Butler's Lives of the Saints - Vol. V
Edited By Rev. Bernard Kelly
+ Imprimatur 1936
The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
So great are the advantages we reap from the incarnation of the Son of god that to contemplate it, and to thank and praise him for the same, ought to be the primary object of all our devotions and the employment of our whole lives. In the feast of the Conception of the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God we celebrate the joyful dawning of that bright day of mercy, the first appearance which the most glorious of all pure creatures made in the world, with those first seeds of grace which produced the most admirable fruit in her soul. Her conception was itself a glorious mystery, a great grace, and the first effect of her predestination. Her Divine Son, the eternal God, in the first moment of her being, considered the sublime dignity to which he had decreed to raise her, and remembered that august, dear, sacred, and verbal name of his mother, which she was one day to bear; and he beheld her with a complacency, and distinguished her in a manner, suitable to so near a relation she was to bear. He called her not his servant in whom he gloried, as he did Israel (Isa. xlix.3.), but his mother, whom for the sake of his own glory he decreed exceedingly to exalt in grace and glory. From that instant the eternal Word of God, which was to take flesh of her, looked upon it as particularly incumbent on him, in the view of his future incarnation, to sanctify this virgin, to enrich her with his choicest gifts, and to heap upon her the most singular favors with a profusion worthy his omnipotence. From that very moment he prepared her to be his most holy tabernacle. When Almighty God commanded a temple to be built to his honor in Jerusalem, what preparations did he not ordain! What purity did he not require in the things that belonged to that work, even in the persons and materials that were employed in it! David, though a great saint, was excepted against by God, because he had been stained with blood spilt in just wars. Again what purifications, consecrations, rites, and ceremonies did he not order to sanctify all the parts of the building! This for a material temple in which the ark was to be placed, and men were to offer their homage’s and sacrifices to his adorable Majesty. What, then, did he not do for Mary in spiritually decking her, whose chaste womb was to be his living tabernacle, from whose pure flesh he was to derive his own most holy body, and of whom he would himself be born!
The first condition in the spiritual embellishing of a soul is perfect purity, or cleanness from whatever can be a blot or stain in her. A skillful statuary is careful, in the first place, that there be no irregularity or deformity in the piece which he is going to carve. Almighty God therefore was pleased to preserve this holy Virgin from contracting any stain of sin, grace, the greatest saints daily fall into venial sins of surprise and inadvertence, through a neglect of a universal watchfulness over all the secret motions of their hearts in the course of action. But Mary was distinguished by this rare privilege, and by the succor of an extraordinary grace was so strengthened that her interior beauty was never sullied with the least spot, and charity or the divine love never suffered the least remission or abatement in her soul; but from the moment in which she attained the use of reason, increased, and she continually pressed forward with fresh ardor towards the attainment of higher perfection in virtue and holiness. Her exemption from original sin was yet a more extraordinary privilege of grace. It is an undoubted truth (A few sentences of the author have been altered here, in consequence of the solemn definition of the Immaculate Conception, December 8, 1854- Editor) that she was sanctified and freed from original sin before she was born, and that she was brought into this world in a state of perfect sanctity. It is defined as an article of faith that in very conception she was immaculate. It is needless here to produce proofs by which this doctrine is confirmed. It is founded in the clear testimonies of the most illustrious among the fathers, in the decrees of several particular councils, and the suffrages of the most learned and eminent masters of the theological schools. The very respect, which we owe to the Mother of God, and the honor which is due to her divine Son, incline us to believe this privilege most suitable to her state of spotless sanctity. St. Austin thought this reason sufficient for exempting her, whenever mention is made of sin. "Our of reverence," says he, "and for the honor which is due to her Son, I will have no question put about her when we speak of any sin." (St. Aug. I, de Nat. et Grat. c. 36,, n. 42, p. 144.) Christ was no less her Redeemer, Reconciler, and most perfect Saviour and benefactor, by preserving her from this taint, than he would have been by cleaning her from it: as by descending from Adam she was liable to this debt, and would have contracted the contagion had she not been preserved from it through the grace and merits of her Son.
to understand how great a grace and how singular a prerogative this total exemption from all sin was in Mary, we may take a survey of the havoc that monster made amongst men from the beginning of the world, existence in sin; they were all obliged to say with St. Paul, "We were the children of weather, even as the rest." (Ephez. x.3.) The fall of our first father Adam involved all mankind in guilt and misery. from that time, for the space of four thousand years, sin greened without control on every side. By its dire effects the greatest part of the world was plunged into the most frightful state of spiritual darkness and blindness. Even the sons of light were under its slavery; Abraham, Moses, Elias, Jeremy, Job, and all the other saints confessed with David, "Behold, I was conceived in iniquities, and in sin my mother conceived me." (Ps. l.7.) Sin was become a universal leprosy, a contagion which no one could escape; an evil common to all mankind and infecting every particular individual that descended from Adam. It was communicated with the flesh and blood which men received from their parents, and from their first father Adam. Every child contracted this infection with the first principle of life. Mary, by a singular privilege, was exempted from it, and entered a world of sin spotless and holy.
