Wednesday, December 8, 2010
Happy feast day of Immaculate Conception
The Immaculate Conception of Mary is, according to Catholic doctrine, the conception of the Virgin Mary without any stain ("macula" in Latin) of Original Sin. It is one of the four dogmas in Roman Catholic Mariology. Under this aspect Mary is sometimes called the Immaculata (the Immaculate One), particularly in artistic contexts.
The doctrine states that, from the first moment of her existence, Mary was preserved by God from the Original Sin and filled with sanctifying grace that would normally come with baptism after birth. Catholics believe Mary "was free from any personal or hereditary sin".
Mary's immaculate conception should not be confused with the Incarnation of her son Jesus Christ; the conception of Jesus is celebrated as the Annunciation to Mary. Catholics do not believe that Mary, herself, was the product of a Virgin Birth.
From early on in the history of the Catholic Church, in numerous places in the writings of the Church Fathers, the belief is implicitly stated.
In various places the feast of the Immaculate Conception had been celebrated for centuries on 8 December when, on 28 February 1476, Pope Sixtus IV extended it to the entire Latin Church. He did not define the doctrine as a dogma, thus leaving Roman Catholics free to believe in it or not without being accused of heresy; this freedom was reiterated by the Council of Trent. However, the feast was a strong indication of the Church's traditional belief in the Immaculate Conception. On 6 December 1708 Pope Clement XI decreed that the feast of the Immaculate Conception be a Holy Day of Obligation, throughout the entire Catholic Church.
The Immaculate Conception was solemnly defined as a dogma by Pope Pius IX in his constitution Ineffabilis Deus on 8 December 1854. The Catholic Church teaches that the dogma is supported by Scripture (e.g., Mary's being greeted by the Angel Gabriel as "full of grace") as well as either directly or indirectly by the writings of Church Fathers such as Irenaeus of Lyons and Ambrose of Milan.
Catholic theology maintains that since Jesus became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, it was fitting that she be completely free of sin for expressing her fiat.In 1904 Pope Saint Pius X also addressed the issue in his Marian encyclical Ad Diem Illum on the Immaculate Conception.
Blessed Pope Pius IX
Blessed Pope Pius IX (13 May 1792, Senigallia – 7 February 1878), born Giovanni Maria Mastai-Ferretti, was the second longest-reigning elected Pope in Church history, serving from 16 June 1846 until his death, a period of nearly 32 years. During his pontificate, he convened the First Vatican Council in 1869, which decreed papal infallibility. The Pope defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, meaning that Mary was conceived without original sin and that she lived a life completely free of sin. Pius IX was also the last Pope to rule as the Sovereign of the Papal States, which were absorbed into the newly formed Kingdom of Italy.
It was not until 1854 that Pope Pius IX, with the support of the overwhelming majority of Roman Catholic bishops, whom he had consulted between 1851–1853, promulgated the papal bull Ineffabilis Deus (Latin for "Ineffable God"), which defined ex cathedra the dogma of the Immaculate Conception:
We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of mankind, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore should firmly and constantly be believed by all the faithful.
—Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, December 8, 1854
The dogma was defined in accordance with the conditions of papal infallibility, which would be defined in 1870 by the First Vatican Council.
The papal definition of the dogma declares with absolute certainty and authority that Mary possessed sanctifying grace from the first instant of her existence and was free from the lack of grace caused by the original sin at the beginning of human history. Mary's salvation was won by her son Jesus Christ through his passion, death, and resurrection and was not due to her own merits.
For the Roman Catholic Church the dogma of the Immaculate Conception gained additional significance from the reputed apparitions of Our Lady of Lourdes in 1858. At Lourdes a 14-year-old girl, Bernadette Soubirous, claimed that a beautiful woman appeared to her and said, "I am the Immaculate Conception". Many believe the woman to have been the Blessed Virgin Mary and pray to her as such.
In this sense the dogma of the Immaculate Conception defined by Pope Pius IX is also viewed as a key example of the use of sensus fidelium shared by believers and the Magisterium rather than pure reliance on Scripture and Tradition. The Vatican quotes in this context Fulgens Corona, where Pius XII supported such a faith:
If the popular praises of the Blessed Virgin Mary be given the careful consideration they deserve, who will dare to doubt that she, who was purer than the angels and at all times pure, was at any moment, even for the briefest instant, not free from every stain of sin?
The Roman Catholic tradition has a well-established philosophy for the study of the Immaculate Conception and the veneration of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the field of Mariology, with Pontifical schools such as the Marianum specifically devoted to this.