Monday, December 8th, 2008
The Lord God said to the serpent: I will make you enemies, you and the woman, your offspring and her offspring; she will crush your head, alleluia.
The definition in Blessed Pius IX’s apostolic constitution Ineffabilies 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.”
It remains commonplace today to slight the doctrines of St. Thomas Aquinas for his failure to recognize the mystery of the Immaculate Conception. The issue is complicated, and grasping it adequately requires a thoroughgoing knowledge of medieval theology. But simply stated, Aquinas was careful in his Marian doctrines to assure that Our Lady needed redeeming and was in fact redeemed by the merits of her Son’s cross. Otherwise, her salvation would have been the fruit of another divine action of which we have no knowledge. Saved by another action, Mary would belong to a different order of grace and thereby not be a member of the Church. Therefore, to safeguard the universality of man’s redemption in Christ, which must include Mary, Aquinas believed it important to maintain in her life even the slightest moment of sin that could be healed by Christ’s cross.
Although Aquinas himself failed to speak of a preventative grace preserving Mary from original sin at the moment of her conception, the Church later did by employing Aquinas’s concerns about her redemption. Blessed Pius delared in 1854: “. . . 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 . . .” ”In view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race” is Aquinas’s important contribution to the definition. Therefore, by initially denying the doctrine as it was presented in his day, St. Thomas prepared the Church for a more careful and accurate definition of the mystery of the Immaculate Conception later on.
For an edgy defense of St. Thomas’s Marian teachings, click here.
To help celebrate today’s solemnity, take a moment to listen to Robert Fayrfax’s Maria Plena Virtute. Click here for the text and translation. This beautiful piece reminds us that the grace of Mary’s Immaculate Conception was given not only in view of her divine motherhood but also as the foundation of her perfect discipleship, which she fulfilled at Calvary. There, Mary’s immaculate heart too was pierced, not with a lance like her Son’s, but by perfect obedient love.
you prepared the Virgin Mary
to be the worthy mother of your Son.
You let her share beforehand
in the salvation Christ would bring by his death,
and kept her sinless from the first moment of her conception.
Help us by her prayers
to live in your presence without sin.
We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever. Amen.