Monday, December 08, 2014

What Catholics Believe: The Immaculate Conception

The Immaculate Conception [Francisco Pacheco]
"We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful."   [Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus (or Apostolic Constitution on the Immaculate Conception)]
While the Immaculate Conception is a Catholic Dogma, most people, Catholic and non-Catholic, have no idea what it means.  For someone who has studied Catholic theology, the above statement is a pretty good description of the dogma.  Mary was given special grace because of her Son.  I really like the way Bishop Venerable Fulton Sheen said:
“Just suppose that you could have pre-existed your own mother, in much the same way that an artist pre-exists his painting....Would you have made her exteriorly and interiorly of such a character as to make you ashamed of her? Or would you have made her, so far as human beauty goes; the most beautiful woman in the world; and so far as beauty of the soul goes, one who would radiate every virtue, every manner of kindness and charity and loveliness; one who by the purity of her life and her mind and her heart would be an inspiration not only to you but even to your fellow men, so that all would look up to her as the very incarnation of what is best in motherhood?

"Now if you who are an imperfect being and who have not the most delicate conception of all that is fine in life would have wished for the loveliest of mothers, do you think that our Blessed Lord, who not only pre-existed His own mother but who had an infinite power to make her just what He chose, would in virtue of all the infinite delicacy of His spirit make her any less pure and loving and beautiful than you would have made your own mother?... Do you think that the Son of God, who hates sin, would have made His own mother sinless and He who hates moral ugliness would have made her immaculately beautiful?"  [Quote from here.  Likely from Venerable Fulton Sheen's book Mary, the Woman the World Loves, the blog does not cite the source]
This is the special gift God gave to Mary.  He created her as the perfect specimen of a woman and mother.  Mary was created as the person He meant Adam and Eve to be, but they disappointed Him.  Mary would be the pride in contrast to His disappointment.

To hopefully make it a little easier to understand here are ten facts on the Immaculate Conception:

1)  The Immaculate Conception refers to the special grace given by God to Mary at her conception.  It does not refer to the Virgin Birth of Jesus Christ.  However, this grace was given to her because of and for her Son, Jesus Christ.

2) The Church does not teach that Mary's Immaculate Conception was necessary to ensure that Original sin would not be passed on to Christ.  This was never a part of the teaching on the Immaculate Conception (despite what some sites on the internet purporting to explain the Immaculate Conception say).  The Immaculate Conception was an unmerited gift given to Mary in anticipation of Jesus' redemption of man and God's knowledge of Mary's "yes" to His plan. 

In the Immaculate Conception, therefore, God made a fitting or suitable dwelling place for His Son, Jesus, not out of necessity but out of love.
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. (Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus)

3) Gabriel addressed Mary: "Hail, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee." (Luke 1:28).  She was filled with grace.  In Catholic parlance, this means that Mary was filled up with God's very life.  If she is filled with God's life or the Holy Spirit, there was no room for sin of any kind.

4) Mary's Immaculate Conception does not mean that she was divinely conceived.  St. Anna and St. Joachim are, traditionally, the names of Mary's parents; her conception was a human one.  She was, however, untouched by Original Sin.  Therefore, Mary remained sinless.

5) The Immaculate Conception is symbolic of the Immaculate bride of Christ (His Church) awaiting her Bridegroom.

"...the faithful, living in the liturgy the spirit of Advent, by thinking about the inexpressible love with which the Virgin Mother awaited her Son, are invited to take her as a model and to prepare themselves to meet the Savior who is to come. They must be "vigilant in prayer and joyful in...praise."(15) We would also remark that the Advent liturgy, by linking the awaiting of the Messiah and the awaiting of the glorious return of Christ with the admirable commemoration of His Mother, presents a happy balance in worship. This balance can be taken as a norm for preventing any tendency (as has happened at times in certain forms of popular piety) to separate devotion to the Blessed Virgin from its necessary point of reference-Christ."  [Marialus Cultus, 4]

