Thursday, February 10, 2011

"I am the Immaculate Conception" and "I have been immaculately conceived"

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!


Nick said...

Mary is entitled the Assumed in the Catechism, along with Mediatrix and Helper, and other titles as well. And the Catechism is a handbook of the Catholic faith, according to the late and current Popes.

You cannot separate who Mary is and what events happened in her life - need I go over every Marian title that indicates its root in Mary's participation in Jesus' Life? - because she represents the Church.

Cordelia at Catholic Phoenix said...

Father, I am assuming that the prophecy of "I am dark but beautiful." is biblical. Can you tell me where to find it? Also, I was working on a post during Advent that I never finished about Mary the Spotless Rose. I find it so interesting that Mary and Jesus are both associated with roses or the flowers of the field or the lily (or crocus?). Am I supposed to be getting easily confused with many seemingly interchangeable symbols for Mary and Jesus? You know probably how many people think the Immaculate Conception is Jesus. It's interesting how Mary and Jesus are so alike in many ways. Could you expound upon this seemingly interchangeability between Mary and Jesus?

Nick said...

Brief follow up on my comment:

Mary called herself the Immaculate Conception because Bernette asked her her name. Same as when Lucia asked Mary for her name and she say Lady of the Rosary. It goes to show she represents the Mystical Body of Christ.

And I said the Catechism is a handbook not so much for you but for those Catholics who believe it is heretical, because it is not as "traditional" as they like - though it certainly follows Apostolic Tradition!

Anonymous said...

@ Cordelia at Catholic Phoenix

The reference is to Song of Solomon 1:5

I am black but beautiful, O ye daughters of Jerusalem.,

verse 4 in the vulgate: nigra sum sed formonsa filiae Hierusalem

I leave to one wiser than me to respond to the similarity between the New Adam and the New Eve.

Anonymous said...

St. Maximilian Kolbe wrote some profound things about Our Lady saying 'I am the Immaculate Concepion' rather than 'I was immaculately conceived.'

The reason has to do with Our Lady's unique relationship to the Holy Spirit, with whom she is forever filled and intimately united to. St. Maximilian calls the Holy Spirit the 'uncreated eternal Immaculate Conception'.

Nick said...

"uncreated eternal Immaculate Conception"

The Holy Spirit is not conceived but proceeds. The Son, however, is begotten, yet still not conceived (unless we're talking about the Incarnation). Conception is a material act, and God is Spirit (yet made man in the Incarnation).

William said...

Think about it: Almighty God first created angels, legions and legions of them. Next, He created humankind, lots and lots of them, too. But He called in to creation only ONE entity completely resistant to evil, the Blessed Virgin Mary. Happy feast day, Mother dear.


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Nick (4:49pm),
All fine points.
However, I should think the differences would be obvious -- yes, Mary is "Mediatrix", but not "Mediation"... "Assumed", but not "Assumption"... this is part of what makes the statement "I am the Immaculate Conception" so interesing (if not wholly unique).

Also, I'm glad you accept the Catechism, but you don't need to act as though you deserve an award for citing it...

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I very much see what you are saying! Indeed, especially when it comes to Old Testament prophecies, it is not always easy to distinguish which are of Christ and which of Mary (and which of both)...

Here is a very simple example: The Protoevangelium of Genesis 3.
The Septuigent tradition renders God's words to the serpent, "He will crush your head" -- meaning Christ.
But Jerome (through an ambiguity in the Hebrew) reders it, "She will crush your head" -- meaning Mary.

This ambiguity is the source of the popular image of Mary standing upon the serpents head...

Indeed, though the dogma of the Immaculate Conception is (of course) about is also trul the Christ was conceived immaculate -- since, he too was conceived without sin...
The principle difference being that Mary was preserved from original sin (and thus, redeemed), but Christ was conceived in such a way that he did not even need to be preserved (hence, he has no need of a redeemer).

There is so much to consider...I would love to right more...
"Wherever there is Mary, there is Christ; wherever there is Christ, there is Mary" (DeMontfort says something like this)
Peace to you in the Lord! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I hope my previous comment wasn't too harsh... I only meen to point out that the phrase "I am the Immaculate Conception" is a bit different from titles like "Mediatrix" "Co-Redemptrix" or even "Lady of the Rosary".

Peace to you.

Nick said...

"I hope my previous comment wasn't too harsh... I only meen to point out that the phrase "I am the Immaculate Conception" is a bit different from titles like "Mediatrix" "Co-Redemptrix" or even "Lady of the Rosary"."

No fears, I appreciate correction :)

What's your opinion on calling the Holy Spirit "the uncreated eternal Immaculate Conception"?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

St. Maximilian Kolbe has many fairly extreme ways of speaking about Lady...
I have heard that he calls Mary a "quasi-incarnation" of the Holy Spirit.
In the quote you reference, the Saint seems to call the Holy Spirit a uncreated "quasi-figure" of the Virgin Mary.

For devotional purposes, I suppose this is ok -- but we must remember that it is highly highly metaphorical language! Certainly, we need to check ourselves often, and also we must found our devotion on solid theological principles...
So, I share your concerns to some extent.

Peace to you. +

Nick said...

Hmmm...maybe he was speaking in terms of the Incarnation of God in Christ and Mary's imitation of Christ.

Nick said...

Although I am still concerned about likening God to a "conception".

Cordelia at Catholic Phoenix said...

Father, Did you see this post by Mark Shea? (It is related to the interchangeability of Mary as Church and Jesus to some extent.) .

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I did not see it, but I will be reading it soon! Thanks for the tip.

Blessings to you and all at Catholic Phoenix! +

Rick said...

Conception is Idea.
Idea comes from truth, and truth comes through idea.

Immaculate: God
Conception: Idea
Immaculate Conception: God’s Conception of Himself.

The Holy Spirit is the Uncreated Immaculate Conception.
Mary is the ‘created’ Immaculate Conception.

Idea always gives birth to its own truth.
Conception is conceived, conceives, and ‘is’ in itself.

The Idea/Conception of Truth can only give birth to Truth.
The Idea/Conception of Love can only give birth to Love.

The truer our concept is of God, the more Mary-like we become.
As she conceives Him as He Is.

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