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Header-Celebrating The Immaculate Conception

In 2014, the Church celebrated the 160th anniversary of the proclamation of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception which affirms that Mary was conceived without Original Sin.

For centuries, the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady was defended by saints, theologians and laymen. However, it took centuries of theological debate to establish a consensus in the Church. Only in 1854, did Blessed Pope Pius IX, after consulting with the bishops of the whole world, proclaim this dogma in his Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus, thus affirming as revealed truth that Our Lady was preserved from Original Sin from the very moment of her conception.

Many defended this position because they felt that the glory of the Most Holy Trinity would be tarnished if the Mother of the Word Incarnate were not the most perfect of all creatures. It would also be against God’s wisdom and mercy if the Savior’s mother did not receive the highest transcendental gifts of nature and grace.

 

The Immaculate Conception and America

The Immaculate Conception is particularly significant for Americans.

Americans join with Catholics the world over in celebrating the feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8. They were filled with joy in 2014 which marked the 160th anniversary of the proclamation.

However, this feast is especially dear to Americans because Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception is the nation’s patroness. Even before the proclamation of the dogma, the American bishops collectively placed the nation under the protection of the Immaculate Conception at the first Council of Baltimore in 1846. The pope ratified this decision on February 7, 1847.

The special place of Our Lady under this invocation led Theodore Cardinal McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington to ask the Holy See to grant a plenary indulgence for those who visit the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in the nation’s capital for the year ending on December 8, 2004.

 

Reconciling Christ’s Universal Redemption

Although the Immaculate Conception can be found in Revelation and is part of the Deposit of Faith, it is not expressed with all the clarity of other truths like the Resurrection of Our Lord.

The Immaculate ConceptionThe main objection to the dogma revolved around the fact that, according to the dogma of Christ’s universal redemption, all men were redeemed from Original Sin by the merits of Our Lord Jesus Christ. However, if Our Lady was conceived without Original Sin, it would seem that she could not be redeemed from it by the merits of Christ.

How can these two assertions be reconciled? How does one explain the truth of the whole matter?

As Pius IX explains in his Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus, Mary Most Holy by the same merits of her Divine Son has been redeemed in a special, preventive manner, preserving her from Original Sin. As the Pope says, “the most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God …. her soul, in the first instant of its creation and in the first instant of the soul's infusion into the body, was, by a special grace and privilege of God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, her Son and the Redeemer of the human race, preserved free from all stain of original sin. And in this sense have the faithful ever solemnized and celebrated the Feast of the Conception."

While this simple formulation resolved the problem, it took several centuries to uncover. This is not surprising since the solution of delicate theological problems often takes a long time to resolve. Thus, in 1854, the Pope used the authority given him by Our Lord Jesus Christ to safeguard and infallibly interpret Revelation and defined the dogma once and for all.

 

Popular Piety Affirmed Dogma

Already in the fifth century, Saint Augustine affirmed that “piety imposed the recognition of Mary as not having sin.”1 Popular devotion took up this belief and the feast of the Immaculate Conception was already celebrated in the Oriental Catholic Church as early as the sixth century. Beginning in the eleventh century, theologians made detailed studies into the matter and verified the fact that popular devotion had grown. Popular enthusiasm for the feast increased so much that it was celebrated all over Europe in 1476.

 

Taking a Vow

In the sixteenth and especially the seventeenth century, the topic became such a burning issue that “in Spain it became impossible to sustain from the pulpit a contrary opinion [to the Immaculate Conception] since the people would react against such preachers with murmurs, clamor and even violence.”2

Beginning in 1617, the University of Granada in Spain began the custom of making a “votum sanguinis”, which was a vow to defend the Immaculate Conception even to the point of shedding blood in its defense. This practice soon spread to religious orders, universities, confraternities and other entities.

The heretical theologian Muratori contested the vow labeling it imprudent, “unenlightened” and even gravely irresponsible. He started a debate on the subject arguing that one cannot risk one’s life for a doctrine that has not yet been defined. This thesis was refuted by the great Catholic moralist Saint Alphonsus Liguori. He favored the vow for two reasons: a) there was a universal consensus among the faithful in respect to the subject; b) a universal celebration of the feast of the Immaculate Conception was already established.3

 

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In Defense of the Immaculate Conception

Great defenders and preachers of the privilege of the Immaculate Conception included: Saint Leonard, Saint Peter Canisius, Saint Robert Bellarmine and many others.

