Our first parents were created by God endowed with sanctifying grace, a supernatural gift of God enabling them to share in His own divine life. This gift of grace does not pertain to human nature, but perfects man's nature enabling him to attain the supernatural end for which he was created. Along with this sharing in God's own life there was an added gift that established perfect harmony within their whole being, so that all the powers, inclinations and dispositions of the body were perfectly submissive to the powers of the soul. Too, they were given special gifts which made them immune from suffering and death. These added gifts, like sanctifying grace, did not pertain to human nature and could be lost.
Whether or not Adam and Eve and their descendants would retain these added gifts would depend on the outcome of a trial to which our first parents were to be subjected. Without going into detail, we know the outcome of that trial. Because of their rebellion against the limitation that God placed on their freedom, Adam and Eve lost for themselves and their descendants the divine gift of grace by which they shared in God's own life, the immunity from suffering and death, and the harmony between body and soul, resulting in a rebellious tendency in their whole being to seek satisfactions in opposition to the control of reason and the will of God. In addition to this, heaven, for which they were created, was closed to mankind. All this came because the sin of Adam was not only a personal sin, but one in which the whole of humanity was on trial.
We see, then, the tragic condition in which our first parents found themselves at the very dawn of the human race. Yet, God's plan was not frustrated. From all eternity He foresaw this outcome, and the manner in which He would restore to mankind the possibility of attaining eternal beatitude with Him in heaven. He would send His only-begotten Son who would become a member of the human race, being born of a Virgin maiden who would be His mother in the strictest sense of the word. She alone, of all the descendants of Adam would be preserved immune, through the merits of her Son, from the stain of original sin. This doctrine was defined as a dogma of our faith by Pope Pius IX in the Apostolic Constitution "Ineffabilis Deus," Dec. 8, 1854 as follows:
This doctrine is implicitly revealed in the book of Genesis where there is implied the promise of a Redeemer for fallen mankind, a member of the human race born of a woman. Prophecies of the Old Testament make it clear that this Redeemer would be God Himself (Is. 35:4), and that He would be born of a virgin. (Is. 7:14) Shortly after the fall of our first parents, having been deceived by the devil, God said to the Evil One:
After quoting the above from Genesis the Holy Father elaborated on this text as follows:
NOTE: The GREEK version of the bible has the masculine pronoun (he), thus ascribing the victory to the Son of the woman referred to, expressing the messianic interpretation held by many of the Fathers.
The LATIN version (Vulgate) has the feminine pronoun (she); and since in the messianic interpretation of this text, the Messiah and His Mother appear together, the pronoun has been taken to refer to Mary; this application has become current in the church. (Jerusalem Bible, Gen. 3:15)
In both the Greek and Latin versions of this text, the meaning of the two is basically the same, for Mary is but God's instrument. It is the power of the Son that conquers Satan, associating Mary with Him in the conquest. So while Satan was victorious over the first Eve, the second Eve (Mary), endowed with the power of her divine Son, will be the instrument God uses in His conquest of Satan, making the defeat of the evil one all the more humiliating. Pope Pius IX contrasts Eve and Mary as follows:
When we speak of Mary's foot crushing the head of Satan, that is of course symbolic language, for the devil is a spirit without a body. But he is a spirit intensely proud, confirmed in hatred of God and man. And nothing tortures his proud ego more than humiliation. The very humility of this virgin maiden - inferior to him by nature - but almost infinitely superior in grace and glory - to the glory that formerly was his, is a ceaseless torture for his proud being, causing the deepest envy of her power over him.
While Mary was predestined from all eternity to be the Mother of God by the decree of Divine Providence which determined the Incarnation of the Word (Lumen Gentium 61), the proximate preparation for her divine maternity began the first moment of her life in the womb of her mother by that unique privilege of her Immaculate Conception.
The fullness of time was near. Since the Divine Word was to assume human nature becoming a member of the human race, this divine Person would dwell only in a temple worthy of Himself, in the most pure womb of an Immaculate Mother. There is a principle in theology which is expressed by St. Thomas in these words: "Those whom God chooses for a particular purpose, He prepares and disposes so that they may be found suitable for the purpose for which they are chosen."(III,27,4) In keeping with this principle, God granted to Our Lady not only freedom from the stain of original sin and its debilitating consequences on human nature; but endowed her with a superabundant measure of grace and supernatural gifts beyond our power to comprehend, as befitted one who was to be the Mother of God and a close associate with the Word Incarnate in the work of redemption.
Were it not revealed by God, we would never have imagined that a human person could be raised to the dignity, of being the Mother of God, nor can we conceive the fullness of grace that enriched her soul. This is beautifully expressed by Pope Pius IX in the Apostolic Constitution "Ineffabilis Deus" in which he proclaimed the Virgin Mary's Immaculate Conception:
With the victory of Satan over Adam the kingdom of Satan on earth was established. As a consequence every descendent of Adam comes into this world under his dominion (in a certain degree) until liberated by the waters of baptism. It must have been an extremely painful humiliation, therefore, that one human person - inferior to him by nature - would never for an instant come under his control. As Fr. Valentine Long, OFM expressed it, "it shall remain his eternal frustration that the human soul he craved above all others to contaminate, escaped him."
