Tag Archives: Immaculate Conception

Pope’s prayer to Mary, the Immaculate Conception

immaculate conceptionWe know that Pope Francis has a devotion to the Mother of God. No doubt strongly influenced by his Argentinian/Italian and Jesuit background. In some ways he’s no different than most faithful Catholics who have a strong devotion to the Blessed Virgin.

Francis has become a frequent papal visitor to the Basilica of Saint Mary Major; yesterday, he went to this basilica and prayed in front of the Marian image of Salus Populi Romani. Thereafter, the Holy Father went to Piazza di Spagna for the traditional act of veneration of the Immaculate Conception. Having made the Act of Veneration of the Immaculate Conception, Francis prayed a special prayer he composed. Here is what he prayed, and this ought to be our prayer, too:

Oh Mary, our Mother,
today the people of God in celebration
venerate the Immaculate,
always preserved from the contagion of sin.

Accept the gift I offer on behalf of the Church in Rome
and throughout the world.

Knowing that You, our Mother, are completely free from sin
gives us great comfort.
Knowing that evil has no power over You,
fills us with hope and fortitude
in the daily struggle that we must fulfill against the threats of the evil one.

But we are not alone in this struggle, we are not orphans, because Jesus,
before dying on the cross,has given You to us as a Mother.

We, therefore, despite being sinners, are your children, sons of the Immaculate,
called to the holiness that shines through You
by the grace of God from the beginning.

Animated by this hope,
we pray today for Your maternal protection for us, for our families,
for this city, for the whole world.

May the power of God’s love,
that preserved You from original sin,
through Your intercession, free humanity from every spiritual and material slavery,
and make us win, in hearts and in events, God’s plan of salvation.

May grace prevail in us, Your children, over
pride and we can become merciful
as our heavenly Father is merciful.

In this time that leads us
towards the feast of the Nativity of Jesus,
teach us to go against the tide:
to divest ourselves, to lower ourselves, to give ourselves, to listen, to be silent,
to decentralize ourselves,
to make room for the beauty of God, the source of true joy.

Oh Immaculate, Our Mother, pray for us!

Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Immaculate Conception

We in the USA honor the Virgin Mother with the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. From an early church theologian, Origen, writes:
“The angel greeted Mary with a new address, which I could not find anywhere else in Scripture. I ought to explain this expression briefly. The angel says, ‘Hail, full of grace!’ The Greek word is κεχαριτωμένη. I do not remember having read this word elsewhere in Scripture. An expression of this kind, ‘Hail, full of grace!’ is not addressed to a male. This greeting was reserved for Mary alone.”

From a homily given in England today:

‘The Immaculate Conception’. It’s a lovely rolling phrase, isn’t it (we classicists might analyse its rhythm as a trochaic dimeter). And it’s a phrase, too, that can scare people silly. Is it sometimes the physicality – again, of conception – that disturbs them; conception, a process that occurs a little way south of the tummy button? Not the sort of thing the fastidious want to have dragged in front of their noses. C S Lewis points out that the devils too are fastidious in their horror at the flesh: Screwtape refers to a human as ‘this animal, this thing begotten in a bed’. Or perhaps people are scared of the word ‘Immaculate’; perhaps it suggests foreign religion – little old Irish women clutching their rosaries or Spanish ladies in black making their five successive First Saturday communions in honour of the Immaculate Heart (a devotion which Cardinal Ratzinger with his gentle irony once called ‘surprising for people from the Anglo-Saxon and German cultural worlds’). But ‘immaculate’ is a completely biblical concept in its Hebrew and Greek equivalents: it means spotless; and only what is without blemish is truly for God (for example, a spotless sacrificial lamb). Because: Mary is to be wholly for God, is to give God his body, to give God his endowment of genes, to give God the food of her breast: so Mary by God’s gift is to be the Immaculate, the one without blemish, the one in whom the Divine likeness has never been marred.

