Tuesday, February 18, 2014

The Immaculate Conception

[A GRAMBUS post] 
On Feb. 11, after I posted the explanation for the Feast Day of Our Lady of Lourdes, a Protestant friend sent me a link to her church’s stand on Mary that I would like to now respond to.

But, first a brief background explanation of Our Lady of Lourdes from AmericanCatholic.org.
The Lourdes Grotto today
On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in the apostolic constitution Ineffabilis Deus. A little more than three years later, on February 11, 1858, a young lady appeared to Bernadette Soubirous. This began a series of visions. During the apparition on March 25, the lady identified herself with the words: “I am the Immaculate Conception.”Bernadette was a sickly child of poor parents. Their practice of the Catholic faith was scarcely more than lukewarm. Bernadette could pray the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Creed. She also knew the prayer of the Miraculous Medal: “O Mary conceived without sin.”During interrogations Bernadette gave an account of what she saw. It was “something white in the shape of a girl.” She used the word aquero, a dialect term meaning “this thing.” It was “a pretty young girl with a rosary over her arm.” Her white robe was encircled by a blue girdle. She wore a white veil. There was a yellow rose on each foot. A rosary was in her hand. Bernadette was also impressed by the fact that the lady did not use the informal form of address (tu), but the polite form (vous). The humble virgin appeared to a humble girl and treated her with dignity.

One of the beautiful outcomes of Mary’s appearance in February 11, 1858, to a poor, peasant girl in Lourdes, France—besides revealing a stream of water that has been a source of healing to this day—was the name that
Mary called herself when Bernadette asked who she was. “I am The Immaculate Conception,” the lady said. Bernadette had no idea what the name meant, but was able to repeat it whenever asked.  How would an uneducated, peasant girl even know to utter such words? Apart from the vision being a true encounter with the Mother of God, it would be impossible. Thus, this miracle, as well as the miracle of healings from the stream —uncovered by Bernadette through Mary’s instruction—are the reasons the Church has given this vision its blessing.

 The Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes (France)
The term Immaculate Conception means that at Mary’s conception, supernatural graces were given so that her own son’s salvation could be applied to her early (at her conception), allowing her to be conceived without the stain of sin… immaculately.  The reason she was given this grace to be conceived without sin was because she was to be the sinless, spotless vessel that would carry the sinless, spotless Lamb of God, Jesus! …a holy temple, if you will.  …a holy arc for the Lord to be carried in for nine months.

I know that Protestants do not believe this.

It is only natural that some would question this understanding of Mary.  But, that is a good thing, because we all need to understand this better.  Even Catholics get confused sometimes and say that the Immaculate Conception is referring to Jesus.  But, Jesus’ birth is referred to as the “incarnation”—the divine God made flesh, or incarnate.  His sinless nature comes from his divinity.  But, Mary, being human, in order to be born without stain of sin, had to be “saved” by her own son’s salvific work on the cross.  Again, by special graces from God, the work of Christ was applied to her early so that she could be a holy, fit vessel for her Son—the holy Lamb of God.  I’m not saying you have to believe this, but this is what the Catholic Church has always understood about Mary, and it was finally declared a dogma of the Church in 1854.

With that as a background, even though I am not a Catholic doctrinal scholar, I would like to address some of the issues raised in the article, “Is Mary Sinless?”  from the website, “Let Us Reason Ministries,” I referred to at the beginning of this blog. 

You will find the website & article I’m responding to here:   http://www.letusreason.org/rc1.htm

1.  The first point that this article makes is that if Mary were sinless, she would understand the things of God:
“In Luke 1:34 when the angel Gabriel first appeared to her and announced the savior would be conceived in her womb, she responded, “ how can this be since I do not know a man.” Mary asked the angel what manner of greeting is this. If she was sinless certainly she would have known and understood the things of God, but Mary could not understand why she had been selected for this honor.”
To their argument that, “If she was sinless certainly she would have known and understood the things of God,” I would say that being a human being, she would not have been privy to any particular plan of God.  My example is Adam and Eve.  They were both sinless, but they certainly did not fully understand the things of God or they would not have believed the lies of the serpent.  No human being can fully understand the things of God regardless of their sin condition.   In addition, it was more a tribute to Mary’s humility for her to question, “How can this be?” than to any presence of sin. 

In addition, if Mary’s question to the angel, is seen as coming from a shadow of doubt, then I direct you to skip down to Luke 1:41-45.  It says there that when Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, not only did John the Baptist leap within her womb, but… “Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice…” and she prophesied things she could not know.  Was Elizabeth present at the Annunciation when Gabriel announced to Mary what would take place within her? No.  Had Mary told her what had taken place? Not yet.  She had only uttered a greeting.  Then, how did Elizabeth know that Mary was now the “mother of my Lord?” (v. 43) And, how did she know that Mary had not doubted the words of the angel?  (v. 45) She knew, because she was filled with the Holy Spirit, and that same Holy Spirit revealed this special knowledge to her by His power, so now we know, too.  Mary did not question out of unbelief.  “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” (v. 38)

In fact, I would go a step further and say that it was GOOD that Mary asked, “How can this be since I do not know a man?”  Because, without the question, we would not have the information in Gabriel’s reply:  “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.  Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” (v. 35) In other words, the father of her baby will not be a man.  It will be God!  If the father is God, then God, the Holy Spirit—“the power of the Most High will overshadow you”—is her Spouse.  And, that is why Mary is believed by the Church to be a perpetual virgin.  She never had relations with Joseph, because she was already espoused to God.  "What God has joined together, let no man put asunder," should apply especially to Mary.   

Joseph played a very important role, of course, as Jesus needed an earthly father, and Mary needed an earthly protector/husband.  But, Jesus’ true father was God, and Mary’s true Spouse was the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, no other man could dare to touch her in an intimate way.  That is the understanding of the Church, and the reason she has been declared a perpetual virgin.  Since this understanding is not specifically stated in the Bible, Protestant Christians do not accept this.  Neither are Mary’s parents’ names mentioned in the Bible, yet we know them by sacred tradition passed down through the generations:  Anna and Joachim.

There are at least 3 other points raised in this article as reasons why Protestants believe that “from the Bible” they can back up their claim that Mary was not sinless.  In the interest of breaking up the reader’s attention span, I will address these points in separate, later blogs.  Thanks for reading!

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