The National Catholic Review

Today may be one of the more misunderstood feasts in the church's liturgical calendar, as a result of the readings selected.  Even many devout Catholics think that the Immaculate Conception refers to the "virgin birth," that is, the birth of Jesus by the Virgin Mary.  (The proximity of the feast to Christmas might contribute to the misunderstanding.)  But the term, a traditional belief that was defined as dogma by Pope Pius IX in 1854, refers instead to the fact that Mary herself was conceived without the stain of original sin and lived her life free of sin.  That confusion may be compounded by the readings chosen for today's Mass, the beautiful story of the Annunciation--that is, the announcement of the Virgin Birth.  (The Feast of the Annunciation is celebrated on March 25, nine months before Christmas.)  Now that we've got that cleared up here is a reflection on today's readings.  Happy Feast Day!



david power | 12/10/2011 - 2:28pm
Take her away boys!
Anonymous | 12/10/2011 - 2:22pm
If belief in the Immaculate Conception is reflective of "a point-blank refusal to think and then to seek refuge in the magisterium", then, I suppose, I am guilty as charged :)
Anonymous | 12/10/2011 - 2:22pm
If belief in the Immaculate Conception is reflective of "a point-blank refusal to think and then to seek refuge in the magisterium", then, I suppose, I am guilty as charged :)
david power | 12/10/2011 - 1:20pm
"There is a world we cannot see. There are things we cannot understand. There are mysteries in a world we did not create.".

To answer your question Maria read the above words and let them be my answer and your unintended reproach for those who think they can know such things.
What you portray as humility Maria is no such thing.It is a point-blank refusal to think and then to seek refuge in the magisterium.
Magisterial positivism Jospeph Ratzinger called this.
Nobody on America has ever really spoken of the Cathechism apart from me ,I have never seen negative comments by others here.I once met Cardinal Schoenborn the editor of the cathechism.
My comment was not against the cathechism but against those who would gleefully trade the uncertainty of life as God made it for a page of cathechism with nice answers to everything.
A copy and paste Faith is not something that interests me and if I am deemed impious for thinking so then so be it.
"There is more in Heaven and Earth than in that Philosophy of yours dear Horatio".  
Anonymous | 12/10/2011 - 12:32pm
i realize that the Cathechism is held in low esteem in these parts; however, we are, none of us, so smart and holy as to imagine that we are not required to subjec t ourselves to it. I often find in these discurssions that we blithely disregard those things to which we do subscribe . We overlook the obvious: our assent to belief in the Immacualte Conception is not optional. I would go further to say that not a few individulas would do themselves a favor by sumitting themselves to truths of our Faith with greater humility. There is a world we cannot see. There are things we cannot understand. There are mysteries in a world we did not create.

David: You didn't answer my question. Do you believe in the Immaculate Conception?
david power | 12/10/2011 - 11:54am
Dear Maria,

