165th Anniversary of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception
This year makes the 165th anniversary of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. What did Holy Fathers say then and for other major anniversaries?
On Dec. 8, 1854, Blessed Pius IX released Ineffabilis Deus in which he defined and proclaimed that the Blessed Virgin Mary “in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin.”
It was something the Church always believed. But it wasn’t until 1864 that Pius IX put the unwritten dogma in words.
On anniversaries since then — and even at other times — Holy Fathers have had many beautiful insights and thoughts to tell us about the Immaculate Conception. It’s fitting on this anniversary that we take a look at a sample of them.
At the end of 1953 Venerable Pope Pius XII issued his encyclical Fulgens Corona (Proclaiming a Marian Year to Commemorate the Centenary of the Definition of the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception). The year to celebrate it 1954.
Pius XII said it seems “that the Blessed Virgin Mary herself wished to confirm by some special sign the definition, which the Vicar of her Divine Son on earth had pronounced amidst the applause of the whole Church.” Four years hadn’t ended when she appeared to Bernadette. She was “clothed in a shining white garment, covered with a white mantle and girded with a hanging blue cord, showed herself to a simple and innocent girl at the grotto of Massabielle. And to this same girl, earnestly inquiring the name of her with whose vision she was favored, with eyes raised to heaven and sweetly smiling, she replied: ‘I am the Immaculate Conception.’”
Pius XII said the “foundation of this doctrine is to be found in Sacred Scripture, where we are taught that God, Creator of all things, after the sad fall of Adam, addressed the serpent, the tempter and corrupter, in these words, which not a few Fathers, Doctors of the Church and many approved interpreters applied to the Virgin Mother of God: ‘I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed’ (Genesis 3:15). Now, if at any time the Blessed Mary were destitute of Divine grace even for the briefest moment, because of contamination in her conception by the hereditary stain of sin, there would not have come between her and the serpent that perpetual enmity spoken of from earliest tradition down to the time of the solemn definition of the Immaculate Conception, but rather a certain subjection.”
Then he referred to the visit of the Angel Gabriel. “Moreover, since the same holy Virgin is saluted ‘full of grace’ and ‘blessed among women’ (Luke 1:28, 24), by these words, as Catholic tradition has always interpreted, it is plainly indicated that ‘by this singular and solemn salutation, otherwise never heard of, it is shown that the Mother of God was the abode of all Divine graces, adorned with all the charisms of the Holy Spirit, yea, the treasury well-nigh infinite and abyss inexhaustible of these charisms, so that she was never subjected to the one accursed’ (from Ineffabilis Deus).”
Pius XII reminded this doctrine was unanimous in the early Church and handed down by the Fathers.
He referred to his own dogma of the Assumption in 1950, and said, “the faithful can with greater and better reason turn their minds and hearts to the mystery of the Immaculate Conception. For the two dogmas are intimately connected in close bond. And now that the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven has been promulgated and shown in its true light — that is, as the crowning and complement of the prior privilege bestowed upon her — there emerge more fully and more clearly the wonderful wisdom and harmony of the Divine plan, by which God wishes the most blessed Virgin Mary to be free from all stain of original sin.”
During that Marian Year of 1954, Pius XII issued the encyclical Ad Caeli Reginam (On Proclaiming the Queenship of Mary).
He brought to light how Sixtus IV “touched favorably upon the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin, beginning the Apostolic Letter Cum praeexcelsa with words in which Mary is called ‘Queen,’ ‘Who is always vigilant to intercede with the king whom she bore.’”
Then he again said, “In order to understand better this sublime dignity of the Mother of God over all creatures let us recall that the holy Mother of God was, at the very moment of her Immaculate Conception, so filled with grace as to surpass the grace of all the Saints.” Pius XII quoted Pius IX next: God “showered her with heavenly gifts and graces from the treasury of His divinity so far beyond what He gave to all the angels and saints that she was ever free from the least stain of sin; she is so beautiful and perfect, and possesses such fullness of innocence and holiness, that under God a greater could not be dreamed, and only God can comprehend the marvel.”
In 1904 St. Pius XI issued Ad Diem Illum Laetissimum (On the Immaculate Conception).