The grace which exempted Mary from original sin preserved her also from the sting of concupiscence, or inordinate love of creatures, and tendency to evil. The first sin of Adam brought on us a deluge of evils, and by the two wounds of ignorance and concupiscence which it has left in us its malignity has spread its influence over all the powers of our souls. Through it our understanding is liable to be deceived and to be led away with errors; our will is abandoned to the assaults of the basest passions: our senses are become inlets of dangerous suggestions: we are subjected to spiritual weakness, inconstancy, and vanity, and are tyrannized over by inordinate appetites. Hence proceeds in us a difficulty in doing good, a repugnance to our duties, a proneness to evil, the poisoned charm of vice, and the intestine war of the flesh against the spirit. All this we experience and groan under; yet under the weight of such miseries, by a much greater evil, we are blind, proud, and insensible. We court our dangers, indulge and fortify our enemies, and caress an adore idols which we are bound to destroy. To procure for ourselves some part in the blessing which Mary enjoyed, in the empire over our passions, we must check them, restrain our senses, and die to ourselves. WE must never cease sighing to God, to implore his aid against this domestic enemy, and never enter into any truce with him. "Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am weak; heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled." (Ps. vii.3.) If our weakness and dangers call for our tears, we have still much greater reason to weep for our guilt and repeated transgressions. Whereas grace in Mary triumphed even over original sin; we, on the contrary, even after baptism and penance, by which we were cleansed from sin, return to it again, increase our hereditary and weakness and guilt by daily offenses. "Who will give water to my head, and a fountain of tears to my eyes?" (Jer. ix) O, Mother of Mercy, let your happy privilege, your exemption from all sin and concupiscence, inspire you with pit for our miseries: and by your spotless purity and abundant graces obtain for us strength against all our dangers, the deliverance from all our miseries and the most powerful remedies of divine grace.
Mary, in her conception, was not only free from stain, but moreover was adorned with the most precious graces, so as to appear beautiful and glorious in the eyes of God. And the grace she then received was the seed of the great virtues which she exercised, and the higher graces to which, buy the improvement of her first stock, she was afterwards raised, during the whole course of her mortal life. By the first graces she was free from all inclination to accursed pride and from all inordinate self-love, and remained always perfectly empty of herself. This disposition she expressed when honored with the highest graces and exalted to the most sublime and wonderful spiritual dignity; under which, singling lower in her own abyss of weakness and nothingness, she sincerely and purely gave all glory to him. She confessed aloud that he chose her not for any merit, or anything he saw in her, but because he would signalize his omnipotence by choosing the weakest and meanest instrument, and because he saw in her the nothingness in which he most fitly exerted and manifested his infinite power and greatness. By a lurking pride we obstruct the designs of the divine mercy in our favor. The vessel of our heart cannot receive the plentiful effusion of divine grace so long as it is filled with the poison of self-love. The more perfectly it is cleansed and empty, the more it fitted to receive. As the prophet called for vessels that were empty, that hearts that are perfectly empty, when we pray that he replenish them with his grace. The exercise of humility, meekness, patience, resignation, obedience, self-denial, rigorous self-examination, compunction, and penance begin the work: but prayer and divine love perfect the cleansing of the heart and affections by which we shall bear some degree of resemblance to the holy Mother of God. This grace we ought earnestly to beg of God, the preservation of the holy virtue of purity.
The Immaculate Conception of the holy Mother of God was not only in itself a great and glorious mystery, but likewise joyful to mankind. Certain glimmerings of the benefit of our Redemption had gone before from the fall of Adam in several revelations, types, and figures; in which the distant prospect of this wonderful mercy filled the patriarchs and other saints of the old law with comfort and holy joy. but the conception of Mary displayed the first rays of its approaching light, and may be said to have been its rising morning, or the dawning of its day. In this mystery she appeared pure and glorious, shining among the daughters of Adam as a "lily among thorns." (Cant. xi. 2.) To her from the moment of her conception God said, "Thou art all beautiful, my love and there is no spot in thee," (Cant. iv.7.) She was the "enclosed garden," which the serpent could never enter; and the "sealed fountain," which he never defiled. (Cant. iv. 12.) She was the throne and the tabernacle of the true Solomon, and the ark of the testament to contain, not corruptible manna, but the Author of the incorruptible life of our souls. Saluting her with these epithets, in exultation and praise, let us sing with the church, "This is the Conception of the glorious Virgin Mary, of the seed of Abraham, sprung from the tribe of Juda, illustrious of the house of David, whose life, by its brightness, illustrates all churches." (The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was solely defined by Pope Pius IX in The Bull "Ineffabilis Deus," Dec. 8, 1854).
Giveaway in Honor of Our Lady's Immaculate Conception
December 8th, Feast of the Immaculate Conception
The Beauties of the Catholic Church
By: Rev. F.J. Shadler copyright 1881
The Feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Pastor- This evening, as I promised you, we shall speak of the feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Thomas- Of which, it seems to me, there are altogether too many. It was with difficulty I could pick them all out from the calendar.
