A blessed and joyous solemnity of the Immaculate Conception to all Catholic Insight readers. Pope Blessed Pius IX, Pio Nono, proclaimed the doctrine of Our Lady’s perpetual sinlessness on this day in 1854, in the Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus. Four years later, the Virgin appeared a number of times to the young peasant girl, Bernadette Soubirous at an out-of-the-way grotto in Lourdes in southern France; in the midst of one of the visions, after Bernadette at the priest’s urging asked the ‘beautiful lady’ who she was, the ‘lady’ declared herself, in the local dialect, to be the Immaculate Conception. Bernadette had no idea what this meant, and repeated it to herself, so she could report in accurately to the parish priest.
Our Lady’s sinlessness has always been believed by the Church, a gratuitous gift of God, in creating a creature so beautiful, holy and pure as a fitting home for His own Incarnation. Well, not just a home, for He took the very flesh and blood of the Virgin for His own human nature, which He joined hypostatically to his divine Person.
Our Lady was, in a sense, saved before salvation, and redeemed before redemption, by the ‘foreseen’ (praevisa, as the prayer says) merits of Christ, preserved from that privation of grace and holiness that is the ‘state’ of original sin, inherited from our first parents. She was also preserved, by the cooperation of her own will, from any personal sin, even slight, her whole being, every thought and action directed towards God and His will at each and every moment. A fitting antidote to our world awash in sin and the rejection of God.
As Pius IX put it, following the Church Fathers:
If the popular praises of the Blessed Virgin Mary be given the careful consideration they deserve, who will dare to doubt that she, who was purer than the angels and at all times pure, was at any moment, even for the briefest instant, not free from every stain of sin?
Mary is a sign and symbol of what God intends for all of us, far greater than the primordial happiness of Adam and Eve, to be re-created perfectly to His own likeness, glorified, brought body and soul with Him into heaven, where we will enjoy the beatific vision for all eternity.
There are no words to describe this, as the term ‘ineffable’ implies, nor are there song and poems enough in the world to encompass the beauty and glory of Our Lady. Regardless of how she was depicted, the young and innocent visionaries from Lourdes to Fatima and beyond all admit that the images were never beautiful enough, not even close.
After such a glimpse of heaven, like Saint Paul, their lives were changed forever, as ours should be when we ponder this mystery, that God truly wills the salvation of all men, as a gift, a grace…
All we have to do, with Our Lady, is offer our own fiat. Not a bad deal, that. Why would we say no?