Tag Archives: Immaculate Conception

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.

Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary


Immaculate Conception woodcut.jpgThe dogma of Mary’s Immaculate Conception was given to us by Pope Pius IX and proclaimed in the document, Ineffabilis Deus (1854), solemnly defining a clear and consistent teaching of the Church since 33 AD.

If you ask the question: What can you tell me about Mary as Patroness of America? Boston’s Archbishop (later Cardinal) Richard Cushing wrote an answer.

Famously, the 23 US bishops in 1846 (note: nearly a decade before the dogma’s definition) wrote to the Pope asking for Mary under the title of the Immaculate Conception to be bestowed on the country’s young Church. The bishops wrote:

We take this occasion, brethren, to communicate to you the determination, unanimously adopted by us, to place ourselves and all entrusted to our charge throughout the United States, under the special patronage of the holy Mother of God, whose Immaculate Conception is venerated by the piety of the faithful throughout the Catholic Church.

By the aid of her prayers, we entertain the confident hope that we will be strengthened to perform the arduous duties of our ministry, and that you will be enabled to practice the sublime virtues, of which her life presents the most perfect example.

Pastoral Letter of the Bishops of the United States
Sixth Provincial Council, Baltimore, 5 May 1846

With a look full of hope and compassion Mary says: fear not, God loves you personally

Pope Benedict made the annual visit to Spain’s Square, the Spanish Steps as it’s known, to lay a wreathe at the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to offer a prayer of filial devotion and to encourage the faithful in our faith. His address follows:

B16 Dec 8 2010 Spanish Steps.jpg

Also this year
we have made an appointment here, in Piazza di Spagna, to render homage to the
Immaculate Virgin, on the occasion of her solemn feast. To all of you, who have
come in great numbers, as well as all those taking part through radio and
television, I address my cordial greeting. We are gathered around this historic
monument, which today is all surrounded by flowers, sign of the love and
devotion of the Roman people for the Mother of Jesus. And the most beautiful
gift, and most pleasing to her, that we offer is our prayer, the one we bear in
our hearts and which we entrust to her intercession
. They are invocations of
gratitude and supplication: of gratitude for the gift of faith and for all the
good that we receive daily from God; and supplication for our different needs,
for the family, health, work, for every difficulty that life has us encounter.

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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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