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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 October 21, 2019

O sinner, be not discouraged, but have recourse to Mary in a...

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October 21

 

O sinner, be not discouraged,
but have recourse to Mary in all your necessities.
Call her to your assistance, for such is the divine Will
that she should help in every kind of necessity.

St. Basil the Great


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Saint of the day

SAINT OF THE DAY

St. Hilarion

For years he only ate fifteen figs a day, and for an occupat...

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St. Hilarion

Hilarion was born of pagan parents in the village of Tabatha, south of Gaza. He was converted to Christianity in Alexandria and baptized at fifteen.

Visiting St. Anthony of the Desert, he lived with him for two months, but finding the desert hermit’s cave only a little less populated than the city, because of the continuous flow of people seeking the saint’s help and guidance, he retired into the desert of Majuma, in Palestine.

For years he only ate fifteen figs a day, and for an occupation, he tilled the earth and made baskets. His first abode was a small hut woven of reeds. Later, he made himself a cell, one so small that it was more like a tomb. As the years passed, he found he needed more nourishment than figs alone provided and included a few vegetables and bread in his diet.

In 356 he was informed by revelation of the death of St. Anthony. He was sixty-five and was so afflicted by the number of people who crowded to him that he resolved to leave Palestine. From then on, he became a pilgrim of solitude, seeking to be left alone with God. But though silent, his miracles spoke loudly and people sought him out in whatever wilderness he fled to.

Finally, after trying several remote places, including Sicily, Hilarion wished to go into a country where not even his language was understood. And so his friend, St. Heyschius, took him to Dalmatia. But again miracles defeated the saint’s intent of living alone. Fleeing to Cyprus, his popularity followed him there, so traveling inland a dozen miles and climbing to an inaccessible but pleasant place, he at last found peace and quiet.

After a few years in this spot, he died at the age of eighty. Among those who visited him in his last illness, was St. Epiphanius, Bishop of Salamis, who later wrote of him to St. Jerome. He was buried near Paphos, but St. Hesychius secretly removed his body to Hilarion’s old home of Majuma.

Weekly Story

WEEKLY STORY

St. Dominic insistently advised that she adopt the recitatio...

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The Lady Who Snubbed the Rosary

In his book, The Secret of the Rosary, St. Louis de Montfort writes of a pious but self-willed lady who lived in Rome. She was so devout that she put many a religious to shame.

One day, hearing of the holiness of St. Dominic, great apostle of the Rosary, she decided to make her confession to him. For penance the saint told her to say a Rosary and advised her to make it’s recitation her daily practice.

“But, Father, “ she protested, “I already say so many prayers and practice so many exercises…I walk the Stations of Rome every day, I wear sack-cloth and a hair-shirt, I scourge myself several times a week, and often fast…”

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St. Dominic insistently advised that she adopt the recitation of the Rosary, but she would not hear it. Moreover, she left the confessional horrified at the methods of this new spiritual director who wanted to impose on her a devotion for which she had no taste.

One day, when she was saying her prayers, she was shown a vision. In this vision she saw her soul appear before the Supreme Judge. She also saw St. Michael holding the scale of her life. On one side he placed all her prayers and penances, and on the other all her sins and imperfections. Down went the scale on the side of sins and imperfections, outweighing all her good works.

Wide eyed, the good lady cried out for mercy, and turned to Our Lady imploring her help. Our Lady then gently set down on the tray of her good works the only Rosary she had ever said, which was the one St. Dominic had imposed on her as a penance.

This one Rosary was so heavy that it outweighed all her sins as well as good works.

Our Lady then reproved her for having refused to follow the counsel of her son Dominic and for refusing to adopt the practice of the daily recitation of the Rosary.

When the lady came to, she rushed to St. Dominic and casting herself down at his feet, told him what had happened. She begged forgiveness for her unbelief, and promised to say the Rosary faithfully every day. By this means she grew in holiness, and finally attained the glory of eternal life.

Thus says St. Louis de Montfort, “You who are people of prayer, learn from this the power, the value and the importance of this devotion of the holy Rosary when it is said with meditation on the mysteries.”

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St. Dominic insistently advised that she adopt the recitation of the Rosary, but she would not hear it. 

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