Saint Bernard, one of Our Lady’s most fervent servants said: “if the winds of trials starts to blow, if you come up against the rock of tribulations, look at the Star, called upon Mary. In perils, in anguish, in doubts, think of Mary, call upon Mary”. This is what I suggest you do with the approach of the great feast of the Immaculate Conception. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is one of incomparable richness for the Catholic. It enables one to found one’s devotion on a solid doctrine, a source of real contemplation; it reminds one also of one’s own condition as a sinner by showing us “the refuge of sinners, the Virgin, all-pure, source of all graces”, ready to come to our aid.
The origin of all Our Lady’s prerogatives is her predestination to be the Mother of God. Mary was chosen from all eternity to be the Mother of the Saviour. It is from this dignity that comes her holiness, her perpetual virginity and her Immaculate Conception. God wanted the one who was predestined to be His Mother to receive graces with a special abundance. That is why, as the Church teaches, “the Blessed Virgin Mary was, in the first instant of her conception, by a singular favour and grace of the Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, preserved intact from all stain of original sin” (Pius IX, Bull Ineffabilis Deus). Do we realize what these words imply? In the first instant of her conception, that is to say, that in Mary there has never been the least imperfection; her soul was not in that state of aversion to God, of privation of sanctifying grace with which all the children of men enter into existence. On the contrary, she possessed this sanctifying grace and enjoyed the closest unity and the most intimate friendship with God. By a singular favour and grace of the all-powerful God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, because Christ is the saviour of all men, including Our Lady. It was therefore necessary for a special privilege for Mary to be the Immaculate Conception: this exceptional grace was merited by Christ, like all graces. How then could Our Lady receive what Our Lord could not yet merit by His redemptive death? Although the Redemption was not yet accomplished, the merits of Jesus Christ already existed in the eternal designs of God. The privilege of the Immaculate Conception was thus granted to Mary, not by full right, but in expectation of these merits. Thus, Mary was ransomed by Christ, like all other humans, but in a different way to all the others. The grace of Redemption preserved her before she entered into existence, in such a way that she was not purified from sin, but preserved. Her redemption was the preservation from and not the deliverance from sin. To the idea of the preserving Redemption is attached this one that Mary, descendant of Adam, had to incur the hereditary stain, and would have, in fact (de facto) incurred it, if God had not favoured her with this purely free privilege. We see then that this preservation from original sin for Our Lady differs much from the one for Our Lord Who was not ransomed. He was not subject to the law of original sin on the one hand because He is the Word and can thus not be subject to any imperfection; on the other hand because His Conception was completely miraculous.
But in saying that the Most Holy Virgin Mary is the Immaculate Conception, we say thereby that she is the exception to a universal law under which we are subject: the law of original sin. The feast of the Immaculate Conception must remind us that we are sinners; that contrary to Our Lady, we are born in sin. We have been ransomed by Christ, certainly, but differently to Mary, because we are still suffering today the consequences of original sin. Our life must consequently be a continual struggle against our passions, against our bad inclinations. And here again we will find help in Mary. She has never lived in the state of sin, and yet she knows better than we do the consequences of sin, she who suffered with Jesus at the foot of the Cross. We are blind in regards our own fate, she sees better than we do our needs and our necessities. It is therefore by contemplating the Star, by invoking Mary that we will find the remedy to all our evils.
It will soon be 150 years (1854-2004) since the Sovereign Pope St. Pius X by his supreme and infallible authority proclaimed the Blessed Virgin Mary immaculate in her Conception. What else did he do but place under our eyes the Star who would be the only one capable of guiding us during the liberal crisis which was then starting. It was the best application to these words of St Bernard. In effect, liberalism is by definition, the enemy of dogma; and Pius IX in proclaiming the new dogma affirmed in a powerful way that the Church despises all liberal ideas. He affirmed it all the more as this dogma in particular is incompatible with the exaltation of human dignity, incompatible, when all is said and done, with all that liberalism stands for. Yes, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception affirms the grandeur of Our Lady, the greatness of purity, the greatness of the consecrated life, which the modern world refuses, which the modern world despises; it affirms also, by exempting Mary from original sin that original sin is a very real truth and that by consequence man is a sinner. Real Catholics will thus find in the Immaculate Conception the true guide, the true Star who will guide them in this crisis. This is the reason for which I invite you to make of the coming new year a marian year, where all our actions are entrusted to Our Mother, where our devotion to her never ceases to increase. This additional homage that we will render to the Virgin without stain will be, in the present moment, our gaze towards the Star; it will be our thought, our call, our invocation to Mary. Let us firmly hope that she will hear our voice, and that she will lower onto us her eyes full of mercy.