrought for the human race
on the Cross by the Son she would conceive in her virginal and immaculate
womb by the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost. What a tremendous mystery
of love. The Father prepared Mary for her place in salvation history
as His Son's Mother by giving her the singular privilege of having a
perfect human nature, the human nature of our first parents before their
fall from grace. Our Lady was full of grace from the very first moment
of her conception.
Full of grace.
Think about that statement for a moment. We pray those words
every day, "Ave Maria, gratia plena. . ." We are praying about
her Immaculate Conception when we pray those words. We are praying about
the mystery of sin and grace when we pray those words. We are praying
about God's tender love for us when we pray those words. For He preserved
Our Lady from all stain of Original and actual sin not only so that
she could bear the Christ-Child, but for her to give birth to us as
His adopted sons and daughters at the foot of the Cross, thereby permitting
us to be partakers of the supernatural life of grace. Yes, full of grace.
of Our Lady's Immaculate Conception, proclaimed by 150 years ago by
Blessed Pope Pius IX, makes perfect sense. Our Lady had to be preserved
from all stain of sin in order to be the vessel of honor through which
the Word would become flesh. Without the gift of Mary's Immaculate Conception,
the God-Man could not have been conceived as a man. Why? For the simple
fact that the Word, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, is the
very antithesis of sin. It is not possible for God and sin to co-exist
in the same person. Without the Immaculate Conception, a child borne
by Our Lady would have inherited an imperfect human nature, one with
a darkened intellect and a weakened will. It would be clearly absurd
that God would become man in order to suffer from the effects of a sinful
human nature. As St. Paul says, "He became a man like
us in all things but sin." How could this have happened if His Mother
had not herself been prepared by God to be a pure, spotless vessel in
which to house the embryonic Word so as to give Him His human nature?
The Second Adam,
Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, was born of the New Eve, Our Lady.
What was lost for us in the Garden of Eden, our Heavenly birthright,
would be won back for us on Calvary. The bond between Our Lady and Our
Lord was forged long before the Annunciation. The Father forged this
bond when she was an embryo, preparing her for the great vocation of
being the Mother of a redeemed human race.
Pope Pius IX wrote the following in his encyclical letter, Ineffabilis Deus, that proclaimed solemnly the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary:
To these praises they have added very noble words. Speaking of the conception of the Virgin, they testified that nature yielded to grace and, unable to go on, stood trembling. The Virgin Mother of God would not be conceived by Anna before grace would bear its fruits; it was proper that she be conceived as the first-born, by whom "the first-born of every creature" would be conceived. They testified, too, that the flesh of the Virgin, although derived from Adam, did not contract the stains of Adam, and that on this account the most Blessed Virgin was the tabernacle created by God himself and formed by the Holy Spirit, truly a work in royal purple, adorned and woven with gold, which that new Beseleel made. They affirmed that the same Virgin is, and is deservedly, the first and especial work of God, escaping the fiery arrows the the evil one; that she is beautiful by nature and entirely free from all stain; that at her Immaculate Conception she came into the world all radiant like the dawn. For it was certainly not fitting that this vessel of election should be wounded by the common injuries, since she, differing so much from the others, had only nature in common with them, not sin. In fact, it was quite fitting that, as the Only-Begotten has a Father in heaven, whom the Seraphim extol as thrice holy, so he should have a Mother on earth who would never be without the splendor of holiness.
This doctrine so filled the minds and souls of our ancestors in the faith that a singular and truly marvelous style of speech came into vogue among them. They have frequently addressed the Mother of God as immaculate, as immaculate in every respect; innocent, and verily most innocent; spotless, and entirely spotless; holy and removed from every stain of sin; all pure, all stainless, the very model of purity and innocence; more beautiful than beauty, more lovely than loveliness; more holy than holiness, singularly holy and most pure in soul and body; the one who surpassed all integrity and virginity; the only one who has become the dwelling place of all the graces of the most Holy Spirit. God alone excepted, Mary is more excellent than all, and by nature fair and beautiful, and more holy than the Cherubim and Seraphim. To praise her all the tongues of heaven and earth do not suffice.
Everyone is cognizant that this style of speech has passed almost spontaneously into the books of the most holy liturgy and the Offices of the Church, in which they occur so often and abundantly. In them, the Mother of God is invoked and praised as the one spotless and most beautiful dove, as a rose ever blooming, as perfectly pure, ever immaculate, and ever blessed. She is celebrated as innocence never sullied and as the second Even who brought forth the Emmanuel.