Pastor- You are not tardy this evening in making your objection, Thomas. If you had, while counting up the number of feasts celebrated in honor of the Blessed Virgin, endavored from one or the other of them to draw profit for your soul, you would have found so rich a treasure, that you would greatly wish for the frequent recurrence of these feasts, and you would not now quarrel about their number.
Thomas- It is true, at the moment I only thought of learning how many there are.
Pastor- And I fear at other times it did not give you great concern to learn how to celebrate them in the proper manner, for otherwise it would have been an easy matter for you to reconcile yourself to their number. The Catholic Church has, indeed, always sought particularly to further the honor and veneration of the Mother of God. Did not God choose the Virgin Mary from among all the daughters of Eve, that she might give birth to his Incarnate Son? How, then, can any one refuse to honor her whom God himself has honored in so marked a manner? And if, among all the children of man, God found none more worthy to receive the sublime dignity of Mother of God, how pure and holy, and how worthy of reverence and veneration, must she have been whom He selected for this sublime office! It was she who bestowed upon his sacred body the first cares, and for the services she rendered him we desire to show our gratitude. And, again, how greatly was she beloved by the Saviour himself, who was mindful of her even upon the cross, recommending her to the tender care of his favorite disciple! How ready we find him to grant her prayers when she solicits favors for others! His first miracle - that at the wedding of Cana - he wrought at her request. These are the reasons why the Church delights to see her children cherish love and devotion to the Blessed Virgin. And the Christians of old did not even wait to be called on to do so, but themselves asked that many opportunities might be afforded them to show their veneration for the Mother of their Lord. Thus it is that the feasts which we celebrate in her honor were gradually introduced.
Simon- And their celebration affords us no less joy thank it did our forefathers.
Pastor- The feasts of the Blessed Virgin Mary are the following: 1. THE FEAST OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION, on the 8th of December/ St. Augustine (Nat. et Grat., c. 36) says: "The honor of the Lord forbids to speak of the Blessed Virgin as having been infected with any kind of sin." In harmony with these words of this illustrious Doctor of the Church, Christian tradition declares that she who was to bring forth the Saviour was free from every stain of original sin, even from the first moment of her conception. (On the 8th of December, 1854, the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary was declared an article of Catholic faith by Pope Pius IX. of blessed memory.) This perfect purity and exemption of Mary from original sin we celebrate on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. While we give thanks to God for having shown such favor to the Mother of the Redeemer, we also beg him, for the sake of Mary, to give us, who have entered this world stained with original sin, the grace to preserve unsullied the purity conferred upon us in the water of baptism. Are you familiar with the picture of the Blessed Virgin called the Immaculate Conception?
Simon- Oh! yes; I have a copy of it at home. The Virgin is represented standing upon a globe; her foot rests upon a serpent, and in her hand she hold a lily. At her feet there is the half-moon, and a crown of stars encircles her head.
Pastor- Your description is perfect. But can you also tell me the meaning of the various objects by which the Virgin is surrounded?
Simon- Hardly. The lily, I presume, indicates her purity.
Pastor- That is right. The fact that she was exempted from original sin by the grace of God, and that the tempter of Paradise never possessed any power over her, is expressed by the serpent, whose head she crushes under her heel. Because of her purity and sanctity she is raised far above all men, and as Queen of earth she is represented standing upon a globe. The moon, every changing - now growing, now diminishing - is at her feet, to show that she was above all earthly change, and free from all vacillation between good and evil. That herm ind ever dwelt on high with God, and was occupied with him alone, is typified by the stars to which she lifts her eyes, and which, like a halo, surround her head to proclaim her sanctity.
Simon- How beautiful and how full of meaning! Now my picture is doubly dear to me.
Pastor- You may not only derive pleasure, but also much profit from your picture, Simon, if you strive to realize in yourself everything it expresses. You were not exempted, it is true, from original sin, but you were washed clean from it by holy baptism; hence it is now your duty to crush the head of the serpent, and never to give ear to the voice of the tempter. It behooves us, therefore, not to allow ourselves to be deceived by his artful devices, and particularly to fly from sin when it seems to us most inviting. We must tightly grasp in our hand the lily - that is to say, carefully guard the purity and sanctity of our hearts; and, finally, we must lift our thoughts and desires above the stars, to God on high, and trample under foot the ever-changing goods of earth, deeming it beneath us, for their sake, to violate the will of our Heavenly Father. Our first mother, Eve, has left us a sorry example; let us as sedulously follow the example of the Blessed Virgin, shown in the picture, as we frequently have followed the the example of Mother Eve, and listened to the voice of our enemy. By her conduct Mary has become the very opposite of Eve; as Mother of the Redeemer, she has brought us blessing and salvation, while Eve brought upon us dire malediction; hence, in a beautiful hymn of the Church, Mary is said to have reversed the name of "Eva," so that it has become "Ave," the Latin for "Hail."
Simon- Please, Your Reverence, make us acquainted with this hymn.
Pastor- I shall be surprised if you are not already familiar with it. However, I will read it for you, and at some other time I will give it to you printed, together with other hymns to the Blessed Virgin. This is the text:
Hail, thou star of ocean!
Portal of the sky!
