Friday, 7 December 2018

A Singular Grace and Privilege Granted by Almighty God

December 8 is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, when we celebrate the beginning of Mary's original-sin-free life. Though Church Fathers and theologians spoke of and debated Immaculate Conception for centuries, Pope Pius IX formally enshrined the idea in Catholic dogma on December 8th, 1854 in his bull Ineffabilis Deus:
"Wherefore, in humility and fasting, we unceasingly offered our private prayers as well as the public prayers of the Church to God the Father through his Son, that he would deign to direct and strengthen our mind by the power of the Holy Spirit. In like manner did we implore the help of the entire heavenly host as we ardently invoked the Paraclete. 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.""

Mary holds a special place in the hearts of Catholics, and our love for her comes through in art, music, literature, and prayer. We were especially impressed by the altar that was decorated at St. Michael's Cathedral for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception in 1908:

Immaculate Conception Altar at St. Michael's Cathedral

December 8, 1908

PH102/0001/166P
ARCAT Photograph Collection

Immaculate Conception Altar at St. Michael's Cathedral, detail.

December 8, 1908

PH102/0001/166P
ARCAT Photograph Collection

Perhaps parishioners said the words of this 11th century prayer in front of this beautiful altar:
O Mary, you are inviolate, pure and without stain, you who became the glistening gate of heaven. O most dear and gracious Mother of Jesus, receive our modest songs of praise.
We beg you with heart and lips: make our bodies and our souls pure. By your sweet prayers, obtain eternal pardon for us. O Mother most kind! O Queen! O Mary! Who alone remained inviolate!

For more on the history of the Immaculate Conception dogma, check out articles from the International Marian Research Institute here and here.