I am the Immaculate Conception
These are the words Our Lady said to Saint Bernadette Sobirous, when asked by the young saint who she was. This was in 1858, four years after Pope Blessed Pius IX had proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, with the bull Ineffabilis Deus, on this day, December 8th, 1854. – after many centuries of controversy over the theological status of this doctrine, as Thomas Guarino aptly describes in a recent article.
And, no, Saint Thomas Aquinas was not ‘against’ the Immaculate Conception; only that Our Lady had to be redeemed, somehow, like everyone else. It was Blessed Duns Scotus, the later Franciscan Scholastic, who opined that Mary was redeemed, but by that very redemption, was preserved from all stain (macula) of original sin, by the merits of Christ which God saw (praevisa) beforehand; fitting, for the Mother of God.
As Pius IX put the matter:
We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, from the first moment 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.
In other words, she was saved before the Saviour took flesh from her, as a unique and unrepeated privilege.
The Immaculate Conception demonstrates the utter gratuity of God’s grace, that He wills to save us by means we may not expect, for all things are at His disposal. And one of the greatest means was one of the least, an unknown and obscure Jewish virgin, living in a backwater town in Israel – can anything good come out of Nazareth? – chosen and fashioned as the greatest and most perfect of all God’s creation. There is a theory that the Devil fell at envy of this future maiden, whom he – the very angel of light – would have to serve as queen. Non serviam, is the opposite response of the Virgin: Ecce ancilla Domini; fiat mini secundum verbum tuum. There really are only two ways.
As Saint Paul declared in his first letter to the Corinthians, (and he may well have had Our Lady in mind)
but God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
So we should rejoice in our humility and lowliness, as did Our Lady, and let the world revel in its apparent and all-too-temporary power, pomp and splendour. For what a man, or in this case a woman, is in the sight of God, said Saint Francis, that he is, and no more.
O Mary, Conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.