Ever Virgin Mother
of the Lord Most High!
Oh! by Gabriel's Ave
Uttered long ago,
Eva's name reversing,
'Stablish peace below.
Break the captive's fetters;
Light on blindness pour;
All our ills expelling,
Every bliss implore.
Show thyself a mother;
Offer Him our sighs
Who, for us incarnate,
Did not thee despise.
Virgin of all virgins!
To thy shlter take us;
Gentlest of the gentle!
Chase and gentle make us.
Still as on we journey,
Help our weak endeavor,
Till with thee and Jesus
We rejoice for ever.
Through the highest heaven,
To the Almighty Three,
Father, Son, and Spirit,
One same glory be. Amen.
Welcome to our fourth week of Keeping it Catholic Monday in the Advent series! We only have two weeks left! Imagine that! If you would like to visit our previous posts you may find them HERE.
This week we are sharing about the true St. Nicholas and his feast day on December 6th (this Thursday!) and the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of Mary which is this coming Saturday.
St. Nicholas of Myra (Bari)
There are so many wonderful traditions surrounding the Feast of St. Nicholas. Really we should feature this great saint all week long as its just too much for one blog post. But as time and space allow we will do what we can here. Below you will find his story and afterwards some wonderful links for keeping his feast. We are so excited for this special day and have a box that was sent to us from a friend with a big note to wait to open until the eve of this Saint's feast.
The dutch have a special place in their hearts for our dear St. Nicholas and keep many of the traditions surrounding his feast. You will find wonderful St. Nicholas items and all things Dutch our our friends online shop A Touch of Dutch
, and her physical shop on Whidby Island WA.
Lives of the Saints
, by Alban Butler, Benziger Bros. ed. 1894
December 6.—ST. NICHOLAS OF BARI
.ST. NICHOLAS, the patron Saint of Russia, was born toward the end of the third century. His uncle, the Archbishop of Myra in Lycia, ordained him priest, and appointed him abbot of a monastery; and on the death of the archbishop he was elected to the vacant see. Throughout his life he retained the bright and guileless manners of his early years, and showed himself the special protector of the innocent and the wronged. Nicholas once heard that a person who had fallen into poverty intended to abandon his three daughters to a life of sin. Determined, if possible, to save their innocence, the Saint went out by night, and, taking with him a bag of gold, flung it into the window of the sleeping father and hurried off. He, on awaking, deemed the gift a godsend, and with it dowered his eldest child. The Saint, overjoyed at his success, made like venture for the second daughter; but the third time as he stole away, the father, who was watching, overtook him and kissed his feet, saying: "Nicholas, why dost thou conceal thyself from me? Thou art my helper, and he who has delivered my soul and my daughters' from hell." St. Nicholas is usually represented by the side of a vessel, wherein a certain man had concealed the bodies of his three children whom he had killed, but who were restored to life by the Saint. He died in 342. His relics were translated in 1807, to Bari, Italy, and there, after fifteen centuries, "the manna of St. Nicholas" still flows from his bones and heals all kinds of sick.Reflection
.—Those who would enter heaven must be as little children, whose greatest glory is their innocence. Now, two things are ours to do: first, to preserve it in ourselves, or regain it by penance; secondly, to love and shield it in others.
Links & Resources for St. Nicholas
The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Lives of the Saints, by Alban Butler, Benziger Bros. ed. 1894
December 8.—THE FEAST OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION.
ON this day, so dear to every Catholic heart, we celebrate, in the first place, the moment in which Almighty God showed Mary, through the distance of ages, to our first parents as the Virgin Mother of the divine Redeemer, the woman destined to crush the head of the serpent. And as by eternal decree she was miraculously exempt from all stain of original sin, and endowed with
the richest treasures of grace and sanctity, it is meet that we should honor her glorious prerogatives by this special feast of the Immaculate Conception. We should join in spirit with the blessed in heaven, and rejoice with our dear Mother, not only for her own sake, but for ours, her children, who are partakers of her glory and happiness. Secondly, we are called upon to celebrate that ever-memorable day, the 8th of December, 1854, which raised the Immaculate Conception of Our Blessed Lady from a pious belief to the dignity of a dogma of the Infallible Church, causing universal joy among the faithful.
Reflection.—Let us repeat frequently these words applied by the Church to the Blessed Virgin: "Thou art all fair, O Mary? and there is not a spot in thee" (Cant. iv. 7).
Resources & Links
Keeping Advent Catholic Schedule
Feast of St. Lucy & Guadette Sunday
O Antiphons & Christmas Vigil
DECEMBER 8. THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION OF THE MOST BLESSED VIRGIN. By: Dom Gueranger
At length, on the distant horizon, rises, with a soft and radiant light, the aurora of the Sun which has been so long desired. The happy Mother of the Messias was to be born before the Messias himself; and this is the day of the Conception of Mary. The earth already possesses a first pledge of the divine mercy; the Son of Man is near at hand. Two true Israelites, Joachim and Anne, noble branches of the family of David, find their union, after a long barrenness, made fruitful by the divine omnipotence. Glory be to God, who has been mindful of his promises, and who deigns to announce, from the high heavens, the end of the deluge of iniquity, by sending upon the earth the sweet white Dove that bears the tidings of peace !
