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Ave Maria!
Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary—8 December AD 2016

Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus

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

    In recent months and years there has been a lot of discussion about papal pronouncements, whether they tell us what we must believe or are mere expressions of the Pope’s beliefs, and how we know whether or not they require us to adopt the same beliefs.  I want more to speak about the Immaculate Conception, but two paragraphs from the infallible definition by Pope Pius IX should tell us what we need to know about magisterial pronouncements.

    First, a crystal clear definition of the doctrine and a statement of who must believe it:

    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.[1]

That’s more than anyone can ad lib on an airplane, but the penalty which follows for disbelief is something unheard of in this twenty-first century.  Pope Pius continued:

    Hence, if anyone shall dare—which God forbid!—to think otherwise than as has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he has separated from the unity of the Church; and that, furthermore, by his own action he incurs the penalties established by law if he should dare to express in words or writing or by any other outward means the errors he think in his heart.

    This is the kind of clarity—and it is even more clear when you can hold an authentic written document in your own hand to consider carefully—It is the kind of clarity which Catholic people should expect and demand from their Popes, cardinals, and bishops  in everything they teach us as being part of the Catholic Faith.

    Enough said about magisterial pronouncements.  Now, on to Mary’s Immaculate Conception.

    First, it must be absolutely clear that the effect of the doctrine refers to Mary and not at all directly to her Divine Son.  Today, December 8th comes nine months before Mary’s birthday on September 8th and not nine months before Christmas.  It was the Blessed Virgin Mary who was never stained by original sin—even from the first instance of her existence in the conception of her by her parents Joachim and Anne.  That conception took place in the normal biological manner, but God intervened to be sure that her soul simultaneously enjoyed the absolute fullness of divine grace.  Her soul was not purified after conception but was create immediately in the fullness of grace.[2]

    (It is believed that the Prophets Jeremias and John the Baptist were both conceived in sin, but by a special grace were released from it before their birth—but Mary was never in sin.)

    While it is true that Mary’s Immaculate Conception took place about sixteen years before the birth of Jesus Christ, in a suburb of Jerusalem, it is reasonable to say that she existed in the mind of God beforehand.  She was the woman mentioned in Genesis, who would serve to undo the sin of Adam and Eve:

    3:15  I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.[3]

    Her plenitude of grace and absolute freedom from sin would be necessary for Mary to be “at enmities” with the devil—she had to be his “polar opposite.”  It is said that Mary’s humility drew her Son down to Earth to receive His human form from her—such humility would also be necessary to conquer the devil who was filled with pride “Non serviam—I will not serve,” and tempted human beings by appealing to their false pride, “you shall be as Gods.”  To counter the devil’s refusal to serve, this “polar opposite” would be conceived in perfect obedience—God’s will would be Mary’s will—she would conquer the devil’s “non serviam” with her “fiat.”  “May it be done to me according thy word”—may it be done to me according to God’s will—and only God’s will.

    Nothing God does is ever “ad hoc.”  “Ad hoc”  is a phrase that we use to say that “He doesn’t make things up as He goes along.”  God knows all things, and knows them from all eternity.  Even before creation, even before there were space and time, God knew that humankind would come under the influence of the devil;  that He would choose to enter human history to redeem men and women;  that He would create a sinless woman filled with grace and humility and obedience to aid Him.  We can say that Mary was immaculately conceived in the mind of God before all eternity.

    We blessed medals two Sundays ago—Miraculous Medals of the Immaculate Conception.  Perhaps on today’s feast day it is easier to see why the Medal is so powerful to work miracles of redemption and salvation.  Mary is far above all the other saints in Heaven.  Possessing lowly human nature, she was chosen by God to be His own Mother, chosen beforehand to rank even above the very Angels of Heaven.

    And like her holy Son, she is completely unselfish—always on the look-out to help those in need.  The Gospel account of the wedding at Cana and the turning of water into wine is instructive, but Mary’s concern for men and women goes far beyond their eating and their drinking—she is eager to share what she possesses most abundantly—she asks her Son to make us sinless, humble, obedient and filled with grace, even as she is.  In short, she asks for nothing less than our eternal salvation, and she knows that He cannot refuse her—as He could not refuse her at Cana.  She knows that He wills our salvation because God’s will is her will.

    I am going to suggest again that we all make a practice of beginning each day with that brief prayer on her Miraculous Medal:

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


[1]   Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, 8 December 1854

[2]   Cf, Gospel:  Luke 1:26-28

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