On December 8th, 1854 Blessed Pius IX declared the following a non-negotiable teaching that must be accepted by anyone worthy of claiming the Christian name.
“Wherefore, in humility and fasting, we unceasingly offered our private prayers as well as the public prayers of the Church to God the Father through his Son, that he would deign to direct and strengthen our mind by the power of the Holy Spirit. In like manner did we implore the help of the entire heavenly host as we ardently invoked the Paraclete. Accordingly, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for the honor of the Holy and undivided Trinity, for the glory and adornment of the Virgin Mother of God, for the exaltation of the Catholic Faith, and for the furtherance of the Catholic religion, by the authority of Jesus Christ our Lord, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own: "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."
Hence, if anyone shall dare -- which God forbid! -- to think otherwise than as has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he has separated from the unity of the Church; and that, furthermore, by his own action he incurs the penalties established by law if he should are to express in words or writing or by any other outward means the errors he think in his heart. “
We should ponder these words concerning Our Blessed Lady’s Immaculate Conception. What does this definition mean for us practicing the Christian faith today? If we dig a little deeper we find a buried treasure, which opens for us an ocean of mercy and forgiveness, and even a spiritual freedom that goes beyond any natural freedom we may have. Contrary to modern belief, Our Lady is not a side dish along a main course, which we can choose to pass on to make more room for the main course. In fact, Our Lady is integrally a part of the main course, which is Jesus Christ Himself.
Without the Blessed Virgin Mary’s sinlessness and her fiat to God’s plan of His Incarnation, salvation would not have come about. Far be it for one to dismiss the manner in which Christ chose to take on a human nature and bring salvation to mankind! Those who demean the role of the Blessed Mother in God’s plan should not boastfully claim the name Christian, for they are not. Why then is the Blessed Mother of God such an issue for many who call themselves Christian? The reason is they have been manipulated by diabolical disorientation. The Blessed Virgin Mary is prime target of the devil, and he labors to lead people away from her.
The devil, who desires to lead men to their eternal damnation, constantly seeks to undermine core tenets of the Christian faith. There are three main graces that satan and his minions try to deprive the human race. The first is the Holy Eucharist, the Body and Blood of Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, given to us in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. The second is the papacy, since the pope signifies and promulgates the unity of the Christian faith. The third is the Blessed Virgin Mary, since sin has never touched her, and she represents the most complete assent of faith that any human being can accomplish. As a good friend of mine, a longtime priest of 50 years plus and an exorcist has said many times, “The devil has deprived the Protestants of all three. They have no Mass, they deny the papacy and they deny Mary." The third target of the devil is what I will touch on here, the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The Blessed Virgin’s Immaculate Conception, in which she was conceived without sin, was a gift from God to His mother. Through this gift she brought Christ into the world, His Incarnation. Through her fiat she participated in man’s redemption. Early theologians of the Church referred to her as the ‘New Eve’, and to Jesus the ‘New Adam’. Saint Justin Martyr in the second century illustrates this idea. “(The Son of God) became man through the Virgin that the disobedience caused by the serpent might be destroyed in the same way in which it had originated. For Eve, while a virgin incorrupt, conceived the word, which proceeded from the serpent, and brought forth disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary was filled with faith and joy when the Angel Gabriel told her the glad tidings.... And through her was he born…” We also look to St Ireneaus of Lyon who around the year 200 wrote the following, “Just as Eve, wife of Adam, yet still a virgin, became by her disobedience the cause of death for herself and the whole human race, so Mary, too, espoused yet a Virgin, became by her obedience the cause of salvation for herself and the whole human race.... And so it was that the knot of Eve's disobedience was loosed by Mary's obedience. For what the virgin Eve bound fast by her refusal to believe, this the Virgin Mary unbound by her belief.”
There is a correlation here to Mary’s sinlessness and the fact that Eve also entered into existence without the stain of original sin. Although Eve started off with what we may refer to for lack of a better term, as “original grace” Eve chose to disobey God, and along with Adam plunged the human race into the darkness of original sin. Mary however is unique being that God chose to give her a special grace of avoiding the general fallen nature of the human race after the fall. She not only did not have original sin, she also never sinned because of God's special grace. She is the only human being that has remained pure from the stain of sin. St Ambrose of Milan, doctor of the Church wrote, “Mary, a Virgin not only undefiled but a virgin whom grace has made inviolate, free of every stain." For this the devil hates her more than anyone, since she was never touched by sin. Because of this very fact, she is above the devil and all of those in the angelic realm. She is indeed the Queen of Heaven and earth and the devil fears her because she does more to bring souls to God than any other. She is also the one who crushes his head!
|'Hodegetria' "She Who Shows the Way"|
What then is Mary’s active role in our lives? What does her Immaculate Conception mean to us today? For one, she looks to help us gain the kingdom of heaven, and live a life of God’s fulfillment here on earth. She is God’s chosen instrument of special graces. We petition Our Mother in heaven for her prayers and intercession so that we may be open to doing God’s will and receive God's grace. We can also so look to her and follow her example of perfect obedience to Christ. Her intercession goes hand in hand with Christ’s plan for our salvation and she is our protector. When we ask for her intercession and give honor to her, we also give honor and glory to God, since He is the origin of her intercession. One cannot deny hailing her as “blessed” (Luke 1:48) without insulting God Himself. Although Our Lady has many titles, it is no coincidence that true Christians in the Catholic Church have always hailed her “Blessed” by calling her ‘The Blessed Virgin Mary.’ Why do Protestants deny her this title?
As we welcome the Feast of the Immaculate Conception we would do well to invigorate our love and petitions to Our Blessed Lady. As one without sin, she looks upon us with eyes of mercy and wants to guide us along the way to ultimate union with God. Our Blessed Mother is an integral part of every Christian’s spiritual life. There is no one the devil fears more outside of the God than the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is to her that we cling to as we continue to strive to live a Christian life in a culture that opposes God more and more as each day passes. Devotion to the Blessed Mother is a blessing from God and anyone trying to persevere in the spiritual life today would be a fool to try and do it without her.
St Ephraim the Syrian who died in the year 373 wrote a prayer to which we should make our own.
“O pure and immaculate and likewise blessed Virgin, who art the sinless Mother of thy Son, the mighty Lord of the universe, thou who art inviolate and altogether holy, the hope of the hopeless and sinful, we sing thy praises. We bless thee, as full of every grace, thou who didst bear the God-Man: we all bow low before thee; we invoke thee and implore thine aid. Rescue us, O holy and inviolate Virgin, from every necessity that presses upon us and from all the temptations of the devil. Be our intercessor and advocate at the hour of death and judgement; deliver us from the fire that is not extinguished and from the outer darkness; make us worthy of the glory of thy Son, O dearest and most clement Virgin Mother. Thou indeed art our only hope, most sure and sacred in God's sight, to whom be honor and glory, majesty and dominion, for ever and ever, world without end. Amen.”