The Feast of the Blessed Virgin's Immaculate Conception is the most solemn of all those which the Church celebrates during the holy time of Advent; and if the first part of the Cycle had to offer us the commemoration of some one of the Mysteries of Mary, there was none whose object could better harmonise with the spirit of the Church in this mystic season of expectation. Let us, then, celebrate this solemnity with joy; for the Conception of Mary tells us that the Birth of Jesus is not far off.
The intention of the Church, in this Feast, is not only to celebrate the anniversary of the happy moment in which began, in the womb of the pious Anne, the life of the ever-glorious Virgin Mary; but also to honour the sublime privilege, by which Mary was preserved from the original stain, which, by a sovereign and universal decree, is contracted by all the children of Adam the very moment they are conceived in their mother's womb. The faith of the Catholic Church on the subject of the Conception of Mary is this: that at the very instant, when God united the Soul of Mary, which he had created, to the Body which it was to animate, this ever-blessed Soul did not only not contract the stain, which, at that same instant, defiles every human soul, but was filled with an immeasurable grace which rendered her, from that moment, the mirror of the sanctity of God himself, as far as this is possible to a creature. The Church, with her infallible authority, declared, by the lips of Pius the Ninth, that this article of her faith had been revealed by God himself. The Definition was received with enthusiasm by the whole of Christendom, and the Eighth of December of the year 1854 was thus made one of the most memorable days of the Church's history.
It was due to his own infinite sanctity that God should suspend, in this instance, the law which his divine justice had passed upon all the children of Adam. The relations which Mary was to bear to the Divinity, could not be reconciled with her undergoing the humiliation of this punishment. She was not only Daughter of the Eternal Father; she was destined also to become the very Mother of the Son, and the veritable Spouse of the Holy Ghost; nothing defiled could be permitted to enter, even for an atom of time, into the creature that was thus predestined to contract such close relations with the adorable Trinity; not a speck could be permitted to tarnish in Mary that perfect purity which the infinitely holy God requires in those who are one day to be admitted to enjoy even the sight of his divine majesty in heaven; in a word, as the great Doctor St. Anselm says, 'it was just that this Holy Virgin should be adorned with the greatest purity which can be conceived after that of God himself since God the Father was to give to her, as her Child, that only Begotten Son, whom he loved as himself, as being begotten to him from his own bosom; and this in such a manner, that the self-same Son of God was, by nature, the Son of both God the Father and of this Blessed Virgin. This same Son chose her to be substantially his Mother; and the Holy Ghost willed that in Her womb he would operate the conception and birth of Him, from whom he himself proceeded." [De Conceptu Virginali, Cap. xviii.]
Moreover, the close ties which were to unite the Son of God with Mary, and which would elicit from him the tenderest love and the most filial reverence for her, had been present to the divine thought from all eternity: and the conclusion forces itself upon us, that, therefore, the Divine Word had for this his future Mother a love infinitely greater than that which he bore for all his other creatures. Mary's honour was infinitely dear to him, because she was to be his Mother, chosen to be so by his eternal and merciful decrees. The Son's love protected the Mother. She, indeed, in her sublime humility, willingly submitted to whatever the rest of God's creatures had brought on themselves, and obeyed every tittle of those laws which were never meant for her: but that humiliating barrier, which confronts every child of Adam at the first moment of his existence, and keeps him from light and grace until he shall have been regenerated by a new birth, - oh ! this could not be permitted to stand in Mary's way, - her Son forbade it.
The Eternal Father would not do less for the Second Eve than he had done for the First; yet she was created, as was also the first Adam, in the state of original justice, which she afterwards forfeited by sin. The Son of God would not permit that the Woman, from whom he was to take the nature of Man, should be deprived of that gift which he had given even to her who was the mother of sin. The Holy Ghost, who was to overshadow Mary and produce Jesus within her by his divine operation, would not permit that foul stain, in which we are all conceived, to rest, even for an instant, on this his Spouse. All men were to contract the sin of Adam; the sentence was universal; but God's own Mother is not included. God, who is the author of that law; God, who was free to make it as he willed; had power to exclude from it Her whom he had predestined to be his Own in so many ways; he could exempt her, and it was just that he should exempt her; therefore, he did it.
Was it not this grand exemption which God himself foretold, when the guilty pair, whose children we all are, appeared before him in the garden of Eden? In the anathema which fell upon the serpent, there was included a promise of mercy to us. I will put enmities, said the Lord, between thee and the Woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head [Gen. iii. 15]. Thus was salvation promised the human race under the form of a victory over Satan; and this victory is to be gained by the Woman, and she will gain it for us also. Even granting, as some read this text, that it is the Son of the Woman that is alone to gain this victory, the enmity between the Woman and the Serpent is clearly expressed, and she, the Woman, with her own foot, is to crush the head of the hated Serpent. The Second Eve is to be worthy of the Second Adam, conquering and not to be conquered. The human race is one day to be avenged, not only by God made Man, but also by the "Woman miraculously exempted from every stain of sin, in whom the primaeval creation, which was in justice and holiness will thus reappear in her, just as though the original sin had never been committed.