In the Apostolic Constitution quoted above, Pius IX stated that the Virgin Mary united with her divine Son "most completely triumphed over Satan, and crushed his head." That victory would not have been complete if Mary had not been preserved free from original sin, for then she would have come under the dominion of Satan. The enmity between Mary and the devil, between her seed (Christ) and the devil's seed (his followers) would not be complete, if for a single instant she came under his power. That Satan, whose angelic nature is far superior to human nature, would be powerless to influence, harm, or dominate a human person, is a painful humiliation. So Mary from the first moment of her earthly existence, even before her human powers of intellect and will could function, began to torture the evil one. Already the Redeemer-to-come was using her to crush his head. Thus it was that divine Providence decreed that from the first instant of her existence in this world she came as Satan's foe.
It would be inconceivable that one heralded before her existence as the Mother of the divine Redeemer, should for an instant share the inclination to evil of our fallen nature, an inclination to rebel against the God whose Son she would one day give birth. And by the same token, it would be a dishonor to the incarnate Word - who would identify Himself as TRUTH itself - to be born of a woman who for an instant came under the dominion of the "father of lies." (Jn. 8:44)
The question might be asked: If Mary was conceived without sin, why did she need to be redeemed? Since Mary was a member of the human race, a child of Adam, born by human generation as are all human persons, she was in need of redemption. However, the redemption of Mary was different from all others, not only because of the plenitude of graces given her because of her special calling, but by the merits of Christ she was not cleansed from sin, but preserved from contracting sin. In other words, the redeeming merits of Christ in her were not curative, but preventative. And this, theologians stress, is a higher and more perfect redemption; for it is a greater saving grace that prevents one from contracting an illness, than to cure that illness once it is contracted.
Again the question might be asked: How could Mary be redeemed by Christ before He (the God-man) existed? We have to remember that we are dealing with the mystery of the Mystical Body of Christ which extends beyond space and time. If at Mary's conception the God-man did not exist, the divine Person (the Word) who was to become incarnate did exist. And by reason of the redeeming graces that the Word incarnate would merit for mankind, the Blessed Trinity prepared a fitting dwelling for Him in the immaculate body and soul of Mary.
The whole of mankind, both those who lived and died before Christ and those who lived after Him, are saved only by the merits of Christ the Redeemer. For example, we who live after Christ are saved by living our faith in Him who came to redeem us; while those who lived before Christ were saved by living their faith in Him who was to come, that is, in the promised Redeemer. They were saved by the merits Christ would gain for them when He came. But they did not enter heaven until Christ was born, died and ascended into heaven. When Christ ascended into heaven He took with Him all the souls of the just who lived since the creation of the world.
While only Scripture and Tradition (which includes papal pronouncements) determine the content of our faith, the following incidents are landmarks in the modern spread of this doctrine of the Immaculate Conception.
In 1830 the Blessed Virgin asked St. Catherine Laboure, of the Daughters of St. Vincent de Paul in Paris that a medal be made in her honor on which would appear her image with outstretched arms, with the words: "O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee."
In 1846, at the sixth Provincial Council of Baltimore, the Bishops of this country issued a proclamation declaring the Mother of God, under the title of her Immaculate Conception, as Patroness of the Catholic Church in these United States of America.
In 1854, in the Apostolic Constitution "Ineffabilis Deus," Pope Pius IX declared the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary a dogma of the Catholic faith.
In 1858 the Mother of God appeared to the child Bernadette in Lourdes identifying herself in the words: "I am the Immaculate Conception."
Those words of Our Lady in Lourdes identifying herself are mysterious and profound. She did not say "I am she who was immaculately conceived," but "I am the Immaculate Conception." That was Our Lady's definition of herself. So much is implied in those words: "I am she in whom this unique mystery took place . . . I am she who alone, among all human persons, was never under the power of Satan . . . I am the second Mother of mankind, chosen by God to have a unique role in undoing the evil caused by the first mother of mankind. . . . I am the one extolled in the inspired Canticle: `You are all-beautiful, my beloved, and there is no blemish in you.'" (C of C 4:7) Just as Eve cooperated with Adam in causing the wounds of fallen human nature and closing heaven to mankind, so Mary cooperated with Jesus in winning healing and saving graces for the whole of mankind and opening again the gates of heaven.
If the only-begotten Son of God required and prepared so perfect, so pure and so holy a temple in which to dwell in the Virgin Mary, in whose body He was to live for nine months, does that not tell us something about the temple He wants us to prepare for Him when we received Him in Holy Communion. We should ask our Immaculate Mother to help us prepare for His coming, not merely the few minutes before receiving Him, but throughout the day, or throughout the week for those who receive Him only weekly. If much that we do during the day could be seen in the light of that sacramental encounter, how much more fruitful it would be.
Remember too, that God not only endowed Mary with the necessary graces and dispositions to fulfill worthily the role of Mother of His Son, but also the role of the Mother of all mankind. Because of her fullness of grace her maternal heart burns intensely to bring all followers of her Son - more closely to Him still; and those who have wandered astray, she seek more than we can ever know, to bring them back into the fold.
"O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee."
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