I once knew a priest who could quote you the cathechism from front to back without stopping for breath.
If you told him that it was going to rain the following day he would agree or disagree and then give you a quote from the cathechism to back up his statement. 
It did not make him even a jot better a christian.As he I soon discovered was certainly not immaculate. 
I think that Karl Liam is in someway alluding to this type of witness in his last posting.It can often breed confusion. I have tried to read as carefully as possible all of the different responses and appreciate the time people took to respond.Jason ,Karl and yourself as well as Bill.What did I learn as a layman without the mind of Aristotle?I learned that it is very complex.It may appear to some as a beautiful doctrine/dogma but I would say only a liar would claim it to be anything but a very obscure and dense thing to comprehend.Life is not simple.Jesus was simple and went out of his way to be so.Camels ,gnats,needles,seeds ,wells of water ,rocks,loaves ,fishes, this is his choice of words.I can almost see him scratching his head trying to comprehend this teaching.The Church has not been explaining Jesus that successfuly for about a millenium now.That is fine and well when we can get a sword on people's necks but sadly the good old days are gone and that is frowned upon now.What to do?Follow the master.Don't complicate things.Return to speaking of Jesus Christ in a simple fashion and showing that one does not need a million doctrines to comprehend the Gospels.Cut down on the gnosticism(red rag to bulls!).
Again ,thanks to you and Liam and the others and I will say a simple Hail Mary (stopping as Pope Paul did at the most important word ) that everybody here will grow in love of Mary.  
Anonymous | 12/10/2011 - 11:42am
See how they love one another :)
Liam Richardson | 12/10/2011 - 6:16am
The conjuction of responses 16 and 17 are illuminating. In Maria's hyperactive barking of chunk's of catechesis without context, equivocal meaning creeps in that allows Anne's reaction. I will leave it to Maria to figure out how her method leads to the error (it's not all in Anne's head, just to be clear, but reasonably proximate to Maria's approach here and generally). 
Bill Mazzella | 12/9/2011 - 11:01pm
With American incarcerating more people percentage wise than the rest of the world, with people starving and dying without food and basic medical care. what is this obsession for the IC. Mary was concerned about freeing the captives and stating that the "rich would go away empty." Yet the RC fetes the rich and ignores the poor. Where are the priorities.
Anne Chapman | 12/9/2011 - 10:09pm
If someone is born incapable of committing sin (for example, see #16),  how is this virtuous? Her sinless ness is not through any choice or will of her own since she couldn't have committed a sin even if she wanted to. And how does this tie in to the church's teachings regarding free will and sin.This doctrine seems to imply that Mary was created as a puppet-like being rather than as a real human being.
Anonymous | 12/9/2011 - 9:47pm
Immaculate Conception.  Mary’s conception without original sin was a logical preparation for her divine maternity. Since the Child she was to bear would be the All-Holy God, it was unthinkable that His Mother would ever have been stained with sin.
From the earliest times, the Fathers of the Church—like St. Irenaeus in the second century, St. Cyprian in the third century—wrote of Mary as not only immaculate but entirely immaculate, not only spotless but most spotless, that she alone was to be the dwelling place of all the graces of the Holy Spirit, because she was predestined to become the dwelling place of the Son of the Most High.
It is not surprising, then, that in 1854, Pope Pius IX proclaimed the following definition: “The most holy Virgin Mary was, in the first moment of her conception, by a unique gift of grace and privilege of Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ the Redeemer of mankind, preserved from all stain of original sin.”
This means that from the first moment of her existence, Mary was preserved from the common defect of lacking supernatural life. She possessed sanctifying grace from the moment she was conceived. She also possessed the virtues of faith, hope, and charity, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Absolute Sinlessness.  Consistent with the privilege of her Immaculate Conception, Mary was also preserved from all sin. This says more than at first may seem to be implied. Not only did she never actually offend God by even the slightest sin, but she was specially protected from committing sin.
Moreover, since our Lady was conceived without original sin, she was preserved from the one consequence of this sin that all of us so painfully experience. She did not have concupiscence or the unruly desires that are the heritage of all other descendants of man’s original estrangement from God.

I know, I know.
Anne Chapman | 12/9/2011 - 9:32pm
Thank you, David. I hope you will be posting next August too.

Anonymous | 12/9/2011 - 9:31pm
David; I am genuinely confused about what it is that you are trying to say about the Immaculate Conception. Parenthetically, I am not arguing that a love for Mary is consigned to Popes, for goodness sake. Perhaps I am a little slow, but, truly, I don't understand what it is you are trying to say. It sounds like you are saying that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conseption was the product of some over wrought sentimetalism. Eee gads. Also, are you saying that you don't belive that Our Lady was born sinless?
david power | 12/9/2011 - 9:17pm
I have read all of the church fathers on the Virgin Mary and there is a marked decline in terms of quality and devotion after St Bernard.
What was initially an amazing and beautiful devotion becomes nothing more than a theological plaything by the 12th century.
If anybody has read St Gregory and compares him with the writers of the 13th and 14th centuries they will see that all naturalness has taken a walk and the Ivory Tower is in full flow. 
If the Church proclaimed that Our Lady smoked Gauloises cigarettes  most people would trot out some quotes to back it up.Our Lady did not smoke gauloises and I hereby proclaim that infallibly.