Raise up your heads, then, ye children of Adam, and shake off your chains! [1 Eph. iv. 24.] This day, the humiliation, which weighed you down, is annihilated. Behold Mary, she who is of the same flesh and blood as yourselves, has seen the torrent of sin, which swept along all the generations of mankind, she has seen it flow back at her presence and not touch her; the infernal dragon has turned away his head, daring not to breathe his venom upon her; the dignity of your origin is given to her in all its primitive grandeur. This happy day, then, on which the original purity of your race is renewed, must be a Feast to you. The Second Eve is created, and from her own blood, (which, with the exception of the element of sin, is the same as that which makes you to be the children of Adam,) she is shortly to give you the God-Man, who proceeds from her according to the flesh, as he proceeds from the Father according to the eternal generation.
And how can we do less than admire and love the incomparable purity of Mary in her Immaculate Conception, when we hear even that God, who thus prepared her to become his Mother, saying to her, in the divine Canticle, these words of complacent love: Thou art all fair, my Love! and there is not a spot in thee! [Cant. iv. 7]. It is the God of all-holiness that here speaks; that eye, which sees all things, finds not a vestige, not a shadow of sin; therefore does he delight in her, and admire in her that gift of his own condescending munificence. We cannot be surprised after this, that Gabriel, when he came down from heaven to announce the Incarnation to her, is full of admiration at the sight of that purity, whose beginning was so glorious and whose progress was immeasurable; and that this blessed Spirit should bow down profoundly before this young Maid of Nazareth, and salute her with, "Hail, Full of Grace !" [St Luke, i 28]. And who is this Gabriel ? An Archangel, that lives amidst the grandest magnificences of God's creation, amidst all the gorgeous riches of heaven; who is Brother to the Cherubim and Seraphim, to the Thrones and Dominations; whose eye is accustomed to gaze on those nine angelic choirs with their dazzling brightness of countless degrees of light and grace; he has found on earth, in a creature of a nature below that of Angels, the fulness of grace, of that grace which had been given to the Angels measuredly. This fulness of grace was in Mary from the very first instant of her existence. She is the future Mother of God, and she was ever holy, ever pure, ever Immaculate.
This truth of Mary's Immaculate Conception, which was revealed to the Apostles by the divine Son of Mary, inherited by the Church, taught by the Holy Fathers, believed by each generation of the Christian people with an ever increasing explicitness, this truth, we say, was implied in the very notion of a Mother of God. To believe that Mary was Mother of God, was an implicitly believing that she, on whom this sublime dignity was conferred, had never been defiled with the slightest stain of sin, and that God bad bestowed upon her an absolute exemption from sin. But now, the Immaculate Conception of Mary rests on an explicit Definition dictated by the Holy Ghost. Peter has spoken by the mouth of Pius; and when Peter has spoken, every Christian should believe; for the Son of God has said: I have prayed for thee, Peter, that thy faith fail not. [St. Luke, xxii. 32]. And again: The Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you. [St John, xiv. 26.]
The Symbol of our faith has therefore received not a new truth, but a new light on a truth which was previously the object of the universal belief. On that great day of the Definition, the infernal serpent was again crushed beneath the victorious foot of the Virgin-Mother, and the Lord graciously gave us the strongest pledge of his mercy. He still loves this guilty earth, since he has deigned to enlighten it with one of the brightest rays of his Mother's glory. How this earth of ours exulted ! The present generation will never forget the enthusiasm with which the entire universe received the tidings of the Definition. It was an event of mysterious importance which thus marked this second half of our century; and we shall look forward to the future with renewed confidence; for if the Holy Ghost bids us tremble for the days when Truths are diminished among the children of men [Ps. xi. 2], he would, consequently, have us look on those times as blessed by God in which we receive an increase of truth; an increase both in light and in authority.
The Church, even before the solemn proclamation of the grand dogma, kept the Feast of this 8th day of December; which was, in reality, a profession of her faith. It is true, that the Feast was not called the Immaculate Conception, but simply the Conception of Mary. But the fact of such a Feast being instituted and kept, was an unmistakable expression of the faith of Christendom in that truth. St. Bernard and the Angelical Doctor, St Thomas, both teach that the Church cannot celebrate the Feast of what is not holy; the Conception of Mary, therefore, was holy and immaculate, since the Church has, for ages past, honoured it with a special Feast. The Nativity of the same holy Virgin is kept as a solemnity in the Church, because Mary was born full of grace; therefore, had the first moment of Mary's existence been one of sin, as is that of all the other children of Adam, it never could have been made the subject of the reverence of the Church. Now, there are few Feasts so generally and so firmly established in the Church as this which we are keeping to-day.