He said the first and chief reason to celebrate this anniversary “should excite a singular fervor in the souls of Christians lies for us in that restoration of all things in Christ…For can anyone fail to see that there is no surer or more direct road than by Mary for uniting all mankind in Christ and obtaining through Him the perfect adoption of sons, that we may be holy and immaculate in the sight of God? For if to Mary it was truly said: ‘Blessed art thou who hast believed because in thee shall be fulfilled the things that have been told thee by the Lord’ (Luke 1:45); or in other words, that she would conceive and bring forth the Son of God and if she did receive in her breast Him who is by nature Truth itself in order that ‘He, generated in a new order and with a new nativity, though invisible in Himself, might become visible in our flesh’ (St. Leo the Great): the Son of God made man, being the ‘author and consummator of our faith’; it surely follows that His Mother most holy should be recognized as participating in the divine mysteries and as being in a manner the guardian of them, and that upon her as upon a foundation, the noblest after Christ, rises the edifice of the faith of all centuries.”
Speaking of the feasts of the Immaculate Conception, Pius X details the attacks of rationalism and other false philosophies, how “Jesus Christ [is] now being persecuted, and the most holy religion which he founded! And how grave is the peril that threatens many of being drawn away by the errors that are afoot on all sides, to the abandonment of the faith!...let all, with humble prayer and entreaty, implore of God, through the intercession of Mary, that those who have abandoned the truth may repent.” And how from “experience that such prayer, born of charity and relying on the Virgin, has never been vain. True, even in the future the strife against the Church will never cease, ‘for there must be also heresies, that they also who are reproved may be made manifest among you’ (1 Corinthians 11:19). But neither will the Virgin ever cease to succor us in our trials, however grave they be, and to carry on the fight fought by her since her conception, so that every day we may repeat: ‘To-day the head of the serpent of old was crushed by her.’”
To mark the anniversary on Dec. 8, 2004, St. John Paul II celebrated Holy Mass.
During his homily [all italics are in the original homily], he began by telling everyone how we repeat several times a day Gabriel’s salutation to Mary: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!
He said this great mystery of the Immaculate Conception “never ceases to invite the contemplation of believers and inspires the reflection of theologians.”
“’Full of grace’, ‘κεχαριτωµευη’: in the original Greek of Luke's Gospel, the Angel greets Mary with this title. It is the name that God, through his messenger, chose to use to describe the Virgin. This is how he had always seen and thought of her, ab aeterno (from all eternity).”
He went on:
“With a view to the saving death of the Son, Mary, his Mother, was preserved free from original sin and from every other sin. The victory of the new Adam also includes that of the new Eve, Mother of the redeemed. The Immaculate Virgin is thus a sign of hope for all the living who have triumphed over Satan by the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 12: 11).”
Contemplating Mary, he said, “How sublime an act of the Most Holy Trinity is the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of the Redeemer! Pius IX, in the Bull Ineffabilis Deus, recalls that the Almighty ‘by one and the same decree had established the origin of Mary and the Incarnation of divine Wisdom.’”
As Mary is preserved from original sin, John Paul II continued teaching about the hope that brings to us.
“The first to be redeemed by her Son, she shares to the full in his holiness; she is already what the entire Church desires and hopes to be. She is the eschatological icon of the Church.”
“Consequently the Immaculate Virgin, who marks ‘the very beginning of the Church, Bride of Christ, without spot or wrinkle, shining with beauty’, always precedes the People of God in the pilgrimage of faith, bound for the Kingdom of Heaven (Lumen Gentium, n. 58; Redemptoris Mater, n. 2).”
He added, “In Mary's Immaculate Conception the Church sees projected and anticipated in her most noble member, the saving grace of Easter.”
The saintly pope concluded with a prayer and a triple petition:
“May you guide your children on their pilgrimage of faith, making them ever more obedient and faithful to the Word of God.
“May you accompany every Christian on the path of conversion and holiness, in the fight against sin and in the search for true beauty that is always an impression and a reflection of divine Beauty.
“May you obtain peace and salvation for all the peoples. May the eternal Father, who desired you to be the immaculate Mother of the Redeemer, also renew in our time through you, the miracles of his merciful love. Amen!”