February 11th, Feast of Our Lady of Lourdes
We must be struck by the directness and immediacy with which Our Lady spoke to the young Bernadette at Lourdes: “I am the Immaculate Conception.” She does not say “I have been immaculately conceived,” but “I am the Immaculate Conception.” What does this mean? How is it that the “Immaculate Conception” can be a sort of name or title for the Blessed Virgin?
More than event, it is an identity
First, we note another title of Our Lady which is also a name: Mother of God. We do not merely say that Mary “mothered God,” but that her very identity is “Mother of God.” In a similar way, the Virgin has claimed not merely that she “has been immaculately conceived,” but that she is the “Immaculate Conception.”
The point here is that this is not simply an event in her life, but it is part of her very identity. Who Mary is, in the providence of God, is wrapped up in her identity as Mother of God and her title as The Immaculate. It is perhaps on this account that the most popular images of Mary under the title of “Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception” do not picture her in the act of being conceived (something which would be terribly impious), but rather show her fully grown. Sacred art witnesses to this fact – the dogma of the Immaculate Conception is not merely about an event in Mary’s life, but gives us an insight into her very identity!
A singular grace
I think that we can come to understand something of the revelation in Lourdes if we consider that Mary has not yet stated, “I am the Assumption.” Indeed, the Assumption is not exactly a “singular grace” in the way that the Immaculate Conception is – for all the elect will be “assumed” and glorified. Certainly, there is something unique about Mary’s participation in the victory of Christ through her Assumption, but it is not essentially different from the glorification for which we all hope.
On the other hand, Mary is called “The Virgin.” While it is true that many are virgins, Mary’s virginity is unique since she was a virgin first and foremost in her soul and then also in her body. The purity and virginity of Mary’s heart and mind was and is unique to her – her corporal virginity follows from this spiritual virginity (as her corporal motherhood follows from her spiritual motherhood of Christ). It is on this account – namely, that she is uniquely a virgin – that Mary can be called “The Virgin.”
Que soy era Immaculada Concepciou
We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore should firmly and constantly be believed by all the faithful. (Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus. December 8, 1854)
It is precisely the fact that this grace is “singular” and that it is tied to Mary’s identity as “Mother of God,” that Our Lady could tell Bernadette that “I am the Immaculate Conception.” The Blessed Virgin has been immaculately conceived, but more than this she is the personification of the Immaculate Conception – she is the one of whom it has been prophesied, “I am dark but beautiful.”
Mary Immaculate, Pray for us!