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Born without Sin: Immaculate Conception of Mary

On Tuesday of this week, we celebrated the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, mother of Jesus and mother of the Church.  The dogma of the Immaculate Conception holds that Mary was free from Original Sin from the very moment of her conception.

In 1467 the feast of the Immaculate Conception was approved by Pope Sixtus IV and the Council of Trent in the next century explicitly excluded Mary from its decree on the universality of Original Sin.  In 1661, Pope Alexander VII forbade any attacks on the doctrine and interest in it waned until early in the nineteenth century.

On December 17, 1830, St Catherine Labouré claimed to have had a vision of the Immaculate Conception.  Catherine was a Daughter of Charity in a convent in the Rue De Bac in Paris.    When she was 9 years old her mother had died.  After the burial service, the little child went to her room, stood on a chair, took Our Lady’s statue from the wall. Kissed it, and said:  “Now, dear Lady, you are to be my mother.”

Visions and Miracles

In her vision Catherine saw Mary, standing on a globe, rays of light emanating from her hands spread out towards the earth.  The apparition was surrounded by an oval frame on which appeared the words; “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”  A voice commanded Catherine to have a medal struck depicting the vision.  The medal was named “miraculous” because miracles were attributed to it.

One of these took place in Belgium on November 9, 1835, when a little girl, Rosalie Ducas lost her sight.  She was only four and a half years of age and was in good health.  Any light or breeze disturbed her so much that she had to cover her face with a cloth folded in four pieces.  Her suffering was a cause of sorrow to many.

The local parish priest gave the family a miraculous medal.  Rosalie’s mother took it and began a novena and also placed the medal around her little daughter’s neck.  By midnight the child had ceased to complain.  On the fifth day of the Novena, her eyes opened. The grateful parents redoubled their supplications to Mary.  On the ninth day, in the afternoon, Rosalie regained her sight completely to the great surprise of the neighbourhood and all who witnessed the event.  The Parish Priest went back to the family and testified that she could indeed see again and all her pain was gone.

Bearer of God

In a papal bull of December 8, 1854, entitled Inefabilis Deus (“Ineffable God”), Pius IX solemnly decreed that “the most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by the singular grace and privilege of almighty God and in view of the merits of Christ Jesus the Saviour of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin, [that this] is believed by all the faithful.”

Mary is viewed as exempt in a unique and exceptional way from the normal and the usual impact of sin, or, more positively that she was given a greater degree of grace (i.e., God was more intensely present to her than to others) in view of her role as the “God-bearer.”  So profound is her union with God in grace, in anticipation of her maternal function and in virtue of the redemptive grace of Christ, that she alone remains faithful to God’s will throughout her entire life.  She is truly redeemed but in an exceptional and unique manner.  Her union with God in Christ was unique from the beginning.

Mother of Mary

So what of Mary’s own mother Saint Anne (also called Ann, Anna, and Hannah-the Hebrew word for Grace), the grandmother of Jesus?  No historical details of her life are known.  She was first mentioned by name in the apocryphal gospel of James.  In art, she is often represented teaching the Virgin to read.  This picture may be English in origin; there are examples from the 13th century in manuscripts at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and in-wall paintings at Croughton in Northamptonshire.

She was also represented with her husband, Joachim at their betrothal or marriage.  The most famous shrine in her honour in England was at Buxton.  She was a patron of various religious guilds from the reign of John in London, and from the 14th century in Bury, King’s Lynn, Lincoln, and elsewhere.

Anne had wanted a child for such a long time that when Mary was born she promised to give her as a gift to God.  When her daughter was three years of age she and Joachim brought her to the Temple to dedicate her to His service.  Ann had the unique role of mother to the most important human being in the history of salvation.

Written By Marie – Therese Cryan

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