I recommend this as a beginning and as an end to Marian studies.The second part is so poor due to the general madness of the theologians involved.The funniest quote from Part 2 was the fact that St Thomas Aquinas did "not explicitly rule against" the immaculate conception.Of course he did not explicitly rule against Newt Gingrich's candidacy either and so what are we to make of that?.
Luther said about the Theotokos "they crammed all of her greatness into that title".The Virgin Mary is so great that there really is no need to add to it ,no need but that of neurosis.        
david power | 12/9/2011 - 8:49pm
I think the attack on Micheal B'S ignorance was meant for me.
I would argue that our love and  devotion towards Mary is far from unbiblical and certianly not limited to the imagination of Popes. 4 OR 5 people have  commented since I wrote and all have just brought out the same old tired and outdated arguments that avoid rather than confront the issue.Did St Bernard err?.I say he did not.His argument was a lot sounder than the emotionalism that lead to the promulgation of the dogma.
Does the fabric of our faith break on account of the sin of Joachim?.Mine does not.Is everybody here that comments and writes on America the fruit of sin?.That is what the question boils down to.Saying otherwise is to make the catholic religion something elitiist and very uncatholic.I say that God does not designate us the collateral damage of sin.
The dogma of the Immaculate Conception is akin to asking what type of tutus the Angels wear when they dance on the heads of pins.
As St Bernard said the Mother of God has no need for our lies.    
Anonymous | 12/9/2011 - 5:34pm
Mea culpa. I provided a non-working link. Hopefully the below link will work:

This is wonderful:

Pius IX, who defined Mary’s Immaculate Conception, had been an epileptic. Even though he had severe seizures he was allowed to remain on at the Seminary, but was told he could never be ordained. He prayed and begged our Lady to cure him of epilepsy. For some time before the perspective ordination he had no seizures. The then Pope intervened and reluctantly allowed him to be ordained, under one condition: that he would never offer Mass alone, but would always for the rest of his life have a Priest next to him in case during Mass he would have another seizure. Now as a Priest he prayed: “Mary, no more seizures, please. Also, would you please spare me the embarrassment and inconvenience of never being allowed to offer Mass without another Priest at my side.”
For several years he continued offering Mass with an assistant Priest, no seizures ever occurred. Finally, the Holy See withdrew the condition and Pius IX vowed that he would spend the rest of his life doing everything in his human power to advance Mary’s honor. On the day he proclaimed the dogma of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, Pius IX declared that this was the happiest day of his life, his opportunity to repay Mary for what she had done for him.
Anonymous | 12/9/2011 - 5:14pm

Ineffabilis Deus
Apostolic Constitution of Pope Pius IX on the Immaculate Conception (December 8, 1854)
Liam Richardson | 12/9/2011 - 4:07pm
The eschatological dimension is, as it is so often, the key to understanding this. The Immaculate Conception is a prevenient foreshadowing of the new creation in Christ. A new creation that is, though Christ, goes beyond a mere restoration to Original Goodness but to Glorification through theosis. 

The feast's lection from Ephesians can be read in light of this: we are all, in God's love, destined for this glory. Mary, in a special way, but we are not a one of us neglected in this. 
Timothy Ross | 12/9/2011 - 1:33pm
Michael B. You seem not to understand the doctrine. The ''Immaculate Conception'' has NOTHING to do with the ''manner'' of Mary's birth. It only states that she was born without ''the stain of Original Sin''. Anne and Joachim's manner of conceiving her is not addressed in the doctrine. 

The entire subject of Maryology has to be viewed in the context of her importance in Western Civilization. (See the many works of Joseph Campbell). The many many mythologies of the ''mother goddess'' are extremely common, and this one is important in the history of the ''humanization'' of the West, (see the many articles on Courtly Love on the web). Almost everything about her is ''non-biblical'', but the process of how and why the ideas about her were developed are very instructive.  
Andrew Russell | 12/9/2011 - 12:34pm
David is right about one thing.  There does need to be more discussion about the Immaculate Conception.  And, there has been much discussion about it from antiquity.

St. Augustine, when acknowledging that all have sinned, excluded the Virgin Mary from that statement. 

I.C. is not about Joachim and Anne's holy and human attraction to each other.

The Immaculate Conception is about God's Grace, preparing Mary from the moment of her creation to say yes to God.  She was given the gift of salvation from her very beginning.  The rest of us get that gift at Baptism.  I am surprised that someone else did not post about this earlier. 

As Fr. Martin reminds us, the Annunciation reading reminds us that the free gift of God's love given to us at Baptism calls us to respond like Mary does, by saying "yes!" to God, even when we are surprised by God's love. 

