Taken from De Fide Catholica
The dogma of the Immaculate Conception is probably one of the most touching among all the dogmas. The reason for this is that it is intimately connected with our very human nature. This dogma concerns our Mother. It reveals a part of the person of Mary. It helps us to understand her better and consequently to love her more.
This dogma came during a difficult time for the Church. You know that the belief in the Immaculate Conception has not always been evident to all throughout centuries. Even the great and genius Saint Thomas Aquinas didn’t think that Our Lady could have been conceived without any sins. He would have been right, if God Himself had not preserve Mary by a unique privilege. It is only after many centuries of theological discussions and reflexions that the dogma of the Immaculate Conception was proclaimed and this took place in the middle of the XIX century which was renowned for its strong rationalism. The Magisterium was forced to intervene many times to refute and correct the numerous errors of this century. Pius IX would condemn them in his famous Syllabus of errors in 1864. In a certain way, I would say that they were already implicitly condemned by the Bull of proclamation of the Dogma: Ineffabilis Deus.
First, because this dogma is a dogma, and, as such, requests the adherence of our Faith. Refusing to give our assent would, ipso facto, exclude us from the Communion of Saints and of the unity of the Church. Secondly, this dogma is Marian. Our Most Holy Mother Mary, who, by crushing the head of the serpent, is victorious over all heresies. And finally, by its content, this dogma is a refutation of rationalism. By declaring that Our Lady, “in the first instant of her conception, by a unique grace and privilege of the omnipotent God and in consideration of the merits of Christ Jesus the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin”, the Church obviously reaffirms the truth of original sin. And through this, she also reaffirms the existence of a supernatural order, which has been wounded by original sin and restored by Jesus Christ. It is precisely in consideration of the Incarnation, and consequently the Redemption, that Mary was preserved from original sin. So, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception truly is at the center of our Faith. It sheds a new light on the mystery of the Incarnation and cannot be understood without it.
The Second Vatican Council has recently given more precision to the explanation of dogma stating that Our Lady was “Redeemed by reason of the merits of her Son and united to Him by a close and indissoluble tie. She is endowed with the high office and dignity of being the Mother of the Son of God, by which account she is also the beloved daughter of the Father and the temple of the Holy Spirit. Because of this gift of sublime grace she far surpasses all creatures, both in heaven and on earth.”
Though the dogma was proclaimed only recently, the belief in the Immaculate Conception had already been liturgically expressed for many centuries by the Church. Pope Sixtus IV approved the liturgical celebration of the feast of the Immaculate Conception in 1477. Then, Clement XI made this feast a universal one in 1708. Finally, Our Lady herself recognized her title. She presented herself to Saint Catherine Labouré as being conceived without sin. And she ratified the Bull of Pius IX four years later by telling Saint Bernadette: Que soy era immaculada councepciou.
What a beautiful privilege! What a beautiful gift from God! What a great dignity for Mary! As Cardinal Journet says, “The Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary was already a first degree in the union with the Divine purity. This union would reach its peek in the Incarnation." Mary knew it. She knew that she had been preserved by God in order to become the Mother of the Savior, the Mother of God. She has been consecrated for a unique mission in the History of men. The sign of this consecration is her virginity, the beautiful expression of her Immaculate Conception. Immaculate Conception and Blessed Virgin are precisely two names of Mary. They express who she is. Denying one of them is denying Mary herself and denying her is denying the work of God. It is reducing the mystery of the Incarnation to a pure human concept. It is a rationalization of the Mystery. This is a frequent temptation because we would like to understand the mysteries, but we cannot because they are above our reason.
Yet, God gives us a way to approach Him. The way of the little and of the poor in spirit. It is the way of humility, the way of Mary. We don’t understand the Mystery of the Immaculate Conception. Then what? With Dom Delatte we say: “What does it matter if those truths are above our intelligence? It is already a joy for us to not be able to measure and to mumble when the supernatural beauty of the Blessed Virgin is spoken about. It is by excellence the field of God’s liberty and liberality.”
What can we say about the Immaculate Conception of Mary? Dom Delatte says again that in this matter, "we miss the appreciation and the measure of the appreciation." We can only say with Saint Anselm and the entire Catholic Tradition that the Supernatural beauty of Mary is such that no greater beauty can be found except in God. All the works of God are wonderful – Mirabilia facta sunt – but Our Lady exceeds all of them, because she is the Mother of the Incarnate Word.
How is it possible that so many Christians don’t see that? Why don’t they understand or why don’t they want to understand? How can they say that glorifying Mary is belittling God? Admiring the gem made by the hands of the jeweler is recognizing his ability. Mary is the purest creature made by God and recognizing this can only compel us to glorify God more. Our Lady, better than anyone can say these words of Saint John: De plenitudine ejus omnes nos accepimus et gratiam pro gratia - of his fulness we all have received, and grace for grace.
Mary has received all from God and she renders all to God. We, her children, want to do nothing else but to render grace for grace with her to God our Father. May Our Lady, the Immaculate Conception, lead us on the way of humility – her way – so that we can return to Our Father from whom we come.
-Fr Laurent Demets, FSSP