Tag Archives: Lourdes

The Other Immaculate Conception

December 8, 2012

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Virgin Mary by Carlo Dolci Photo/JonDissed Licensed under Creative Commons

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


Endnotes

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.

 

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Who is known as the Immaculate Conception and why?

December 6, 2011

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The Virgin in Prayer, Joos van Cleve.

The Virgin in Prayer, Joos van Cleve. Photo/*clairity*. Licensed under Creative Commons.

It’s  logical to conclude that the Immaculate Conception refers to Christ because the Gospel at the Dec. 8 Solemnity Mass is about our Lord’s conception.

But the title and the feast day belong to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Her conception isn’t explicitly mentioned in the bible, so it’s also logical to ask on what basis the Church teaches that her conception was immaculate.

Probably the strongest argument for Mary’s Immaculate Conception is that not just anybody could become the mother of God without a lot of grace.

The Vatican II document Lumen Gentium teaches that the Blessed Virgin:

“gave the world the Life that renews all things, and who was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role. It is no wonder then that it was customary for the Fathers to refer to the Mother of God as all holy and free from every stain of sin, as though fashioned by the Holy Spirit and formed as a new creature.” (LG 56)

In 1854, the long-held Church belief in the Blessed Mother’s Immaculate Conception became Church dogma with foundation in scripture and tradition. Pius IX pronounced and defined that the Blessed Virgin Mary “in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin.”

The Serpent’s Enemy

The first bible passage mentioning the promise of redemption also mentions the Mother of the Redeemer.  After the Fall, God told the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” (Gen. 3:15)

Jesus is the conqueror who comes from the woman’s seed and who crushes the serpent’s head while Mary is the woman who is the enemy of the serpent. Mary’s continual union with grace explains the enmity between her and Satan.

Given from her conception “the splendor of an entirely unique holiness,” the Blessed Virgin is hailed by the Angel Gabriel in Luke 1:28 as “full of grace” (LG 56) The angel’s term (kechairitomene in Greek) is not applied to any other person in scripture. According to Pope Pius, that “showed that the Mother of God is the seat of all divine graces and is adorned with all gifts of the Holy Spirit.”

Through the millenia, Church fathers and theologians have studied the issue of Our Lady’s conception. All insist on her absolute purity and her position as the second Eve. (I Cor. 15:22)

In the fourth century, St Ephraem asserted that Mary was as innocent as Eve before the Falll, a virgin without any stain of sin, holier than the seraphim, the sealed fountain of the Holy Spirit, and the pure seed of God. In mind and body she always was intact and immaculate. During the following century, Maximus of Turin called the Blessed Mother a dwelling fit for Christ, not because of her habit of body, but because of original grace.

In her own words

Another reason to believe Mary is the Immaculate Conception is that she herself has said so more than once in the last couple hundred years.

In 1830 the Blessed Virgin appeared to a French nun named Catherine Laboure and told her to place this prayer on what would become the Miraculous Medal: “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” Then in 1858, only a few years after Pope Pius IX’s proclamation, she appeared to a young girl named  Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, France, and told her, “I am the Immaculate Conception.”

Apparitions don’t  fit well into a logical argument,  but the idea that God provides what we need for the tasks He gives us makes sense. Giving birth to the Savior and raising Him were not small assignments.

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Which Marian apparitions are approved and is devotion required?

September 16, 2011

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Statue of Mary

CNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz

I recently visited the site of the first Marian apparitions to receive episcopal approval in the United States: Our Lady of Good Help near Green Bay, Wis. In 1859, the Blessed Mother appeared three times to a young Belgian immigrant woman and told her to catechize the children in the area. There are some amazing stories associated with Our Lady’s appearance to Adele Brise, especially related to the devastating Peshtigo Fire of 1871.

Even though this story is interesting and the bishop of Green Bay approved these apparitions last December, does that mean they’re formally approved by the Church? Are Catholics required to believe in them?  How many other apparition sites have received formal approval?

If the local bishop permits devotion inspired by the apparition, based on an initial assessment, that permission isn’t the same as formal approval, which recognizes the apparition as being supernatural in origin. Formal approval may not happen for years or even centuries.

Do we have to believe?

All apparitions are considered private revelation because public revelation ended with the Apostles’ deaths (when the New Testament was completed). According to the Catechism,  private revelation doesn’t improve or complete Christ’s definitive Revelation, but it helps us live more fully by it in a certain period of history. (CCC 67)   The Church will confirm an apparition as worthy of belief as a private revelation but Catholics aren’t required to believe it.

Marian experts have estimated that as many as 21,000 Marian apparitions have been reported since the year 1000.  The Holy See has formally approved the apparitions at 12 sites out of 295 it has studied, according to Father Salvatore Perrella, O.S.M., an expert in dogma and Mariology from the Marianum Pontifical Institute in Rome.

Some Vatican-approved apparition sites:

  • Our Lady of Guadalupe, Mexico
  • Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal (Rue du Bac, Paris, France)
  • Our Lady of La Salette, France
  • Our Lady of Lourdes, France
  • Our Lady of Pontmain, France
  • Our Lady of Fatima, Portugal
  • Our Lady of Akita, Japan

A site that’s drawn millions of pilgrims but is not on the “approved” list is Medjugorje, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Investigation of this site is ongoing.

So why should we pay attention to apparitions when there are so many and it’s not always clear if the Church has approved them?

Maybe because they can point us toward heaven. Father Perrella said the Church-approved apparitions manifest Mary’s evangelical mission throughout the history of the Church, which has been to show the way to the Father’s house through faith in Christ.

I didn’t go to the shrine of Our Lady of Good Help because I’m especially intrigued by supernatural phenomena. I just thought that anywhere Our Lady had appeared would be a good place to seek the Lord, bring petitions and pray. What I found at the shrine was peace and a real sense of God’s presence.

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