No wonder, then, that the Pastors of the Church and the faithful gloried daily more and more in professing with so much piety, religion, and love this doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mother of God, which, as the Fathers discerned, was recorded i the Divine Scriptures; which was handed down in so many of their most important writings; which was expressed and celebrated in so many illustrious monuments of venerable antiquity; which was proposed and confirmed by the official and authoritative teaching of the Church. Hence, nothing was dearer, nothing more pleasing to these pastors than to venerate, invoke, and proclaim with most ardent affection the Virgin Mother of God conceived without original stain. Accordingly, from ancient times the bishops of the Church, ecclesiastics, religious orders, and even emperors and kings, have earnestly petitioned this Apostolic See to define a dogma of the Catholic Faith the Immaculate Conception of the most holy Mother of God. These petitions were renewed in these our own times; they were especially brought to the attention of Gregory XVI, our predecessor of happy memory, and to ourselves, not only by bishops, but by the secular clergy and religious orders, by sovereign rulers and by the faithful.
Mindful, indeed, of all these things and considering them most attentively with particular joy in our heart, as soon as we, by the inscrutable design of Providence, had been raised to the sublime Chair of St. Peter -- in spite of our unworthiness -- and had begun to govern the universal Church, nothing have we had more at heart -- a heart which from our tenderest years has overflowed with devoted veneration and love for the most Blessed Virgin -- than to show forth her prerogatives in resplendent light.
As if to emphasize
the importance of Pope Pius IX's proclamation, Our Lady herself appeared
in the Grotto at Lourdes four years later, declaring to St. Bernadette Soubirous, "I am the Immaculate Conception." And it is under
that tittle that Our Lady is honored as the Patroness of this country.
The Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception is located in
our nation's capital city.
The great feast
we celebrate today is a reminder to us that we are called to preserve
ourselves from all stain of sin by cooperating with the graces won for us by Our Lord on the wood of the Holy Cross and administered to us
by Holy Mother Church in the sacraments. We are weak, flawed human beings,
tinged with the vestigial after-effects of Original Sin. However, we
are nevertheless redeemed. God has given us the power provided by sanctifying
grace to overcome the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil.
It is possible for us to grow in the fullness of grace. Yes, we, too,
are called to be full of grace, to seek a place in Heaven just below
that of the Blessed Mother herself. We are given the very Body, Blood,
Soul, and Divinity of Mary' Son, a Body and Blood knitted together in
Our Lady's Immaculate womb, to strengthen us in our daily effort to
grow in holiness and spiritual perfection.
We see the ravages
of sin all around us. We see a world where people have a sense of right
and wrong, a world where young people are convinced that there is no
such things as objective truth, no less a true religion founded by God
Himself. We see the horror of over 4,000 children killed each day under
cover of law in this country by surgical abortions alone. And we see
the wreckage caused by sin in the incredible degree of unhappiness and
despair exhibited by so many of the people we know in the midst of the
most affluent country in the history of the world. Sin has caused so
many people to live for his life and to be ignorant of their eternal
Dom Prosper Gueranger, O.S.B., noted in The Liturgical Year that many countries solemnly commemorated the feast of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady long before the doctrine was proclaimed infallibly by Pope Pius IX:
The Greek Church, which, more easily than the Latin, could learn what were the pious traditions of the east, kept this feat even in the sixth century, as is evident from the ceremonial, or as it is called, the Type, of St. Sabas. In the west, we find it established in the Gothic Church of Spain as far back as the eighth century. A celebrated calendar which was engraved on marble, in the ninth century, for the use of the Church of Naples, attests that it had already been introduced there. Paul the deacon, secretary to the emperor Charlemagne, and afterwards monk at Monte-Cassino, composed a celebrated hymn on the mystery of the Immaculate Conception. . . . In 1066, the feat was first established in England, in consequence of the pious Abbot Helsyn's being miraculously preserved from shipwreck; and shortly after that, was made general through the whole island by the zeal of the great St. Anselm, monk of the Order of St. Benedict., and archbishop of Canterbury. From England, it passed into Normandy, and took root in France. We find it sanctioned in Germany, in a council held in 1049, at which St. Leo IX, was present; in Navarre, 1090, at the abbey of Irach; in Belgium, at Liege, in 1142. Thus did the Churches of the west testify their faith in this mystery, by accepting its feast, which is the expression of faith.
Lastly, it was adopted by Rome itself, and her doing so rendered the united testimony of her children, the other Churches, more imposing than ever. It was Pope Sixtus IV, who, in the year 1476, published the decree of the feast of our Lady's Conception for the city of St. Peter. In the next century, 1568, St. Pius V published the universal edition of the Roman breviary, and in its calendar was inserted this feast as one of those Christian solemnities which the faithful are every year bound to observe. It was not from Rome that the devotion of the Catholic world to this mystery received its first impulse; she sanctioned it by her liturgical authority, just as she has confirmed it by her doctrinal authority in these our own days.