The Greek Church, which, more easily than the Latin, could learn what were the pious traditions of the East, kept this feast even in the sixth century, as is evident from the ceremonial or, as it was called, the Type, of St. Sabas. In the West, we find it established in the Gothic Church of Spain as far back as the eighth century. A celebrated calendar which was engraved on marble, in the ninth century, for the use of the Church of Naples, attests that it had already been introduced there. Paul, the Deacon, Secretary to the Emperor Charlemagne, and afterwards Monk at Monte-Cassino, composed a celebrated Hymn on the mystery of the Immaculate Conception; we will insert this piece later on, as it is given in the manuscript copies of Monte-Cassino and Benevento. In 1066, the Feast was first established in England, in consequence of the pious Abbot Helsyn's [Some writers call him Elsym, and others Elpyn. See Baronius in his notes on the Roman Martyrology, Dec. 8. Tr.] being miraculously preserved from shipwreck; and shortly after that, was made general through the whole Island by the zeal of the great St. Anselm, Monk of the Order of St. Benedict, and Archbishop of Canterbury. From England it passed into Normandy, and took root in France. We find it sanctioned in Germany, in a council held in 1049, at which St Leo IX was present; in Navarre, 1090, at the Abbey of Irach; in Belgium, at Liege, in 1142. Thus did the Churches of the West testify their faith in this mystery, by accepting its Feast, which is the expression of faith.
Lastly, it was adopted by Rome herself, and her doing so rendered the united testimony of her children, - the other Churches, - more imposing than ever. It was Pope Sixtus IV who, in the year 1476, published the decree of the feast of Our Lady's Conception for the City of St. Peter. In the next century, 1568, St. Pius V published the universal edition of the Roman Breviary, and in its Calendar was inserted this feast as one of those Christian solemnities, which the faithful are every year bound to observe. It was not from Rome that the devotion of the Catholic world to this mystery received its first impulse; she sanctioned it by her liturgical authority, just as she confirmed it by her doctrinal authority, in these our own days.
The three great Catholic Nations of Europe, - Germany, France, and Spain, - vied with each other in their devotion to this mystery of Mary's Immaculate Conception. France, by her King Louis XIV, obtained from Clement IX that this feast should be kept with an Octave throughout the kingdom; which favour was afterwards extended to the universal Church by Innocent XII. For centuries previous to this, the Theological Faculty of Paris had always exacted from its Professors the oath that they would defend this privilege of Mary; a pious practice which continued as long as the University itself.
As regards Germany, the Emperor Ferdinand III., in 1647, ordered a splendid monument to be erected in the great square of Vienna. It is covered with emblems and figures symbolical of Mary's victory over sin, and on the top is the statue of the Immaculate Queen, with this solemn and truly Catholic inscription:
TO GOD, INFINITE IN GOODNESS AND POWER,
KING OF HEAVEN AND EARTH,
BY WHOM KINGS REIGN;
TO THE VIRGIN MOTHER OF GOD
CONCEIVED WITHOUT SIN,
BY WHOM PRINCES COMMAND,
WHOM AUSTRIA, DEVOUTLY LOVING, HOLDS AS HER QUEEN AND PATRON;
FERDINAND III, EMPEROR,
CONFIDES, GIVES, CONSECRATES. HIMSELF,
CHILDREN, PEOPLE, ARMIES, PROVINCES,
AND ALL THAT IS HIS,
AND ERECTS IN ACCOMPLISHMENT OF A VOW
THIS STATUE, AS A PERPETUAL MEMORIAL.
But the zeal of Spain for the privilege of the holy Mother of God surpassed that of all other nations. In the year 1398, John I King of Arragon, issued a Chart, in which he solemnly places his person and kingdom under the protection of Mary Immaculate. Later on, Kings Philip III. and Philip IV. sent ambassadors to Rome, soliciting, in their names, the solemn definition, which heaven reserved, in its mercy, for our days. King Charles III. in the last century, obtained permission from Clement XIII., that the Immaculate Conception should be the patronal feast of Spain. The people of Spain, so justly called the Catholic Kingdom, put over the door, or on the front of their houses, a tablet with the words of Mary's privilege written on it; and when they meet, they greet each other with an expression in honour of the same dear mystery. It was a Spanish Nun, Mary of Jesus, Abbess of the Convent of the Immaculate Conception of Agreda, who wrote God's Mystic City, which inspired Murillo with his Immaculate Conception, the master-piece of the Spanish School.
But, whilst thus mentioning the different nations which have been foremost in their zeal for this article of our holy faith, the Immaculate Conception, - it were unjust to pass over the immense share which the Seraphic Order, the Order of St. Francis of Assisi, has had in the earthly triumph of our Blessed Mother, the Queen of heaven and earth. As often as this feast comes round, is it not just that we should think with reverence and gratitude on him, who was the first theologian that showed how closely connected with the divine mystery of the Incarnation is this dogma of the Immaculate Conception? First, then, all honour to the name of the pious and learned John Duns Scotus! And when at length the great day of the Definition of the Immaculate Conception came, how justly merited was that grand audience, which the Vicar of Christ granted to the Franciscan Order, and with which closed the pageant of the glorious solemnity! Pius the Ninth received from the hands of the children of St. Francis a tribute of homage and thankfulness, which the Scotist School, after having fought four hundred years in defence of Mary's Immaculate Conception, now presented to the Pontiff.
