Why did Our Lady call herself the Immaculate Conception when she appeared to St. Bernadette in Lourdes more than 150 years ago? If she’d called herself the Mother of God or Holy Virgin, the French authorities might not have given St. Bernadette such a hard time.
It turns out that Immaculate Conception is the Blessed Mother’s married name.
No, that doesn’t mean St. Joseph is Mr. Immaculate Conception. According to St. Maximilian Kolbe, “Immaculate Conception” is the name Mary shares with her spiritual spouse, the Holy Spirit. Since she’s a creature and He is God what brings them together so intimately that they share a name? As St. Maximilian writes, it has to do with their unique relationship and the Divine fruit of their union: Jesus.
Preparation for her vocation
What exactly is the Immaculate Conception? In the Blessed Mother’s case it means that from the beginning of her existence God willed that she would be free of original sin and filled with sanctifying grace. The Church teaches that He gave her this special grace to prepare her to be the mother of Christ. As the Catechism states,
“…In order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God’s grace.” (CCC490)
I learned about this recently while reading Fr. Michael Gaitley’s 33 Days to Morning Glory, a preparation for Marian consecration. (It’s a great book that presents Marian consecration from the point of view of not only St. Maximilian but also St. Louis de Montfort, Bl. Mother Teresa and Bl. John Paul II.)
A human being, Mary was conceived. But obviously the Holy Spirit wasn’t. So what makes Him the Immaculate Conception? Father Gaitley explains St. Maximilian’s thought that the Holy Spirit is the uncreated Immaculate Conception because He is the Life and Love that springs from the love of the Father and the Son.1
In Dwight P. Campbell’s Catholic Culture article, he quotes St. Maximilian as saying that the Holy Spirit is “the flowering of the love of the Father and the Son. If the fruit of created love is a created conception, then the fruit of divine Love, that prototype of all created love, is necessarily a divine ‘conception.’” This Love is the model for all the conceptions that multiply life throughout the whole universe.
The Holy Spirit makes Mary fruitful
Clearly, fruitfulness is part of this. Where does Mary fit into this? Because the Holy Spirit is fruitful He produces divine life in her in the womb of her soul which makes her his spouse, the Immaculate Conception, St. Maximilian writes.2
“In a much more precise, more interior, more essential manner, the Holy Spirit lives in the soul of the Immaculata, in the depths of her very being. He makes her fruitful, from the very first instant of her existence, all during her life, and for all eternity.”3
Because of the grace of her Immaculate Conception, Mary is totally receptive to God’s love, Campbell states. She receives that love at the Annunciation and “in cooperation with the Holy Spirit makes that love fruitful — infinitely so — in conceiving the Incarnate Word.”
The fruit of the uncreated Immaculate Conception and the created Immaculate Conception is Jesus! St. Maximilian said it makes sense that as a married couple and as parents, the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Mother would share the same name.
“…If among human beings the wife takes the name of her husband because she belongs to him, is one with him, becomes equal to him and is, with him, the source of new life, with how much greater reason should the name of the Holy Spirit, who is the divine Immaculate Conception, be used as the name of her in whom he lives as uncreated Love, the principle of life in the whole supernatural order of grace?”4
1 33 Days to Morning Glory, Fr. Michael Gaitley (Marian Fathers of the Immaculate Conception of the B.V.M, 2011), p. 52.
2 Ibid., p. 54.
3 Ibid., pp. 53-54.
4 Ibid. p. 54.