It is because Mary alone in the roots of her being is unmarked by sin that Mary alone is truly and wholly free. In our hearts, too, we should make her free and ‘fear not’; she is never to be locked up in the tourist industry as a statue of doubtful taste carried in processions by foreign peasants for the English to photograph from within their coaches; Mary is not to be detained at the pleasure of the Heritage business in a Merry England; she is not to be ‘the Madonna’ of the Art Historians imprisoned in glossy coffee­ table books.

If Mary is the Mother of God Incarnate, she is our Mother too, because we are in Christ, limbs of his body by our baptismal incorporation. Mary comes to us this day, and what would a true mother bring to hungry children except food; food for her children in exsilio; food packed for our journey. Mary comes to this place and to this moment of time; Mary comes, bright with all the beauties known by men and angels; Mary comes to set upon our lips the blessed fruit of her womb Jesus.

Fr John Hunwicke
Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham

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.

Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Immaculate Conception Diego Velazquez.jpgLord our God, as we celebrate Mary, daughter of Zion and figure of the new Jerusalem that descends from heaven, we await the coming of your Son Jesus Christ in glory. Hasten the day of his coming, and all the nations, together with all of Israel, will find salvation in your eternal kingdom. We ask you this through the Holy Spirit, who consoles us and intercedes for us now and forever.

Today’s feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary ought to be interpreted on the basis of sacred Scripture (Zeph 3:14-18a; Gal 4:4-7; Lk 1:39-55), sacred Tradition and the Magisterium. This feast is best understood from the point of view of the eschatological context of Advent which focuses our attention essentially on the coming of the Lord at the end of time. Consider what the prayer above notes. Christians, remember, live in the end times now.

Mary’s conception (through her parents Anne and Joachim) celebrated in the liturgical season of Advent is a fitting time in which we long, really desire, the Lord’s coming. Our waiting for the Messiah, now for the second time, is a true hope of all hopes.

The Church in the Eastern Roman Empire, known as Byzantium, has observed this feast with great interest before it reached the Western Empire by the 10th century. In the East today is also called the Conception of Saint Anne.  If you recall, the Franciscan and Doctor of the Church Saint Bonaventure has a clear teaching on the Immaculate Conception of Mary, defended and promoted by other Franciscan theologians and made part of Catholic dogma in 1854.

The precise Catholic theological teaching of the Immaculate Conception is not shared by some Protestant ecclesial communities and the Orthodox Churches. “For them, Mary’s conception has the value of a sign: through the divine intervention that was needed to heal Anne of her infertility, all of humanity has been healed of its sterility, brought on by sin, and has become the womb capable of welcoming the Word’s Incarnation. It is the Lord himself who, in his infinite mercy, prepares the way for his decisive intervention in history.” In many ways there is not that much difference in substance but acknowledged nonetheless here.

Under the title of the Immaculate Conception, Mary is the patroness of the United States of America.

Why is the Immaculate Conception important?

Mary, Immaculate Conception.jpg

What did we hear today from the sacred Liturgy about the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary? How close to did you pay attention to the priest praying the Mass prayers on your behalf? What’s the import of the feast? To know the answers we have to look at the texts of today’s Liturgy. Did you notice when the priest prayed:

1. God preserved Mary from every stain of sin by foreseeing the death of His Son Jesus, and so we pray too, that is, we hope to be cleansed of sin and admitted to communion with Him;

2. we profess belief in God’s prevenient grace given to Mary and we hope that He will deliver us from sin;

3. in the Preface, the priest prays that in Mary who was “endowed with the rich fullness of your [God’s] grace … [there is] a worthy Mother for your Son and [which] signify the beginning of the Church; As Pope Benedict said today, “Mary, on the other hand,” he continued, “is Immaculate, free from all stain of sin. The Church is holy, but at the same time marked by our sins.”

4. in her yes to God’s invitation to be the Mother of Jesus, we have the “Lamb would wipe away our offenses”;

5. we pray that the singular grace given to Mary may also be given to us.

This Liturgy is a mix of liturgical, dogmatic and systematic theology. BTW, this is fitting way to celebrate the graces given to our nation.

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]yahoo.com.
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