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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 25, 2020

“I will take away not the grace but the feeling of grace...

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May 25

 

“I will take away
not the grace but the feeling of grace.
Though I will seem to leave you
I will be closer to you.”

Our Lord to St. Mary Magdalene de’ Pazzi


My Mother, I will stand with you on OCTOBER 10, 2020

Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

Pope St. Gregory VII

In 1073 at the death of Alexander II, the people of Rome cri...

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Pope St. Gregory VII

Pope Gregory VII was born Hildebrand in Tuscany, Italy. Little else is known of his early life. Hailed, historically, as one of the greatest of the Church's pontiffs and one of the most remarkable men of all time, his name, Hildebrand, meant “bright flame”. Those who hated him, which were many, interpreted the name as “brand of Hell”.

Hildebrand was a Benedictine monk, for a time living in Cluny, from whence he certainly gleaned the monastery’s ideal of societal reform.

As a cleric, he became chaplain to Pope Gregory VI, and a few years later, under Leo IX was made Cardinal Deacon. A man of outstanding energy and insight, Hildebrand became a power in Rome. It is greatly due to him that the practice of electing popes through a college of cardinals was established.

In 1073 at the death of Alexander II, the people of Rome cried out for the holy genius who had helped steer the Church for twenty years, “Hildebrand for Pope! Holy Peter wants Hildebrand, the Archdeacon!” Once before the holy monk had eluded the tiara but this time a proper college of cardinals, seconding the popular cry, induced him to accept an honor duly his.

Hildebrand assumed the name Gregory VII, and threw his energy and zeal into a continued reform, especially fighting simony (the sale of ecclesiastical posts) and clerical incontinence.

He confronted Emperor Henry IV head- on about his practice of choosing men for ecclesiastical positions. On meeting with dogged resistance, the pontiff finally had recourse to excommunication which drastically curtailed the proud monarch’s power, ultimately bringing Henry on foot to the Pope at the Castle of Canossa. Because of Henry’s rebellious obstinacy, Pope Gregory saw fit to leave him out in the cold for three days before receiving and reinstating the royal penitent.

But Henry failed to make any true personal reform and alienated his princes who elected another ruler. Still, he later rallied and went as far as electing another Pope, a Clement III, calling down upon himself another sentence of excommunication. He also attacked and entered the Eternal City in 1084, which forced Pope Gregory into exile. Henry had his protégée “pope” crown him Emperor. Ultimately repelled by an army fighting for the true pope, the Emperor Henry left Rome, but complications sent Gregory VII again into exile, this time to die.

His last words before his death were a summary of how he had lived, “I have loved justice and hated iniquity, therefore I die in exile.”

Weekly Story

WEEKLY STORY

There was once a young country wife who practiced devotion t...

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Mary and the Simple Country Wife

There was once a young country wife who practiced devotion to Holy Mary, just as her mother had taught her to do. This simple young lady considered herself fortunate to have married a handsome soldier. Little did she know that her soldier-husband had made a deal with the devil, that he would sell his wife for a certain sum of money.

One crisp, autumn morning the couple went out for their customary walk. Oddly, this time the young man insisted on heading towards the forest. It was at the forest where he intended to deliver his young bride over to the devil.

On their way to the forest, the couple passed in front of a Church dedicated to the Virgin Mary. The wife, overtaken with a desire to enter the church begged her husband to allow her to pray a Hail Mary in that church.

As the young lady entered the church, Holy Mary came forth from it, taking the form of the wife and accompanied the man into the forest.

When they at last approached the devil at the forest, he said to the man, “Traitor! Why have you brought me instead of your wife, my enemy, the mother of God?”

“And you,” said Mary, addressing the devil, “how have you dared to think of injuring my servant? Go, flee to hell.”

And then, turning to the man, Mary said to him, “Amend your life, and I will aid you.”

She then disappeared and that wretched man repented, amended his life and became a husband worthy of his simple country wife.

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

 

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There was once a young country wife who practiced devotion to Holy Mary, just as her mother had taught her to do. This simple young lady considered herself fortunate to have married a handsome soldier.

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