The desire to defend the Immaculate Conception was so great that some universities would refuse to admit any students who did not swear to defend this special privilege of the Virgin. Even civil authorities would demand such an oath as was the case of the congressmen who declared Venezuela’s independence. They swore to defend independence, the Catholic religion and the mystery of the Immaculate Conception.4

 

Was the Debate Justifiable?

Some modern Catholics who are not well informed or deformed by today’s religious relativism might object: Was not such an obstinate defense of this privilege of Our Lady exaggerated?
The Immaculate Conception 2Such Catholics do not understand the profundity of the dogma and its implications. As Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira explained: “the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, considered in itself clashed with the essentially egalitarian spirit of the Revolution that since 1789 has despotically reigned in the West. To see a simple creature so elevated over others by an inestimable privilege conceded to her at the first moment of her existence, cannot help but pain the children of the Revolution that proclaim absolute equality among men as the principle of all order, justice and good.”5

This is one more reason why the Church celebrates this marvelous privilege of the Immaculate Conception on December 8. This justification of the privilege was so well expressed by the French orator Bossuet who said the Immaculate Conception represented “flesh without fragility, senses without rebellion, life without stain and death without suffering.”6

The feast of the Immaculate Conception is an excellent opportunity to ask her special intercession for our country. May she protect us against the evils of abortion, same-sex unions, and so much promiscuity that is destroying the family. May she protect our brave troops that are selflessly shedding their blood in Iraq, Afghanistan and so many other places. Let us pray for all families struggling to be faithful to the Church and to raise their children in the love and reverent fear of God.

  


Footnotes

1. André Damino, Na escola de Maria, Ed. Paulinas, 1962, p. 39. [back]
2. “A cura di Stefano de Fiores e Salvatore Meo, Tratado De Natura et Gratia,” Nuovo Dizionario de Teologia, 42, PL 44, 267, Ed. Paolinas, 1986, Milan, p. 614. [back]
3. Ibid, p. 614. [back]
4. Caracciolo Parra-Perez, Historia de la Primera República de Venezuela, Biblioteca de la Academia Nacional de la Historia, Caracas, 1959, II Vol. [back]
5. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira, “Primeiro marco do ressurgimento contra-revolucionário,” Catolicismo, February 1958. [back]
6. André Damino, op. cit., p. 36. [back] 


 

Also Read: Three Reasons why the Enemies of the Church Hate the Immaculate Conception

 

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Quote of the day

DAILY QUOTE for May 18, 2021

Our Lord loves you and loves you tenderly; and if He does no...

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May 18

 

Our Lord loves you
and loves you tenderly; and
if He does not let you feel the sweetness of His love,
it is to make you more humble and abject in your own eyes.

St. Padre Pio of Pietrelcina


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Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. Eric IX of Sweden

The king’s zeal for the faith was far from pleasing to his...

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St. Eric IX of Sweden

Eric the Holy or Erik the Saint was acknowledged king in most provinces of Sweden in 1150, and his family line subsisted for a hundred years. He did much to establish Christianity in Upper Sweden and built or completed at Old Uppsala the first large church to be erected in the country. It is said that all the ancient laws and constitutions of the kingdom were, by his orders, collected into one volume, which came to be known as King Eric’s Law or The Code of Uppland.

The king soon had to take up arms against the heathen Finns. He vanquished them in battle, and at his desire, St. Henry, Bishop of Uppsala, who had accompanied him on the expedition, remained in Finland to evangelize the people.

The king’s zeal for the Catholic Faith was far from pleasing to his nobles, and we are told that they entered into a conspiracy against him with Magnus, the son of the king of Denmark. King Eric was hearing Mass on the day after the feast of the Ascension when news was brought that a Danish army, swollen with Swedish rebels, was marching against him and was close at hand. With unwavering calm he answered, “Let us at least finish the sacrifice; the rest of the feast I shall keep elsewhere”. After Mass was over, he recommended his soul to God, and marched forth in advance of his guards. The conspirators rushed upon him, beat him down from his horse, and beheaded him. His death occurred on May 18 in 1161.