The three great Catholic nations of Europe, Germany, France, and Spain, vied with each other in their devotion to the mystery of Mary's Immaculate Conception. France, by her king Louis XIV, obtained from Clement IX that this feast should be kept with an octave throughout the kingdom; which favour was afterwards extended to the universal Church by Innocent XII. For centuries previous to this, the theological faculty of Paris had always exacted from its professors the oath that they would defend this privilege of Mary; a pious practice which continued as long as the university itself.
As regards Germany, the emperor Ferdinand III, in 1647, ordered a splendid monument to be erected in the great square of Vienna. It is covered with emblems and figures symbolical of Mary's victory over sin, and on the top is the statue of the Immaculate Queen, with this solemn and truly Catholic inscription:
"TO GOD, INFINITE IN GOODNESS AND POWER, KING OF HEAVEN AND EARTH, BY WHOM KINGS REIGN; TO THE VIRGIN MOTHER OF GOD CONCEIVED WITHOUT SIN, BY WHOM PRINCES COMMAND, WHOM AUSTRIA, DEVOUTLY LOVING, HOLDS AS HER QUEEN AND PATRON; FERDINAND III, EMPEROR, CONFIDES, GIVES, CONSECRATES HIMSELF, CHILDREN, PEOPLE, ARMIES, PROVINCES, AND ALL THAT IS HIS, AND ERECTS IN ACCOMPLISHMENT OF A VOW THIS STATUE, AS A PERPETUAL MEMORIAL."
But the zeal of Spain for the privilege of the holy Mother of God surpassed that of all other nations. In the year 1398, John I, king of Aragon, issued a chart in which he solemnly places his person and kingdom under the protection of Mary Immaculate. Later on, kings Philip III and Philip IV sent ambassadors to Rome, soliciting, in their names, the solemn definition, which heaven reserved, in its mercy, for our days. King Charles III, in the eighteenth century, obtained permission from Clement XIII, that the Immaculate Conception should be the patronal feast of Spain. The people of Spain, which is so justly called the Catholic kingdom, put over the door, or on the front of their houses, a table with the words of Mary's privilege on it;and when they meet, they greet each other with an expression in honour of the same dear mystery. It was a Spanish nun, Mary of Jesus, abbess of the convent of the Immaculate Conception of Agreda,who wrote God's Mystic City, which inspired Murillo with his Immaculate Conception, the masterpiece of the Spanish school.
As we keep vigil
for the Coming of Christ at the end of our own individual lives and for His Second Coming in glory at the end of time, preparing to
give thanks for His coming in poverty and anonymity in Bethlehem on Christmas Day, let
us pray to Our Lady under the title of her Immaculate Conception, that
we may strive more and more to be sinless in thought, word, and deed.
May our every desire be to love God more fully through His true Church,
to serve Him more selflessly and to cooperate more completely with His
grace so as to build up His Mystical Body as the New Zion, the Shining
City set on a hill, so that she may be seen by all men everywhere as
the repository of the New and Eternal Covenant. And may we renew
our zeal to fulfill our duties as the consecrated slaves of Our Lady's
Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart, mindful of the fact that the very cause
of world peace has been entrusted to the Heart from which the Sacred
Heart of the Word Who was made Flesh and dwelt amongst us was formed.
We need more and more Catholics to pray and to make sacrifice for the
day on which some Pope will actually consecrate Russia to Our Lady's
Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart with all of the world's bishops, thereby
fulfilling her Fatima requests and ushering in the Social Reign of Christ
the King and of the Reign of Mary, Our Immaculate Queen. This is a great
day to get to Confession to renew our sorrow for all of our past sins
and to pledge to be more faithful sons and daughters of the Immaculate
Queen whose perfect obedience to the will of the Father made possible
No matter how bad things get in our own lives and in the larger life of the Church in her human elements, always, always, always trust in Mary Immaculate. Cling to her in the Sacrifice of the Mass. Intercede with her through her Most Holy Rosary. Display prominently her Miraculous Medal. Enfold yourself in her Immaculate Heart as her consecrated slaves. Never doubt the power and the love of Mary Immaculate. Not ever. Not once. She is our sure refuge in whom we must trust completely.
O dear Blessed
Mother, you were conceived without stain of sin. Pray for us weak sinners,
who are in need of your Son's Divine Mercy so frequently in the Sacrament
of Penance, that our souls, which were impressed with the image of the
Blessed Trinity at our baptism, may be vessels of honor to an increase
of God's inner life within us. Pray for us, O Lady of the Immaculate
Conception, that we will be the light of the world and the salt of the
earth to provide a leaven in this country whose patroness you are. May
we always speak forthrightly in public of the social honor and recognition
that is your due from the civil state. Please, dearest Mother, help
us to prepare for the commemoration of your Divine Son's Nativity by
calling to mind God's special gift to us of so great a mother.
Ave Maria, gratia plena, Dominus tecum. Benedicta tu in mulieribus,
et benedictus fructus ventris tui, Jesus. Sancta Maria, Mater Dei,
ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in hora mortis nostrae. Amen.