JMC : The Catholic Religion / by Charles Coppens, S.J.

Devotion to the Blessed Virgin.

360. Far from drawing our affections away from her Divine Son, Devotion to His holy Mother is a strong bond of tender love for Him in our hearts; and experience shows that, in proportion as a Christian becomes more devout to Mary, he also becomes more warmly devoted to the service of Christ and His Church.

Since, as the Angel declared to Tobias (XII, 7): "It is honorable to reveal and confess the works of God", we must briefly explain some of the extraordinary privileges which it has pleased the Lord to bestow on His Virgin Mother.

1. Her Divine Maternity, that is, her being truly the Mother of God; this title was confirmed to her by the Council of Ephesus (n. 191). Mary knew from the prophecy of Simeon that much sorrow was in store for the Mother of the Redeemer (Luke II, 34, 35); and she accepted it all, because she shared His love for those He came to save by sorrow and pain. She accepted it gladly out of love for us, since she is our Mother as truly as Christ her Son is our elder Brother. The Fathers of the Church speak of Mary as "the Second Eve", in the same way as, with St. Paul, they speak of Christ as "the Second Adam". Now Eve is the "mother of all the living", because through her all the descendants of Adam have received their natural life. And Mary is the "Mother of the redeemed", because through her they have received the supernatural life of regeneration. Moreover, those words spoken by Christ as His bequest from the Cross, "Behold thy Mother", the Catholic world has ever understood to be addressed to them in the person of the beloved Disciple, and from the first they have taken the Mother of Jesus as their own".

This makes St, Anselm exclaim: "O safe refuge! The Mother of God is my Mother" (Or. 2 ad B. V.). St. Liguori, in his learned work on "The Glories of Mary", has collected a vast amount of erudition, drawn from the Holy Scriptures, the Fathers, the explicit teachings of the Church, the reasonings of theologians, etc., for the purpose of fostering in all Catholics an intense love for the holy Mother of God, and a boundless confidence in the power of her intercession. He adds examples to illustrate, not to prove, the doctrines explained.

II. Her Virginal Maternity and Perpetual Virginity, which mean that Mary remained a virgin in conceiving and bearing her Divine Son, and ever after till the end of her life. Both facts are clear from the Gospel narrative (Luke I, 26-38), and from the writings of such Fathers as St. Jerome, St. Ambrose, St. Hilary, and St. Augustine: in their works they seem to resent any contrary insinuation as a personal insult; so touchy were they about the honor of Christ's blessed Mother.

III. Her Perfect Sinlessness, which means that she was never guilty of any actual sin whatever. Such is the teaching of Tradition, confirmed by a definition of the Council of Trent (Sess. 6, can. 23). It is not known whether or not this grace has been given to any other Saints. In Mary this privilege was accompanied by freedom from concupiscence.

IV. Her Immaculate Conception. This privilege consists in the fact that her soul was never, even for a moment, stained with original sin. This guilt consists, as we have shown (n. 179), in the privation of sanctifying grace, which was lost for all men by Adam, "in whom all have sinned" (Rom. V 12). It may be objected that these words of St. Paul admit of no exception without the weightiest reason. But such reason is found in the ancient Tradition of the Church, now confirmed by a dogmatic definition, which teaches the absolute freedom from all sin demanded by the unique dignity of our blessed Lady.

Besides, "all have sinned" in the sense that not one of the descendants of Adam can recover the grace thus lost except by the application of Christ's merits. To the Mother-Elect of the Redeemer this application was made at the first instant of existence, so that the soul of Mary from the moment of its creation was adorned with sanctifying grace.

This altogether singular favor was bestowed upon her in view of the merits of Christ, who, therefore, is truly her Redeemer; not because He removed, but because He kept off the stain of sin from her soul. For it has been understood from the beginning of the Church, and variously implied in the teachings of the Fathers, that, as St. Augustine pointedly expresses it, nothing must be said to connect the Blessed Virgin with sin (De Nat. et Grat. C. 36). This they understood to be signified by the appellation given her by the Angel, "Full of grace". We know that a feast in honor of her Conception was celebrated yearly in the East as early as the fifth century; and of course the Church could not honor what was not holy. When about A. D. 1100 this feast began to be kept in the West, it aroused alarm as if it were a novelty. St. Bernard, and later St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas, and other lecturers in the University of Paris, opposed it. But a school of theologians, no matter how learned and holy, is not the Church. More thorough discussion brought out the full truth. In 1480, Pope Sixtus IV sanctioned the feast, and finally in 1854 Pope Pius IX proclaimed Mary's Immaculate Conception to be a doctrine contained from the beginning in the deposit of the faith. For many centuries before this explicit definition there had existed practical unanimity on the subject among theologians. All her privileges redound to the glory of her Divine Son, by whom and for whose sake she was made "full of grace". To Him be all glory forever.

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