The relics of St. Eric IX of Sweden are preserved in the Cathedral of Uppsala, and the saintly king's effigy appears on the coat of arms of the city of Stockholm.

Pope St. John I

The king had the pontiff arrested at Ravenna and thrown into...

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Pope St. John I

St. John I was a native of Siena in Tuscany and was one of the seven deacons of Rome when he was elected to the papacy at the death of Pope Hormisdas in the year 523.

At the time, Theodoric the Great ruled over the Ostrogoths in Italy and Justin I was the Byzantine Emperor of Constantinople. King Theodoric supported the Arian heresy, which denied the divinity of Christ.

Justin I, the first Catholic on the throne of Constantinople in fifty years, published a severe edict against the Arians, requiring them to return to orthodox Catholics the churches they had taken from them. The said edict caused a commotion among eastern Arians, and spurred Theodoric to threaten war.

Ultimately, he opted for a diplomatic solution and named Pope John, much against his wishes, to head a delegation of five bishops and four senators to Justin.

Pope John, refused to comply with Theodoric’s wishes to influence Justin to reverse his policies. The only thing he did obtain from Justin was for him to mitigate his treatment of Arians, thus avoiding reprisals against Catholics in Italy.

After the delegation returned, Theodoric, disappointed with the result of the mission, and growing daily more suspicious at reports of the friendly relations between the Pope and Justin I, had the pontiff arrested at Ravenna.

Pope John I died in prison a short time later as a result of ill treatment.

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As the century began anew, so did Catherine’s life. Cathe...

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The Rosary & True Beauty

As the century began anew, so did Catherine’s life.

Catherine was a young woman possessing great beauty. So much so, that she was known to those in Rome where she made her home as “Catherine the Beautiful.” Sadly, Catherine’s beauty went only skin deep, and she led a very sinful life.

One afternoon, strolling the streets of Rome, Catherine heard the voice of St. Dominic. This was the early 13th century and it was not unusual to cross paths with this great man of God.

On this particular day, he was preaching on the devotion to the Mother of God and the importance of praying her most holy Rosary. Caught up in the moment, Catherine had her name inscribed in the book of the confraternity and began to recite the Rosary. Though praying the Rosary gave her a sense of calmness she had not known before, Catherine did not abandon her sinful ways.

One evening, a youth, apparently a nobleman, came to her house. Catherine invited the handsome young man to stay to dine with her. When they were at supper, she saw drops of blood falling from his hands while he was breaking a piece of bread. Moments later, she observed, much to her discomfort, that all the food he took was tinged with blood.

Gathering up some courage to appease her curiosity, she asked him what that blood meant. With a firm but gentle look in his eyes, the youth replied that a Christian should take no food that was not tinged with the blood of Jesus Christ and sweetly seasoned with the memory of His passion.

Amazed at this reply, Catherine asked him who he was. "Soon," he answered, "I will show you." The rest of their meal passed uneventfully, yet always the drops of red catching Catherine’s eye, causing her to wonder about this man she supped with.

After dinner, when they had withdrawn into another room, the appearance of the youth changed. To Catherine’s stunned gaze, he showed himself crowned with thorns, his flesh torn and bleeding.

With the same firm but gentle gaze he said to her: “Do you wish to know who I am? Do you not know me? I am your Redeemer. Catherine, when will you cease to offend me? See how much I have suffered for you. You have grieved me enough, change your life."

Catherine began to weep bitterly, and Jesus, encouraging her, said: "Now begin to love me as much as you have offended me; and know that you have received this grace from me, on account of the Rosary you have been accustomed to recite in honor of my mother." And then he disappeared.

Catherine went in the morning to make her confession to St. Dominic, whose preaching on the Rosary had brought so marvelous a grace into her life. Giving to the poor all she possessed, from that day forward Catherine led so holy and joyful a life that she attained to great perfection.

It could now be said of her among the inhabitants of Rome that Catherine was indeed beautiful, but her beauty was no longer skin deep; her loveliness radiated from the depths of her soul.

The Most Holy Virgin often appeared to her; and Jesus himself revealed to St. Dominic, that this penitent had become very dear to him.

From the Glories of Mary, by St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori.

As the century began anew, so did Catherine’s life. Catherine was a young woman possessing great beauty.

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