Monday, December 8, 2014

Little Teaching: The Immaculate Conception



The beautiful thing about the Catholic Church is that we are very much a family. We have our Father in Heaven, our Brother Jesus, and all of our brothers and sisters in the Communion of Saints. And no family is complete without the presence and love of a Mother.

Mary, the Mother of Christ Jesus, is our Mother, too. She is your Mother.

Today, we celebrate one of the most beautiful Marian Feast days, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (which is also a holy day of obligation, by the way, so get yourself to mass!).

Many people are confused about the Immaculate Conception, believing that it refers to the the conception of Jesus in Mary's womb (it does not; that is the Annunciation, or the Incarnation), or that it refers to the Virgin Birth (it does not; that is the Nativity, or Christmas).

The Immaculate Conception refers to and celebrates the conception of Mary in her own mother's womb. She was conceived in the usual way, by her two married parents, St. Anne and St. Joachim, so that was not the extraordinary part. What is extraordinary is the fact that from the moment of Mary's conception, she was without the stain of Original Sin. She was immaculate, and she stayed that way her whole life. 

On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX infallibly defined this ancient Christian teaching in this way:

"We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful."

Some Catholics fully embrace this doctrine of Mary's sinlessness, yet still misunderstand why Mary was conceived without sin. Some people (even some priests) erroneously believe that Mary had to be sinless in order to carry a sinless Jesus in her own womb, so as not to pass along Original Sin to her Divine Son through her flesh. They believe that the Immaculate Conception was necessary

But that is not true. Because if it were necessary for a woman to be without sin in order to bear a child without sin, then St. Anne would have had to be sinless to bear a sinless Mary, and the same would have to be true for St. Anne's mother, and on and on all the way back through the generations. Clearly, that is not the case. 

Rather than "necessary", the words of the Church are that it was "wholly fitting" that God would preserve the Blessed Mother from any taint or impurity. She is the Holy Vessel who would house the Word Incarnate in her own body. Just as the Old Testament Ark of the Covenant was made of the purest gold to house the Word of God, the Ark of the New Covenant (Mary) would be made of purest flesh to house the Word of God made Flesh (Jesus). She was, literally, the Holy of Holies. 

And so it is fitting that we honor Mary, the Immaculate Conception, on this beautiful feast day dedicated to her singular privilege as the Fairest Daughter of the Father. Praise God Who gave us, literally, the perfect Mother. 

The Immaculate Conception, by Tiepolo





12 comments:

  1. As I read this, I kept thinking of things to say in a comment, but, as usual, you nailed it. I didn’t know that the “wholly fitting” part came from Pope Pius IX. I just remember my wife explaining it: “If you could make your own mother, wouldn’t she be perfect?”

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  2. Why doesn't God just immaculately conceive everybody? Then we wouldn't have to go through all this other stuff.

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  3. Why doesn't God just immaculately conceive everybody? Then we wouldn't have to go through all this other stuff.

    He did. Then we fell. The "free will" thing gets us every time.

    "For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me." Romans 7:19-20

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  4. Nubby, exactly. And He had to give us free will, or else we would not be free to choose love.

    One other thing: Being Immaculate does not mean that Mary was not subject to temptation, or even that she could not have chosen sin. She still had free will. She could have chosen sin, and she did not.

    And remember, Mary, even though Immaculate, DID have to go through "all this other stuff". She suffered greatly. She went through all the same sufferings we do, and even more so because she was without sin, and those without sin feel the effects of sin more keenly than sinners.

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  5. I ask people why God doesn't show himself. They say that would take people's free will to believe away. Why didn't Mary lose her free will when the angel appeared to her?

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  6. I ask people why God doesn't show himself. They say that would take people's free will to believe away.

    It takes free will to exercise eyes of faith. It's our job to cooperate with that grace.



    Because neither the angel nor God came to take anything, nor trample her free will. On the contrary, the angel appeared to ask her permission. The angel even exalted her- a higher creature exalting to a lower creature. Magnificent. He came to ask if she'd be willing to go through with God's plan, lockstep, even though she could not imagine how this would be. The only thing he came to take away was her anxiousness. God is a God of peace, even when He asks us to do something seemingly impossible.

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  7. Why didn't Mary lose her free will when the angel appeared to her?

    This did not copy in my post above.

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  8. Because neither the angel nor God came to take anything, nor trample her free will. On the contrary, the angel appeared to ask her permission. The angel even exalted her- a higher creature exalting a lower creature. Magnificent. He came to ask if she'd be willing to go through with God's plan, lockstep, even though she could not imagine how this would be. The only thing he came to take away was her anxiousness. God is a God of peace, even when He asks us to do something seemingly impossible.

    Typos go away ... this should make more sense.

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  9. Night Cruller, JPII once said that people ask, "Why doesn't God come close to us?" The problem, he said, was that God came too close. He walked among us. He suffered with us. He was right there, we could (and can still, in the Eucharist), touch him. But being so close meant that some of us cannot see. But he has shown himself and made himself vulnerable and offered himself. He is here, he has always been here. And for 33 years, he walked on this earth among us.

    Humans don't lose their free will until their will is fixed at death. He gives us till the last moment to turn to him, or to reject him.

    Four humans in all the world were sinless from the beginning of their earthly lives: Adam and Eve; Jesus and Mary.

    Adam and Eve could have obeyed forever but chose to sin.
    Jesus could never have chosen sin.
    Mary could have sinned but chose to remain obedient.

    Jesus and Mary, the New Adam and the New Eve, undid the sin of the first Adam and Eve. Mary's "yes" was the counter to Eve's "no".

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  10. My pastor gave a great homily about this talking about how God equips us with the graces we need for the job He wants us to do. Since Mary had such a huge job, it is fitting that He started equipping her with His grace from the moment of her conception.

    However, like all of us, Mary could have still refused to go along with His plans for her (just as many of us do), but instead she said "yes".

    It made me really look at my own vocation and other plans that God might have for me in a different way.

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