In the presence of the fifty-four Cardinals, forty-two Archbishops, and ninety-two Bishops; before an immense concourse of people that filled Saint Peter's, and had united in prayer, begging the assistance of the Spirit of Truth; the Vicar of Christ had just pronounced the decision which so many ages had hoped to hear. The Pontiff had offered the Holy Sacrifice on the Confession of Saint Peter. He had crowned the Statue of the Immaculate Queen with a splendid diadem. Carried on his lofty throne, and wearing his triple crown, he had reached the portico of the basilica; there he is met by the two representatives of St Francis: they prostrate before the throne: the triumphal procession halts: and first, there advances the General of the Friars Minor Observantines; he presents to the Holy Father a branch of silver Lilies: he was followed by the General of the Conventual Friars, holding in his hand a branch of silver Roses. The Pope graciously accepted both. The Lilies and the Roses were symbolical of Mary's purity and love; the whiteness of the silver was the emblem of the lovely brightness of that orb, on which is reflected the light of the Sun; for, as the Canticle says of Mary, "she is beautiful as the Moon." [Cant. vi. 9.] The Pontiff was overcome with emotion at these gifts of the family of the Seraphic Patriarch, to which we might justly apply what was said of the Banner of the Maid of Orleans: "It had stood the brunt of the battle; it deserved to share in the glory of the victory." And thus ended the glories of that grand morning of the Eighth of December, Eighteen-hundred and Fifty-four. It is thus, O thou the humblest of creatures, that thy Immaculate Conception has been glorified on earth! And how could it be else than a great joy to men, that thou art honoured by them, thou the aurora of the Sun of Justice? Dost thou not bring them the tidings of their salvation? Art not thou, O Mary, that bright ray of hope, which suddenly bursts forth in the deep abyss of the world's misery? What should we have been without Jesus? and thou art his dearest Mother, the holiest of God's creatures, the purest of virgins, and our own most loving Mother!
How thy gentle light gladdens our wearied eyes, sweet Mother! Generation had followed generation on this earth of ours. Men looked up to heaven through their tears, hoping to see appear on the horizon the Star, which they had been told should disperse the gloomy horrors of the world's darkness; but death came, and they sank into the tomb, without seeing even the dawn of the Light, for which alone they cared to live. It was for us that God had reserved the blessing of seeing thy lovely rising, O thou fair Morning Star ! which sheddest thy blessed rays on the sea, and bringest calm after the long stormy night! Oh ! prepare our eyes that they may behold the divine Sun which will soon follow in thy path, and give to the world his reign of light and day. Prepare our hearts, for it is to our hearts that this Jesus of thine wishes to show himself. To see him, our hearts must be pure; purify them, thou O Immaculate Mother! The divine wisdom has willed that of the feasts which the Church dedicates to thee, this of thy Immaculate Conception should be celebrated during Advent; that thus the children of the Church, reflecting on the jealous care wherewith God preserved thee from every stain of sin, because thou wast to be the Mother of his divine Son, - might prepare to receive this same Jesus by the most perfect renouncing of every sin and every attachment to sin. This great change must be made; and thy prayers, Mary! will help us to make it. Pray, we ask it of thee by the grace God gave thee in thy Immaculate Conception, that our covetousness may be destroyed, our concupiscence extinguished, and our pride turned into humility. Despise not our prayers, dear Mother of that Jesus who chose thee for his dwelling-place, that he might afterwards find one in each of us.
O Mary! Ark of the Covenant, built of an incorruptible wood, and covered over with the purest gold! help us to correspond with those wonderful designs of our God, who, after having found his glory in thy incomparable purity, wills now to seek his glory in our unworthiness, by making us, from being slaves of the devil, his temples and his abode, where he may find his delight. Help us to this, O thou that by the mercy of thy Son hast never known sin! and receive this day our devoutest praise. Thou art the Ark of Salvation; the one creature unwrecked in the universal deluge; the white Fleece filled with the dew of heaven, whilst the earth around is parched; the Flame which the many waters could not quench; the Lily blooming amidst thorns; the Garden shut against the infernal serpent; the Fountain sealed, whose limpid water was never ruffled; the House of the Lord, whereon his eyes were ever fixed, and into which nothing defiled could ever enter; the mystic City, of which such glorious things are said. We delight in telling all thy glorious titles, O Mary! for thou art our Mother, and we love thee, and the Mother's glory is the glory of her children. Cease not to bless and protect all them that honour thy immense privilege, thou that wast conceived on this day! May this feast fit us for that mystery, for which thy Conception, thy Birth, and thy Annunciation, are all preparations, - the Birth of thy Jesus in Bethlehem: yea, dear Mother, we desire thy Jesus, - give him to us and satisfy the longings of our love. For coloring pages and more reading on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception Visit our Page HERE
Advent is full of feast days especially in the first two weeks. I'm making some little Advent packages to send out to our Godchildren and thought I would share these PDF's of Holy Cards that I put together for them. There is a page of St. Nicholas Holy Cards, a page for St. Lucy and a page for the Immaculate Conception. Only 9 days for Advent! May it be a blessed one for you all!
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