The Immaculate Conception
by Msgr. Thomas J. Cassidy
O highly favored daughter. . . Blessed are you among women." (Lk. 1)
In 1854 Pope Pius IX issued the dogmatic declaration that, "From the first moment of her conception," the Blessed Virgin Mary "Was preserved free from all stain of original sin." (Ineffabilis Deus) This was the first of the "great things" which God did for Mary, the daughter of St. Ann. Four years prior to the declaration, the same Pope Pius IX, had named Mary as Patroness of the United States of America, under the title of 'The Immaculate Conception.'
The infallible doctrine of Mary's sinlessness was the culmination of a long history of theological speculation and debate. It was a history of uncertainty, doubt and gradual development. Gradual development of the doctrine was required because there were no scriptural passages which specifically indicate that Mary was immaculately conceived in the womb of her mother. There was, nonetheless, a strong traditional belief in both the Eastern and Western Churches that the passages in the Book of Genesis and in St. Luke's Gospel were inferences that Mary was the woman with whom there was enmity of Satan. Enmity with the woman and with her off-spring. The uncertainty and theological debate went on for hundreds of years. Such eminent theologians as Thomas Aquinas and St. Bonaventure could not accept that Mary's Immaculate Conception was a truth revealed by God. A "Theological breakthrough" came, largely from the reflections of the Franciscan theologian, John Duns Scotus. He introduced the notion of "Preservative Redemption." That concept meant that Mary, like all mankind, had need to be redeemed. Scotus maintained that it was through the anticipated, redemptive merits of Jesus' passion and death that Mary was "preserved free" from the taint of all sin.
Mary's unique position was the privilege bestowed on her by God because she was his chosen "Vessel of Election," through whom God's only-begotten son would assume a human nature. God became the Incarnate God-man, Jesus, when he was born of the virgin Mary.
As we approach the celebration of Jesus' birthday, we are mindful of the prophesy of Isaiah, "For a child is born to us, a son is given to us: upon his shoulder dominion rests. They shall name Him . . . Prince of Peace." (Is. 9)
The universal Catholic Church, recognizing Mary as the Mother of the Redeemer, has called her the "Queen of Peace." Today we are experiencing the sad reality that our nation, of which she is patroness, is not at peace. We are at war. Thousands of our young women and men have lost their lives: hundreds more have been maimed for life. In other lands, countless innocent children, women, men and elderly citizens have suffered the scourge of war. We turn to Mary, our patroness, "Queen of Peace," intercede for us with her son. We pray: "Immaculate Mary, "Queen of Peace" and mother of the "Prince of Peace," intercede for our nation and for all peoples of the world. Amen!"