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Our Lady's Greatest Priviledge

by John E. Coogan, S.J.

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    Document Information

  • Description:
    The Immaculate Conception is a foreshadowing of the Divine Maternity. Our devotion to Mary — which is the touchstone of Christian orthodoxy — is commonly misunderstood by Protestants.
  • Larger Work:
    The Homiletic and Pastoral Review
  • Pages: 163-164
  • Publisher & Date:
    Joseph F. Wagner, Inc., November 1961

The greatest privilege possessed by Our Blessed Lady, next to the Divine Maternity itself, is that of the Immaculate Conception. And it is only because of the Divine Maternity that Mary was immaculately conceived. For many years many of the greatest saints in the Church denied that she had been given this privilege. They did this not because they wanted to deprive her of any honor that might properly be given to her, but because it seemed to them to deny that Christ was the universal Redeemer, the Redeemer even of His own mother. When finally it was explained that Christ was her preventive Redeemer, that because of His redemptive death on the cross she was saved from the stain of original sin, the way was made clear for papal definition of the Immaculate Conception in 1854.

MISCONCEPTIONS

But among non-Catholics the meaning of the term is still not understood. Some identify it with virgin birth and suppose it is a denial that Joachim was really our Blessed Lady's father. One great American newspaper once carried the story that by the Immaculate Conception it was meant that Our Blessed Lady was conceived in mid air, as the artist Murillo has imaginatively pictured her. But the meaning of the term Immaculate Conception is simply this:

because of the merits of her divine Son, Our Blessed Lady was from the very moment of her own conception free from the stain of original sin. In that first moment she was endowed with the sanctifying grace that God had intended should be the endowment of each of us at conception, had Adam, the father of the human race, not sinned. Our Blessed Lady, endowed with an unspeakable fullness of sanctifying grace, saved from all the weakness, error, and confusion of sin, is incomparably the highest and the first of mere mortals.

Many Protestants express themselves as scandalized at such honor paid to Our Blessed Lady. They say that to honor Mary so is to dishonor Christ. But Cardinal Newman answered them in the verses written by Father Frederick Faber, a few of which run:

They know but little of thy worth Who speak these heartless words to me; For what did Jesus love on earth One half so tenderly as thee?

G. K. Chesterton tells us of his own Protestant boyhood, that the elders of the parish church objected to using a statue of the Virgin and child, until someone proposed an acceptable solution—that the Child be removed from His mother's arms! As Chesterton remarked, they seemed to think that the Virgin was more dangerous when she held the Child, as though He were some sort of weapon. "Those holy heads are too near together," Chesterton beautifully says, "for the haloes not to mingle and cross."

DEVOTION TO MARY IS HONOR TO JESUS

In our own country a few years ago a religious dispute over the showing of the Christmas crib in a public building was finally settled by removing the statue of the Virgin Mother. It seems that Our Blessed Lady is denominational! Surely, with us Catholics, the Mother and the Child always stand together. As the poet says, they are "wrapped in a rock relation." Rather than admit that devotion paid to Mary is something taken from her Son, we say that the honors paid her are precisely because she possesses the unspeakable excellence that the infinite power of God lavished upon the Virgin who was conceived to be the mother of His divine Son. As has been finely said, "With Mary the primary truths of the Gospel are safeguarded; without her, men erect altars to an unknown God." Through wide areas of Christendom, as Belloc has said, "Christianity has come to mean little more than a vague feeling of kindliness especially for [dumb] animals." In the Catholic Church, however, Christianity is what it has always been—the religion founded by Christ, the only begotten Son of God, true God of true God.

We Catholics must be ever grateful to God for what He has given us through Mary. It will be impossible for our men to be so selfish, our women so thoughtless, our children so rude while we keep the influence of Mary in our homes. As even the Protestant Ruskin has said, "There has probably not been an innocent cottage home throughout the length and breadth of Europe during the whole period of vital Christianity in which the imaged presence of the Madonna has not given sanctity to the humblest duties and comfort to the sorest trials of the lives of women and every brightest and loftiest achievement of the arts and strength of manhood has been the fulfillment of the assured prophecy of the Israelite Maiden: 'He that is mighty hath magnified me, and holy is His Name.' "

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