Thank you Fr. Martin
NORMA NUNAG | 12/8/2011 - 7:18pm
That was beautiful!  Thank you, Fr. Martin.
Michael Barberi | 12/8/2011 - 1:46pm
A most moving and enspiring video. Thanks Jim!
MATTHEW NANNERY | 12/8/2011 - 12:24pm
People may want to google Henry Tanner's Annunciation from the Philadelphia Museum of Art-another thoughful imagining of that moment.
MATTHEW NANNERY | 12/8/2011 - 12:16pm
Yes, padre. Mary has that wonderful ''who me?'' quality that Luke seems to want to get across to the readers of his Gospel.
That sense is there in the calls of Matthew and Jeremiah too. Like Romano with Mary, Caravaggio conveys the feeling very well in his Call of St. Matthew. Maybe there's an artist out there waiting to capture that moment for Jeremiah. His book remains my favorite of the old testament. What a wonderful read.
John Swanson | 12/8/2011 - 12:00pm
I liked this a lot. When you post podcasts or videos, are you able to post the script?
monica carley | 12/14/2011 - 11:25am
When in doubt, Christians consult the Gospels.  Church teachings, visions of mystics, and other traditions should never trump the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Anonymous | 12/10/2011 - 10:51pm
"I went every day for a fortnight, and each day I asked her who she was–and this petition always made her smile. After the fortnight I asked her three times consecutively. She always smiled. At last I tried for the fourth time. She stopped smiling. With her arms down, she raised her eyes to heaven and then, folding her hands over her breast she said, 'I am the Immaculate Conception.' Then I went back to M. le Curé to tell him that she had said she was the Immaculate Conception, and he asked was I absolutely certain. I said yes, and so as not to forget the words, I had repeated them all the way home."

Thursday, March 25, 1858 at Lourdes
The Blessed Virgin Mary to Saint Bernadette

She said so ;)
Anonymous | 12/10/2011 - 1:02pm
I often find in these discurssions that we blithely disregard those things to which we do NOT subscribe.
Anonymous | 12/9/2011 - 11:44pm
# 17 Anne:

490 To become the mother of the Savior, Mary "was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role."132 The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as "full of grace".133 In fact, in order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God's grace
Anonymous | 12/9/2011 - 10:22pm
I don't want to be in any way disrespectful to the Blessed Virgin Mary but this doctrine needs a lotta explaining.
There is not a letter or a word in Scripture to back it up.

David: DOGMA. Doctrine taught by the Church to be believed by all the faithful as part of divine revelation. All dogmas, therefore, are formally revealed truths and promulgated as such by the Church. They are revealed either in Scripture or tradition, either explicitly (as the Incarnation) or implicitly (as the Assumption). Moreover, their acceptance by the faithful must be proposed as necessary for salvation. They may be taught by the Church in a solemn manner, as with the definition of the Immaculate Conception, or in an ordinary way, as with the constant teaching on the malice of taking innocent human life. (Etym. Latin dogma; from Greek dogma, declaration, decree.)
DOCTRINE. Any truth taught by the Church as necessary for acceptance by the faithful. The truth may be either formally revealed (as the Real Presence), or a theological conclusion (as the canonization of a saint), or part of the natural law (as the sinfulness of contraception). In any case, what makes it doctrine is that the Church authority teaches that it is to be believed. This teaching may be done either solemnly in ex cathedra pronouncements or ordinarily in the perennial exercise of the Church's magisterium or teaching authority. Dogmas are those doctrines which the Church proposes for belief as formally revealed by God. (Etym. Latin doctrina, teaching.)

david power | 12/8/2011 - 3:50pm
I don't want to be in any way disrespectful to the Blessed Virgin Mary but this doctrine needs a lotta explaining.
There is not a letter or a word in Scripture to back it up.
Not even a way off random one.
I read some years ago a book on Marian devotion that showed how all of the Church doctors partook in the controversy (it was a sticking point for centuries before it was nailed to the mast) and St Bernard was the most adamant against.
He was the most marian of doctors and a truly spiritual man.
His words in the positive on how to honour and pay devotion to Mary are beautiful.

Is it just disgust at the end of the day with the idea that Joachim could have fancied Anna as a woman ,created by God,and made love to her with  a true and human desire?.At the time that this was promulgated the sight of female ankles was seen as a cause of sin  .We should think of ways of celebrating the Mother of God without a nihil obstat being attached to it.