Category Archives: Blessed Virgin Mary

Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Immaculate Conception with the Fathers“Let us celebrate the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary: let us adore her Son, Christ the Lord.” (Matins response)

Historically, our belief in the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception has its roots in the fifth century Church in Syria. Looking at the lex orandi tradition and the teaching of the Fathers, this doctrine had currency in the East and the West. Studies in historical theology that the Church in the East was more attune to this teaching about Mary in the Patristic times than the Church in the West. We know from what some Fathers said, like Saint Ephrem (306-373) to the Mother of God:  “Full of grace . . . all pure, all immaculate, wholly without sin, wholly without stain, wholly without reproach . . . virgin in soul, in body, in spirit.” Saint Andrew of Crete (650-740) even uses the expression  “holy conception” in reference to Our Lady; and Saint John Damascene (676-749) exclaimed:  “O admirable womb of Anne, in which developed and formed little by little an infant all-holy.” Among the Eastern Churches there is the liturgical celebration of Saint Anne conception of Mary, a feast that existed in the East as early as the eighth century. There are many Eastern churchmen who protest the connections made between the East and West but the announcement of salvation comes through the announcement to Saint Anne that she was going to bear a daughter destined for something incredible that would change world history; the very idea that the conception of Mary was in some way, a mystery, a holy event and person that could not not be intended for be for our salvation.

Hence, the theologians and Pope Pius IX could conclude their investigations in the 19th century by saying, “The illustrious monuments of tradition, of both the Eastern and Western Church, most convincingly testify that this doctrine of the immaculate conception of the most Blessed Virgin . . . always existed in the Church, as received from those who lived before and as marked with the character of a revealed doctrine” (Rome, Analecta juris pontificii, I, 1215).

later generations have tended to confuse the doctrine with the virginal conception of Christ and even gone so far as to assume that Catholics believe Mary had no need of redemption. The papal declaration of Blessed Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, makes eminently clear, Mary, like each one of us, was redeemed by Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race. In the case of Mary, she had a exceptional in being without original sin and giving birth to the Savior.

Through the centuries theologians like Saint Bernard (1091-1153), Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-74) and Blessed John Duns Scotus (1266-1308) expressed various opinions about the teaching of the Immaculate Conception. Aquinas, for example, had some reservations about how to conceive of the teaching properly.

Blessed John Duns Scotus writes well of the Blessed Mothers as when he says that “Mary most assuredly needed Christ as a Redeemer, for she would have incurred original sin in the usual way from her parents, if she had not been preserved by the grace of the Mediator. Just as others needed Christ that sin already incurred might be forgiven by his merit, so she needed the preventive action of the Mediator all the more, that there might not be any sin to be incurred, and that she might not incur any.”

The Franciscan School (among whom we would count Saint Bonaventure, Scotus, Alexander of Hales,  William of Ware) prevailed with Pope Pius IX, at the behest of a majority of the bishops, formed a coetus (1851 to 1853) which then formed the solemn definition.

In 1854, the papal declaration,

“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.”

The Latin: Declaramus, pronuntiamus et definimus doctrinam quae tenet beatissimam Virginem Mariam in primo instanti suae conceptionis fuisse singulari Omnipotentis Dei gratia et privilegio, intuitu meritorum Christi Jesu Salvatoris humani generis, ab omni originalis culpae labe praeservatam immunem, esse a Deo revelatam, atque idcirco ab omnibus fidelibus firmiter constanterque credendam. (Cf. Denz., n. 1641)

The pope also wrote,  “He [God] attended her with such great love, more than all other creatures, that in her alone He took singular pleasure. Wherefore He so wonderfully filled her, more than all angelic spirits and all the Saints, with an abundance of all heavenly gifts taken from the treasury of the divinity, that she, always free from absolutely every stain of sin, and completely beautiful and perfect, presented such a fullness of innocence and holiness that none greater under God can be thought of, and no one but God can comprehend it.”