6) The Immaculate Mary was prefigured by immaculate Eve.  Eve was created immaculate--without Original Sin.  Mary was conceived without sin.  Eve fell from grace and brought sin into the world.  Mary remained "Full of grace" and brought salvation, her Son Jesus Christ, to the world.
"As St. Irenaeus says, "Being obedient she became the cause of salvaton for herself and for the whole human race." Hence not a few of the early Fathers gladly assert..."The knot of Eve's disobedience was untied by Mary's obedience: what the virgin Eve bound through her disbelief, Mary loosened by her faith." Comparing her with Eve, they call Mary "the Mother of the living" and frequently claim: "Death through Eve, life through Mary."  (CCC 494)
So, Mary is called the new Eve and the mother of us all because her Son would be the new Adam and save the world from the sin of Adam.


7) Mary is the Immaculate Ark (and queen) seen in John's vision.  "Then God's temple in heaven was opened, and the ark of His covenant could be seen in the temple." (Revelation 11:19)



The Ark in the Old Testament
The New Ark -- Mary
Immaculate vessel made to God’s specifications (Ex. 25:10-22)
Immaculate vessel conceived to God’s  specifications (Luke 1:28)
Contained the Rod of Aaron (Num. 17:25; Heb. 9:4)
Bore the Rod of Jesse—Jesus (Isa 11:1;
Contained the manna from Heaven (Ex. 16: 32-33; Heb. 9:4)
Bore the manna from heaven (John 6:32, 48-51, 58)
Contained the Ten Commandments made of stone (Ex. 25: 21; Heb. 9:4)
Bore the Law made flesh (John 1:1-5)
Watched over by angels (Ex. 25:18-20)
Watched over by angels (Luke 1:26)
Covered by the Holy Spirit (Ex. 40:34-38;  Num. 9: 18-23)
Overshadowed by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:35)
Used in the battle (Josh. 6:3,4)
Used in the heavenly battle (Rev. 11:19)


8) The original "Immaculate Conception", the Holy Spirit, is her heavenly Spouse.  Joseph became her worldly spouse and protector on earth.
 "Among creatures made in God's image, the union brought about by married love is the most intimate of all. In a much more precise, more interior, more essential manner, the Holy Spirit lives in the soul of the Immaculata, in the depths of her very being." (St. Maximilian Kolbe, Final Sketch, source)
"...the Holy Spirit manifests his share in the work of Redemption through the Immaculate Virgin who, although she is a person entirely distinct from him, is so intimately associated with him that our minds cannot understand it. So, while their union is not of the same order as the hypostatic union linking the human and divine natures in Christ, it remains true to say that Mary's action is the very action of the Holy Spirit. For Mary as the spouse of the Holy Spirit is raised to such a height of perfection above all other creatures that she accomplishes in everything the will of the Holy Spirit who dwelt in her from the first instant of her conception. " (St. Maximilian Kolbe, Final Sketch, source)

9) The most well known Protestant "reformer", Martin Luther, believed in Mary's Immaculate Conception.  Even after he split from the Church and many of her centuries old doctrines, he did not waiver on this one:
"... so that while the soul was being infused, she would at the same time be cleansed from original sin ... And thus, in the very moment in which she began to live, she was without all sin." (Martin Luther's Works, vol 4, pg 694)

"God has formed the soul and body of the Virgin Mary full of the Holy Spirit, so that she is without all sins, " (ibid. vol 52, pg 39)
". . . she is full of grace, proclaimed to be entirely without sin. . . . God's grace fills her with everything good and makes her devoid of all evil. . . . God is with her, meaning that all she did or left undone is divine and the action of God in her. Moreover, God guarded and protected her from all that might be hurtful to her." (Ref: Luther's Works, American edition, vol. 43, p. 40, ed. H. Lehmann, Fortress, 1968)  [Source of quotes here]
10) The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is celebrated on December 8th.  It is a holy day of obligation.  This means that it is the duty of every Catholic to attend Mass on that day.  We remember what Christ did for His mother and how His mother was a willing participant in God's plan of salvation.  In this way, we honor Christ through Mary.

