Sunday, 7 December 2014

The Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception when Catholics commemorate the spotless conception of the Mother of God and Thomists commemorate the fact that even the greatest of us make mistakes. Happy feast day to everyone.

For those unclear, the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is not the belief that Mary was a virgin when she conceived Jesus but that she was, at the time of her own conception,  free from original sin. It had long been held in the Catholic Church that the Mother of Christ lived a sinless life. There was, however, debate over exactly when and how her sinlessness was accomplished. Since the high middle ages, the debate had largely been between those who held that Mary, like St. John the Baptist, had been born with original sin but sanctified in the womb and those who held the position which came to be known as the Immaculate Conception.

In 1854, Bld. Pope Pius IX judged it prudent to end the debate and issued the Bull Ineffabillis Deus in which he infallibly defind that Mary, through a pre-emptive act of Christ's grace, was from her first conception, kept entirely free from all stain of original sin. Please note the words "by a pre-emptive act of Christ's grace". Mary, was a human and, like every other human, would, in the natural order of events, be subject to original sin, the same as everyone else. It was only by the application of Christ's merits that this was avoided. Christ is Mary's saviour just as much as He is anyone else's and she was as much in need of his grace as you or I.

A few days ago, responding to James White on the alleged 'worship' of Mary, I stressed that God is worshipped as the source of grace while Mary is honoured as the greatest and fullest recipient of that grace. In a fundamental sense, the Immaculate conception is not about Mary, it is about the grace of Christ. In summing up his belief in the doctrine, the great Franciscan theologian, Bld. Duns Scotus declared: "God was able to do it; it was fitting that God should do it; God did it." Note please that there is nothing here about Mary, the focus is on the act of God.

None of this, of course, is to take away from the love and veneration which Catholics ought to have for the mother of our Divine Saviour. We ought to love the one upon whom the God we worship has bestowed such amazing gifts; we ought to love the one whose 'yes' enabled our Saviour to be born; we ought to love she who provided such a good and loving home and family for the Incarnate Word. In all of this, however we must remember that we are loving and honouring what God made her to be.

St. Augustine of Hippo famously declared that when God crowns our merits He is only crowning His own gifts. This is particularly true in the case of the most gifted and most meritorious of all of God's creatures.

When Our Lady visited St. Elizabeth, she sang the song, the Magnificat, which has become so beloved of the Church and so central to her liturgy. In that song, Our Lady celebrates the wonderful things God has done for her. On this day, we should likewise celebrate the wonderful things the our Creator has done for our fellow creature, the woman He chose to be mother of His Son.

No comments:

Post a Comment