For more info, see the entry in the Catholic Encyclopedia or a briefer review of the teaching by Fr William Most. But nothing will substitute your reading of the 1854 Apostolic Constitution of Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus.

The nineteenth century Jesuit priest and poet Gerard Manley Hopkins who was devoted to the theological teachings of Scotus, in his poetry likened Our Lady to the air we breathe. Catholics would recall that many (perhaps all) of the founders of religious orders had profound love for the Holy Theotokos. In Saint Benedict it presumed that a monk or nun would be devoted to Mary. As Catholics we are privileged to be in the communio of heaven where the witness of the Blessed Mother and the saints (a world of sign and symbol), not only because of the proximity to the Mystery, but they point the way to God.
Consider what Hopkins has to say:

Mary Immaculate,
Merely a woman, yet
Whose presence, power is
Great as no goddess’s
Was deemèd, dreamèd; who
This one work has to do—
Let all God’s glory through,
God’s glory which would go
Through her and from her flow
Off, and no way but so.

The Sixth Provincial Council of Baltimore (May 10, 1846,) decreed that Mary Immaculate should be venerated as Patroness of the United States of America, and by February, 1847, it was approved by the Holy See. About seven years before the official declaration showing that the Church did, in fact, hold to Mary being immaculately conceived. Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, pray for the USA, and for us.

Presentation of Mary in the Temple

Feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos

The Church liturgically honors Mary in her being Presentation in the Temple. The Byzantine Church calls the memorial The Entrance of the Theotokos in the Temple. It is one of the 12 Great Feasts.

Mary, Ark of the Covenant, pray for us.

Saint Gregory Palamas orients our thoughts today:

With profound understanding she listened to the writings of Moses and the revelations of the other prophets when, every Saturday, all the people gathered outside, as the Law ordained. She learned about Adam and Eve and everything that happened to them: how they were brought out of non-being, settled in paradise and given a commandment there; about the evil one’s ruinous counsel and the resulting theft; about their expulsion from paradise on that account, the loss of immortality and the change to this way of life full of pain.

She saw that as time passed, life continued under the inherited curse and grew even worse, God’s creature made in His image was estranged from the Creator and became more and more closely associated with the one who had evilly schemed to crush him. No one was capable of putting an end to this impulse which brings destruction on all men alike, or to the uncheckable rush of humankind towards hell.

When the holy Virgin heard and understood this, she was filled with pity for humanity and, with the aim of finding a remedy to counteract this great affliction, she resolved at once to turn with her whole mind to God. She took it upon herself to represent us, to constrain Him Who is above compulsion, and quickly draw Him towards us, that He might remove the curse from among us, halt the advance of the fire burning men’s souls, weaken our enemies, answer our prayers, shine upon us with light that never sets and, having healed our sickness, unite His creatures with Himself.”

Medjugorje visionaries not permitted to speak, Church advocates

Medjugorje Letter October 2013The Catholic faithful ought to avoid all connections with the alleged visionaries connected with Medjugorje. This is the current judgement of the Church due to a lack of final judgement of experts for the good of the faithful.

In March 2010, Pope Benedict XVI formed a commission to investigate the veracity of Our Lady’s apparitions in Medjugorje. The Holy See said, “An international investigative commission on Medjugorje has been constituted, under the presidency of Cardinal Camillo Ruini and dependent upon the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Said commission – made up of cardinals, bishops, specialists and experts – will work privately, submitting the results of its work to the authority of the dicastery.”

Cardinal Ruini’s report to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith will be studied and the findings given to the Pope. You’ll recall that Ruini is the former vicar of Rome’s diocese.

Millions of pilgrims have visited this shrine every year and claim to have received many graces of conversion.

In question the truthfulness of the six people have witnessed the Virgins apparitions since 1981.Controversy has circled the alleged Marian apparitions in Medjugorje with local bishops, the Franciscans and the various visionaries who have greatly profited from the fame.