**Addendum: Some wonder why the Feast of the Immaculate Conception is not moved to Sunday (when on a Saturday or Monday like other Holy Days).  On May 10, 1846, Archbishop Eccleston and 22 bishops of the U.S. declared:  
With enthusiastic acclaim and with unanimous approval and consent, the Fathers [of the Council] have chosen the Blessed Virgin Mary, conceived without sin, as the Patroness of the United States of America. [source]
The bishops applied to Rome to make this declaration official and in all likelihood influenced the declaration of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception by Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854.

“Just suppose that you could have pre-existed your own mother, in much the same way that an artist pre-exists his painting. Furthermore, suppose that you had the infinite power to make your mother anything that you pleased, just as a great artist like Raphael has the power of realizing his artistic ideas. Suppose you had this double power, what kind of mother would you have made for yourself? Would you have made her of such a type that would make you blush because of her unwomanly and un-mother-like actions? Would you have made her exteriorly and interiorly of such a character as to make you ashamed of her? Or would you have made her, so far as human beauty goes; the most beautiful woman in the world; and so far as beauty of the soul goes, one who would radiate every virtue, every manner of kindness and charity and loveliness; one who by the purity of her life and her mind and her heart would be an inspiration not only to you but even to your fellow men, so that all would look up to her as the very incarnation of what is best in motherhood?
Now if you who are an imperfect being and who have not the most delicate conception of all that is fine in life would have wished for the loveliest of mothers, do you think that our Blessed Lord, who not only pre-existed His own mother but who had an infinite power to make her just what He chose, would in virtue of all the infinite delicacy of His spirit make her any less pure and loving and beautiful than you would have made your own mother? If you who hate selfishness would have made her selfless and you who hate ugliness would have made her beautiful, do you not think that the Son of God, who hates sin, would have made His own mother sinless and He who hates moral ugliness would have made her immaculately beautiful?”
- See more at: http://fallibleblogma.com/index.php/quote-of-the-day-immaculate-conception-fulton-sheen/#sthash.137WfvUI.dpuf
“Just suppose that you could have pre-existed your own mother, in much the same way that an artist pre-exists his painting. Furthermore, suppose that you had the infinite power to make your mother anything that you pleased, just as a great artist like Raphael has the power of realizing his artistic ideas. Suppose you had this double power, what kind of mother would you have made for yourself? Would you have made her of such a type that would make you blush because of her unwomanly and un-mother-like actions? Would you have made her exteriorly and interiorly of such a character as to make you ashamed of her? Or would you have made her, so far as human beauty goes; the most beautiful woman in the world; and so far as beauty of the soul goes, one who would radiate every virtue, every manner of kindness and charity and loveliness; one who by the purity of her life and her mind and her heart would be an inspiration not only to you but even to your fellow men, so that all would look up to her as the very incarnation of what is best in motherhood?
Now if you who are an imperfect being and who have not the most delicate conception of all that is fine in life would have wished for the loveliest of mothers, do you think that our Blessed Lord, who not only pre-existed His own mother but who had an infinite power to make her just what He chose, would in virtue of all the infinite delicacy of His spirit make her any less pure and loving and beautiful than you would have made your own mother? If you who hate selfishness would have made her selfless and you who hate ugliness would have made her beautiful, do you not think that the Son of God, who hates sin, would have made His own mother sinless and He who hates moral ugliness would have made her immaculately beautiful?”
- See more at: http://fallibleblogma.com/index.php/quote-of-the-day-immaculate-conception-fulton-sheen/#sthash.137WfvUI.dpuf
More reading:
Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, December 8, 1854.
Pope Saint John Paul II, Marialis Cultus, February 2, 1972.
Catholic Church, Catechism of the Catholic Church.
Marion A. Habig, OFM, Land of Mary Immaculate

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