Friday, December 9, 2011

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary: It's a Big Deal

I went to Mass at Lady of Angels Church yesterday, around noon. That's the name of the parish I live in. Mary is one of the more high-profile people in the Catholic Church: and today's celebration is about one of the reasons for her being so special.

Note: that's "special." Not "divine." Not "a goddess." I don't worship Mary.

I'm a practicing Catholic.

I worship God. Only God. It's in the rules. Adoring a creature of God's would be idolatry, and that's strictly forbidden. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2097, 2112-2114) It's also a very bad idea.

I venerate Saints. Veneration isn't worship. (Veneration (of Saints), Glossary, Catechism)

Yesterday was the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Which brings me to this week's item from the news:
  1. Sinless Perfection, Hope, and Jesus

It's the Immaculate Conception of Mary: Not of Jesus

As I've said before, I've got the authority of "some guy with a blog." I don't speak for the Church. If you want detail about the Immaculate Conception of Mary, check out links I put near the end of this post.

What we celebrated yesterday wasn't the time when Gabriel visited Mary and told her about her assignment. That comes later. The Immaculate Conception is when Mary was conceived. Mary's as human as I am, with an extremely important distinction:
"Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, 'full of grace' through God,134 was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854:
"The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.135"
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 491)

1. Sinless Perfection, Hope, and Jesus

"Mary shows what the Church can be, Pope teaches"
Benjamin Mann, CNA (Catholic News Agency) (December 8, 2011)

"The Church's nature and destiny are revealed in the Virgin Mary's perfect holiness, Pope Benedict XVI taught on the Dec. 8 Feast of the Immaculate Conception.

" 'In her sinless perfection, Mary is a great sign of hope for the Church and for the world, a sign of the marvels that God's grace can accomplish in us, his human creatures,' the Pope said in his remarks at the midday Angelus in St. Peter's Square.

"Christ's mother, he explained, received the fullest possible measure of the same grace given to believers through the sacraments of the Church.

" 'The expression "full of grace" indicates the marvelous work of God, who wanted to give us back the life and liberty, lost by sin, through his only begotten Son,' said the Pope, reflecting on the Archangel Gabriel's greeting to Mary...."

"...The Pope explained that Mary's complete preservation from original sin - a perennial teaching of the Church, formally proclaimed by Blessed Pope Pius IX in 1854 - was a 'special grace and privilege of almighty God,' given to her 'in anticipation of the merits of Jesus Christ.'..."
My attitude toward Mary didn't have to change all that much when I became a Catholic: although my appreciation for her is a great deal richer and deeper now. Again, it's veneration of Mary and other Saints. She's a creature, not God. I worship God. Not God's creatures.

That "in anticipation of the Merits of Jesus Christ" brings up ideas like the economy of Salvation, the nature of time, and the Mind of God: all of which is more than I've got energy for at the moment. I posted about what I've been doing since the Monday before last in another blog:One more thing about Mary: I've had a soft spot in my heart for the mother of my Lord, at least as far back as my teens. That's partly because of her willingness to accept God's will. (Luke 1:38) I suspect that she had some notion as to the sort of hard times she would face: and had the iron determination to do what was right, anyway. And that's another topic.

Related posts:Background

6 comments:

beowulf2k8 said...

If Mary was sinless, that proves Pelagius was right and Augustine was the heretic.

Brian Gill said...

beowulf2k8,

I recognize that the position of Mary is not well-understood by many folks, Catholics included. I also learned, long ago, that I can't change anyone's mind.

What the Catholic Church teaches about the Immaculate Conception of Mary is outlined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 490-493. ("To become the mother of the Savior, Mary 'was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role.'[132]....")

Pelagianism, the idea that a human being does not need God's help to lead a morally good life, is mentioned in Catechism, 406. (in a discussion of Original sin (III original Sin), 396-409) The Catholic Church recognizes Pelagianism as a heresy.

I don't see a contradiction between believing that Mary depended on God for the grace to remain sinless, and believing that human beings depend on God for grace to lead a morally good life.

But, again, I acknowledge that I can't change another person's mind.

The 'famous' Augustine, for Catholics, is Augustine of Hippo. There's an apostolic letter of August 28, 1986, written by Pope John Paul II, available online, in English: "Apostolic Letter Augustinum Hipponensem."

beowulf2k8 said...

To say that Pelagianism is "the idea that a human being does not need God's help to lead a morally good life," is to make a strawman. Pelagianism is that everyone is born without original sin, that God has given us all his help in nature itself, that is, he created us with free will and the ability to choose right or wrong, to live morally if we choose, and the so-called 'fall' did not take this away. Thus, it is not that we live a morally good life "without God's help" but that we don't need any extra help in the form of magic power (that's what grace is to Augustine) because God already provided us the ability to live morally when he created us.

In any case, all I meant was that since Pelagius supposedly taught the hypothetical possibility of living a sinless life -- and since you assert Mary did so -- Pelagius was right.

Brian Gill said...

beowulf2k8,

Before anything else: I'm not trying to change anyone's mind. I've been on the receiving end of too many high-pressure spiritual sales pitches or rants, and that's another topic.

About Pelagius, I was trying to keep my comment short. Obviously, Pelagius has a great deal more to say than my overly-terse summary.

As I indicated before, Mary and her unique status are often not well-understood. I'd had trouble with it, myself: until I saw the implications Mary being only human person to have, by God's grace, remained sinless. I think it's important to remember that Mary didn't 'pull herself up by her bootstraps.' Her sinless condition is a gift of God: and unique, as far as I know, among God's human creatures.

The unique status of Mary had been discussed for about 18 centuries, and was finally made official in 1854. I'd include a link to Pope Pius IX's "Ineffabilis Deus" (December 8, 1854): but so far, vatican.va's online papal documents only go back to Leo XIII. There's a pretty good discussion in "Encyclical of Pope Pius X, on the Immaculate Conception" Pope Pius X (February, 1904) and "Apostolic Constitution defining the Dogma of the Assumption - Munificentissimus Deus" Pope Pius XII (November 1, 1950).

Finally, a sort of cautionary statement: digging through what the Catholic Church has to say about ideas like the Immaculate Conception was a big factor in my becoming a Catholic.

beowulf2k8 said...

If God has the ability to give people a magic shot that can make them live a sinless life, he ought to just do it. By asserting that it was actually done once, in Mary's case, I think you destroy your entire theology. Of course I've always found the idea strange that in order for Christ to be born without original sin God has to 'cheat' and make Mary be born without original sin -- why couldn't he just cheat for Christ directly? There is no reason why Mary needed to be sinless. But assuming that she was -- why doesn't God just give us all the magic sinlessness injection at conception. He could have saved himself 33 years and lot of pain. No, I think outright Pelagianism makes infinitely more sense than Catholicism with a sprinkling of sinless Mary.

Brian Gill said...

beowulf2k8,

I decided, quite a while ago, to not tell God how to run creation.

As for understanding why the Almighty, Eternal, and Infinite decides to act - or not act? That's another topic.

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