The legitimate investigation of the Holy See continues as you can see from this letter of October 21, 2013 of the US Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò to the General Secretary of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, Monsignor Ronny Jenkins. Archbishop Viganò writes on behalf of Archbishop Gerhard Ludwig Müller, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. The letter reiterates an April 10, 1991, directive not to adhere to unverified proposals.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is clear: “clerics and the faithful are not permitted to participate in meetings, conferences or public celebrations during which the credibility of such ‘apparitions’ would be taken for granted.”

Matters like these required a well researched assessment of what’s claimed for the good of all the faithful. Hence, the final judgement of the Holy Father is sought and we ought to follow.

Remaining close to Mary: the world is consecrated to Mary

We are at the anniversary of the final apparition of Our Lady of Fatima in 1917. We know of the Pope’s profound love of the Blessed Virgin Mary (a common trait of the last Popes).

Here is a booklet on Our Lady of Fatima.

Yesterday and today in Rome the Church and the world were consecrated to the maternal protection of the great Mother of God, Our Lady of Fatima.

The homily for today’s Mass the Pope hits on some well known themes: gratitude, remembrance, God surprises, our reliance on God, openness to the Divine initiative and trust. Put together we have a vision of what our life ought to be like: a Yes to the Lord in ALL things. Mercy is available. Do we ask for mercy?

In the Psalm we said: “Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvellous things” (Ps 98:1). Today we consider one of the marvellous things which the Lord has done: Mary! A lowly and weak creature like ourselves, she was chosen to be the Mother of God, the Mother of her Creator.

Considering Mary in the light of the readings we have just heard, I would like to reflect with you on three things: first, God surprises us, second, God asks us to be faithful, and third, God is our strength.

First: God surprises us. The story of Naaman, the commander of the army of the king of Aram, is remarkable. In order to be healed of leprosy, he turns to the prophet of God, Elisha, who does not perform magic or demand anything unusual of him, but asks him simply to trust in God and to wash in the waters of the river. Not, however, in one of the great rivers of Damascus, but in the little stream of the Jordan. Naaman is left surprised, even taken aback. What kind of God is this who asks for something so simple? He wants to turn back, but then he goes ahead, he immerses himself in the Jordan and is immediately healed (cf. 2 Kg 5:1-4). There it is: God surprises us. It is precisely in poverty, in weakness and in humility that he reveals himself and grants us his love, which saves us, heals us and gives us strength. He asks us only to obey his word and to trust in him.

This was the experience of the Virgin Mary. At the message of the angel, she does not hide her surprise. It is the astonishment of realizing that God, to become man, had chosen her, a simple maid of Nazareth. Not someone who lived in a palace amid power and riches, or one who had done extraordinary things, but simply someone who was open to God and put her trust in him, even without understanding everything: “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” (Lk 1:38). That was her answer. God constantly surprises us, he bursts our categories, he wreaks havoc with our plans. And he tells us: trust me, do not be afraid, let yourself be surprised, leave yourself behind and follow me!

Today let us all ask ourselves whether we are afraid of what God might ask, or of what he does ask. Do I let myself be surprised by God, as Mary was, or do I remain caught up in my own safety zone: in forms of material, intellectual or ideological security, taking refuge in my own projects and plans? Do I truly let God into my life? How do I answer him?

In the passage from Saint Paul which we have heard, the Apostle tells his disciple Timothy: remember Jesus Christ. If we persevere with him, we will also reign with him (cf. 2 Tim 2:8-13). This is the second thing: to remember Christ always – to be mindful of Jesus Christ – and thus to persevere in faith. God surprises us with his love, but he demands that we be faithful in following him. We can be unfaithful, but he cannot: he is “the faithful one” and he demands of us that same fidelity. Think of all the times when we were excited about something or other, some initiative, some task, but afterwards, at the first sign of difficulty, we threw in the towel. Sadly, this also happens in the case of fundamental decisions, such as marriage. It is the difficulty of remaining steadfast, faithful to decisions we have made and to commitments we have made. Often it is easy enough to say “yes”, but then we fail to repeat this “yes” each and every day. We fail to be faithful.

