The Immaculate Conception
Hail, full of grace; the Lord is with thee; blessed art thou among women.–LUKE i. 28.
The extraordinary dignity and sanctity of the Blessed Virgin is made manifest in the words of today’s Gospel. Since she was to become the Mother of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, it was not an ordinary messenger but an Archangel that was sent to announce to her this great dignity. And how worthy she was of such lofty honor the angel declares in his salutation. She is ” full of grace,” the abyss of all heavenly favors; “the Lord is with” her, she possesses holiness beyond all other creatures; she is ” blessed among women,” because, unlike all others, she was never subject to any sin.
I. The meaning of this dogma. I. The Immaculate Conception does not refer, as some non-Catholics imagine, to the virgin birth of our Lord, nor to His sinlessness; neither does it imply on the part of the Blessed Virgin that her conception, like our Lord’s, was divine, in the sense that it was without a human father. 2. The meaning of this doctrine is that, by a singular favor and privilege of God, and through the foreseen merits of her Son, the Virgin Mary, from the first instant of her conception in the womb of her mother, was preserved free from all stain of sin. 3. Original sin is that moral guilt and stain of soul which we inherit from Adam, the moral head of the human race. Sanctifying grace and many other extraordinary privileges were conferred upon our first parents from their creation, but all these they lost through their sin; and the effect of their fall has descended upon all their posterity, with the exception of Christ, who was sinless by reason of the Hypostatic Union, and Mary, who was conceived immaculate by the special favor of God. 4. Hence, the Blessed Virgin from the first moment of her conception was free from sin and endowed with sanctifying grace. Jeremiah and John the Baptist were sanctified in their mothers’ wombs and born free from original sin, but they were not conceived in this state. 5. The grace received by Mary in her conception was far superior to that ever attained by any of the saints throughout their lives, and this grace she never lost, but on the contrary continually augmented in her life. 6. Being a child of Adam, Mary was in need of redemption, not to free her from sin, but to preserve her against sin.
II. Reasons for this dogma. I. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception was not defined until December 8, 1854, by Pope Pius IX, but it had always been taught in the Church as a divinely revealed doctrine. 2. The Holy Scriptures, as interpreted by the Fathers of the Church, contain this doctrine: (a) “I will put enmities between thee and the woman, . . . she shall crush thy head” (Genesis iii. 15). (b) Types of the Immaculate Conception were the ark of Noah, Jacob’s ladder, the burning bush, etc. (c) Many words of the prophets can be understood of Mary’s sinless conception; e.g., what they say about the holy Jerusalem, the ark of sanctification, the house, built by eternal Wisdom, etc. (d) The salutation which the Angel addressed to Mary on the day of the Annunciation implies this doctrine. 3. The Fathers speak of Mary as the supreme miracle, as nearest to God and above all praise; they declare her superior to Eve in the latter’s innocence; they called her the lily among thorns, the virgin earth from which the new Adam came forth, etc., etc.; they hold that sin should not be thought of when there is question of Mary; they call her immaculate, more holy than sanctity, more pure than purity, etc. 4. The Popes have promoted devotion to the Immaculate Conception and have inculcated the doctrine. The Council of Trent in its decree on sin excluded the Blessed Virgin. 5. This doctrine has been universally believed by all classes in the Church, although a few questioned it at different times. 6. The Immaculate Conception was altogether fitting since the Son of God was to take flesh from the Virgin Mary, and He could not permit that His Mother should ever have been subject to His enemy.
LESSONS. I. Rejoice over the Immaculate Conception, for Mary is truly the ” honor of our people.” 2. Ask Our Lady’s intercession against temptation and sin. 3. Praise God for the great privilege granted to our Mother.