December 8th, 2017, and the Church celebrates with great solemnity the feast of the Immaculate Conception.
For some time, in the wider populace, this honorable title borne by Our Lady, has been misconceived and attributed to the conception and birth of Our Lord. In fact, Jesus’s birth is covered by the Doctrine of Incarnation (the Word made flesh), while the Immaculate Conception deals with the conception of Mary.
The Immaculate Conception, is the conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary free from original sin by virtue of the foreseen merits of her son Jesus Christ. The Catholic Church teaches that Mary was conceived by normal biological means in the womb of her mother, Saint Anne, but God acted upon her soul, keeping it “immaculate”.
Although the belief that Mary was sinless, or conceived with an immaculate soul, has been widely held since late antiquity, the doctrine was not dogmatically defined until 1854, by Pope Pius IX. Four years after the proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, on the 11th of February, 1858, Our Lady appeared to a young 14 year old girl by the name of Bernadette Soubirous, at Massabielle, about half a mile outside of Lourdes, France.
The “beautiful lady” whose name was unknown to Bernadette from the beginning, was to appear 18 times over the period from 11 February to July 16, 1858. It was after an absence of three weeks from her visits to the grotto in Massabielle to see ‘The Lady’, Bernadette felt a sudden irresistible urge to return there during the night of the 24th/25th March 1858. On the feast of the Annunciation, early in the morning of the 25th, ‘The Lady’ appeared to Bernadette for the sixteenth time, and smiled at her. After approximately an hour in which Bernadette had remained entranced as she gazed upon the beautiful face, the Lady finally gave an answer to Bernadette’s repeated question asking her what her name was:
“I AM THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION”.
This statement from the Lady (who was, of course, the Blessed Virgin Mary) confirms the infallible Doctrine of Pope Pius IX, who had spoken “ex catedra” (from the chair of Peter) four years earlier. He had declared that the Virgin Mary, alone of all human beings who have ever lived, was conceived without the stain of original sin in her mother’s womb.
The Immaculate Conception is no fluke, and Our Lady wasn’t randomly selected to be the Mother of God, and our Mother, too. This was all part of the magnificent plan of God the Father for our salvation, and for the plan of the New Heaven and Earth long prophesied in Scripture that will one day be fulfilled.
For She is the woman spoken of in Genesis 3:15 – “I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.” In the Creation account, we observe the disobedience of Eve, whereas in the Gospel of Luke, Chapter 1:38, hear Mary’s response to the angel’s proclamation: “Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (1:38). She does not, as Moses did, attempt to exempt herself from God’s call. She does not ask Him to choose someone else. No, she accepts (and receives) His Word. This Woman blessed above all other women reacts in humble obedience.
So, it is with great love that we celebrate this magnificent feast day in Our Lady’s honour and concede that from and amongst all women, she is truly blessed.