Mary said her “yes” to God: a “yes” which threw her simple life in Nazareth into turmoil, and not only once. Any number of times she had to utter a heartfelt “yes” at moments of joy and sorrow, culminating in the “yes” she spoke at the foot of the Cross. Here today there are many mothers present; think of the full extent of Mary’s faithfulness to God: seeing her only Son hanging on the Cross. The faithful woman, still standing, utterly heartbroken, yet faithful and strong.

And I ask myself: am I a Christian by fits and starts, or am I a Christian full-time? Our culture of the ephemeral, the relative, also takes its toll on the way we live our faith. God asks us to be faithful to him, daily, in our everyday life. He goes on to say that, even if we are sometimes unfaithful to him, he remains faithful. In his mercy, he never tires of stretching out his hand to lift us up, to encourage us to continue our journey, to come back and tell him of our weakness, so that he can grant us his strength. This is the real journey: to walk with the Lord always, even at moments of weakness, even in our sins. Never to prefer a makeshift path of our own. That kills us. Faith is ultimate fidelity, like that of Mary.

The last thing: God is our strength. I think of the ten lepers in the Gospel who were healed by Jesus. They approach him and, keeping their distance, they call out: “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” (Lk 17:13). They are sick, they need love and strength, and they are looking for someone to heal them. Jesus responds by freeing them from their disease. Strikingly, however, only one of them comes back, praising God and thanking him in a loud voice. Jesus notes this: ten asked to be healed and only one returned to praise God in a loud voice and to acknowledge that he is our strength. Knowing how to give thanks, to give praise for everything that the Lord has done for us.

Take Mary. After the Annunciation, her first act is one of charity towards her elderly kinswoman Elizabeth. Her first words are: “My soul magnifies the Lord”, in other words, a song of praise and thanksgiving to God not only for what he did for her, but for what he had done throughout the history of salvation. Everything is his gift. If we can realise that everything is God’s gift, how happy will our hearts be! Everything is his gift. He is our strength! Saying “thank you” is such an easy thing, and yet so hard! How often do we say “thank you” to one another in our families? These are essential words for our life in common. “Excuse me”, “sorry”, “thank you”. If families can say these three things, they will be fine. “Excuse me”, “sorry”, “thank you”. How often do we say “thank you” in our families? How often do we say “thank you” to those who help us, those close to us, those at our side throughout life? All too often we take everything for granted! This happens with God too. It is easy to approach the Lord to ask for something, but to go and thank him: “Well, I don’t need to”.

As we continue our celebration of the Eucharist, let us invoke Mary’s intercession. May she help us to be open to God’s surprises, to be faithful to him each and every day, and to praise and thank him, for he is our strength. Amen.

The Rosary’s effectiveness, Mary’s maternity

We well know the Rosary’s powerful efficacy to obtain the maternal aid of the Virgin. By no means is there only one way to pray to obtain this aid. However, We consider the Holy Rosary the most convenient and most fruitful means, as is clearly suggested by the very origin of this practice, heavenly rather than human, and by its nature. What prayers are better adapted and more beautiful than the Lord’s prayer and the angelic salutation, which are the flowers with which this mystical crown is formed? With meditation of the Sacred Mysteries added to the vocal prayers, there emerges another very great advantage, so that all, even the most simple and least educated, have in this a prompt and easy way to nourish and preserve their own faith.

Pope Pius XII
Ingruentium Malorum

About the author

Paul A. Zalonski is from New Haven, CT. He is a member of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation, a Catholic ecclesial movement, and an Oblate of Saint Benedict. Contact Paul at paulzalonski[at]
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