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The Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Saturday, December 08, 2007
Readings: Gen 3:9-15,20; Ps 97:1-4; Eph 1:3-6,11-12.

In 1854, Pope Pius IX defined the Doctrine of the Immaculate Conception in the Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus. The statement of the doctrine was that from the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace granted by God, Mary was preserved from all stain of original sin. One of the confusions that often arises with regard to the definition of a doctrine is how it can be that the Church can define a dogma with such certainty. To this, we may say that the definition is the culmination of centuries of theological reflection. The Feast of the Immaculate Conception has been celebrated by the Church since at least the ninth century, and the doctrine itself was developed and explained by theologians such as the Franciscan Blessed John Duns Scotus. In Ineffabilis Deus, we see that the doctrine as we now understand it draws on Scripture, and in particular, the understanding of certain passages which we find in today's readings, but also on the Tradition and liturgical practice of the Church.

Someone once remarked to me that they didn't think that the doctrine made any difference to them and their lives. However, when we think about it carefully, we realise that it makes all the difference. A much loved brother of this Province, now deceased, has become famous for saying that without Our Lady we would be 'in a right pickle'! And the Dogma shows us how Mary, being 'full of grace', is the New Eve, who having been preserved from original sin through grace, can utter that fiat which signals her acceptance of God's call to be the mother of Christ. The Dogma thus presents us with the good news that God has heard our cries, and comes to us as man through the obedience of Mary, to get us out of our 'pickle'. Surely this makes all the difference ...

Robert Gay OP


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