The feast of the Immaculate Conception has a particular significance for us – it is the dawning of the first light of the Son of God amongst us. It is the preparation of the way for He Who will come soon, the Lord, God among us.
From this first glimmer of light, the history of Salvation will begin, and all the prophecies of the Old Testament will come to fruition – literally as well as metaphorically. All of this begins with the Woman. In fact, we have made Her acquaintance already, way back in the Book of Genesis. In Chapter three, God curses the Serpent, the tempter, and gives him a warning of what will come –
‘I will put enmity between you and the Woman, your seed and Her Seed; She will crush your head and you will lie in wait for Her heel’ (Gn3:This use of the word ‘enmity’ is the clue – it means there will be no common ground whatsoever between the Woman and the evil one; in other words, no sin at all. To describe this simply, we call this Woman ‘immaculate’. The stain of sin, both has left not so much as a shadow upon Her. The Church teaches us – rightly – that this refers not only to actual sin, but also to Original Sin.
Whilst this belief in the Immaculate Conception was widely (but not universally) held in the Church, Heaven saw fit to make it’s thoughts known in 1830, in a busy convent in a back-street of Paris. There, the Blessed Virgin revealed Herself to Saint Catherine Laboure and gave her the design of the Miraculous Medal; and on the from of that Medal there is a short prayer – ‘O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to Thee’.
Finally, in 1854, Pope Pius IX formally defined this belief as a dogma of the Roman Catholic Church, in his encyclical ‘Ineffabilis Deus’ –
“Accordingly, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for the honor of the Holy and undivided Trinity, for the glory and adornment of the Virgin Mother of God, for the exaltation of the Catholic Faith, and for the furtherance of the Catholic religion, by the authority of Jesus Christ our Lord, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own: “We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.”
Just four years later, Heaven gave it’s approval to this solemn definition when, at the grotto of Lourdes, the Blessed Virgin appeared to Saint Bernadette Soubirous and gave Her name –
“I am the Immaculate Conception”