And Elias, the prophet, stood up, as a fire, and his word burnt like a torch (Ecclesiasticus. 48.1, DRV)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The Mystery of the Incarnation: A Poem of Divine Love


The Nativity of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God... and the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us (Jn. 1.1,14).

God is charity (1 Jn.4.8); everything He does, both in Himself and outside of Himself, is a work of His love. Being the highest and inexhaustible Good, He cannot love anything outside of Himself from the desire of increasing His happiness, as is the case with us; in Himself He possesses all. Therefore, in God, to love, and hence to see it fit to create rational beings (angels and men, with reason and free will; the former, pure spirits, that is, incorporeal with non-deliberating intellect; the latter, corporeal with deliberating reason) and irrational beings, is simply to extend, outside of Himself, His infinite goodness, His perfections, and to communicate to others His own Being and felicity. Bonum diffusivi sui (Good is diffusive of itself), says St. Thomas Aquinas. Thus, God loved man with an eternal love, I have loved thee with an everlasting love (Jer. 31.3), and, loving him, called him into existence, giving him both natural and supernatural life (the life of Christ, the seed of eternal life, implanted in us in Baptism). Through love, God not only brought man out of nothing, but chose him and elevated him to the state of divine sonship, destining him to participate intimately in His own life, in His eternal beatitude. This was the first plan of the immense charity of God with regard to man. But when man fell into sin, God, Who had created him by an act of love, willed to redeem him by an even greater act of love. See then, how the mystery of the Incarnation presents itself to us as the supreme manifestation of God's exceeding charity toward man. By this hath the charity of God appeared towards us, because God hath sent His only-begotten Son into the world, that we may live by Him. In this is charity... He hath first loved us, and sent His Son to be a propitiation for our sins (1 Jn. 4.9,10). After having given man natural life, after having destined him for the supernatural life, what more could He give him than to give Himself, His Word made flesh, for his salvation?

It is not surprising, therefore, that the story of His benevolent action on behalf of man is all a poem of love, and of merciful love. The first stanza of this poem was our eternal predestination to the beatific vision of God [that is, to see God facie ad faciem (face to face, Ex. 33.11): this consists our eternal happiness in heaven] and to the fruition of the intimate life of God. The second stanza relates, in an even more touching way, the sublimity of His mercy: the mystery of the Incarnation.

The sin of our first parents had destroyed God's original plan for our elevation to a supernatural state (the state of being born again in the regenerating waters of Baptism and in the Spirit of Truth, cf., Jn. 3.5, abiding forever in the Church, cf., Jn. 14.17).; we had forfeited our claim, and we could never atone for the sin - having offended God. God could have pardoned all, but it was becoming to His holiness and unfathomable justice to exact an adequate satisfaction, for He is just and hath loved justice: His countenace hath beheld righteousness (Ps. 10.8); man was absolutely incapable of providing this. Then the most sublime work of God's mercy was accomplished: one Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Second - the Eternal Word - came to do for us what we could not do for ourselves. Behold the Word, God's only-begotten Son, "who for us men and for our salvation, descended from heaven and became incarnate" (the Nicene Creed). The merciful love of God thus attains its highest manifestation: if there is no ingratitude and misery greater than sin, there can be no love greater than that of Him Who inclines over so much ingratitude and abjection to restore it to its primal splendor. God did this, not by the intervention of a prophet or the most sublime of the angels: but He did it personally as He promised: God will bring the revenge of  recompense: God Himself will come and save you (Is. 35.4; pay attention you "Bible-only" sectarians who deny the divinity of Jesus Christ the Lord and Savior!). 

All three Persons of the the Blessed Trinity acted in the Incarnation, the end of which was to unite a human nature with the Person of the Word (theology calls this the "hypostatic union"). The Word remains what He was - perfect God, and the Word was God. Nevertheless, He does not disdain to assume our poor human nature, fallen through sin, Who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men and in habit found as a man (Phil. 2.6-7). This is the work of the immense charity of God, Who being full of mercy for His poor creatures who had fallen into the abyss of sin, did not hesitate to decree the redemptive Incarnation of His only-begotten Son. Thus the Eternal Word comes to us like the good shepherd who leaves everything and goes down into the valley to look for the lost sheep. This is the fruit of the exceeding charity with which God has loved us!

A Child is born to us, a Son is given to us... His Name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, God the Mighty, the Father of the world to come, the Prince of peace 
(Is. 9.6)

A blessed Christmas to all!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

No Room for the Savior


Cesar Augustus,the master bookkeeper of the world, sat in his palace by the Tiber. Before him was stretched a map labelled Orbis Terrarum, Imperium Romanum. He was about to issue an order for a census of the world; for all the nations of the civilized world were subject to Rome.

Joseph, the builder, an obscure descendant of the great King David, was obliged by that very fact to register in Bethlehem, the city of David. In accordance with the edict, Mary and Joseph set out from the village of Nazareth for the village of Bethlehem, which lies about five miles on the other side of Jerusalem. Five hundred years earlier the Prophet Micheas had prophesied concerning that little village: And thou Bethlehem the land of Juda art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come forth the captain that shall rule my people Israel (5.2; Mt. 2.6). 

Joseph was full of expectancy as he entered the city of his family, and was quite convinced that that He would have no difficulty in finding lodgings for Mary, particularly on account of Her condition. Joseph went from house to house only to find each one crowded. He searched in vain for a place where He, to Whom heaven and earth belonged, might be born. Could it be that the Creator would not find a home among us? Up a steep hill he climbed to the village inn. There, above all other places, he would surely find shelter but there was no room for Him Who came to be the Inn of every homeless heart in the world; in fact, there was room for anyone who had a coin to give the innkeeper. When finally the scrolls of history are completed down to the last words in time, the saddest line of all will be: There was no room for them in the inn (Lk. 2.7).

Out to the hillside to a stable cave, where shepherds sometimes drove their flocks in time of storm, Joseph and Mary went at last for shelter. There, in a place of peace in the lonely abandonment of a cold windswept cave; there, under the floor of the world, He Who will be born without a mother in heaven, will be born without father on earth.

Of every other child that is born into the world, friends can say that he resembles his mother. This will be the first instance in time that anyone could say that the mother resembled the Child. This is the beautiful paradox of the Child Who made His Mother. It would also be the first time in history of this world that anyone could ever think of heaven as being anywhere else than 'somewhere up there'; when the Child will be in Her arms, Mary would now look down to Heaven.

In the filthiest place in the world, a stable, Purity would be born. He, Who was later to be slaughtered by men acting as beasts, would be born among beasts. He, Who would call Himself the Living Bread which came down from heaven (Jn. 6.51), was laid in a manger, literally, a place to eat. Centuries before, the Jews had worshipped the golden calf, and the Greeks, the ass. Men worshipped and sacrificed before them as before God. The ox and the ass were now present to make their innocent reparation, bowing down before their God.

There was no room in the inn, but there was room in the stable. The inn is the gathering place of public opinion, the focal point of the world's moods, the rendezvous of the worldly, the rallying place of the popular and the successful. But the stable is a place for the outcasts, the ignored, the forgotten. The world might have expected the Son of God to be born - if He was to be born at all - in an inn. A stable would be the last place in the world where one would have looked for Him. Divinity is always where one least expects to find it.

No worldly mind would ever have suspected that He Who could make the sun warm the earth would one day have need of an ox and an ass to warm Him with their breath; that He, Who, in the language of Scripture, could stop the turning about of Arcturus would have His birthplace dictated by an imperial census; that He, Who clothed the fields with grass, would Himself be naked; that He, from Whose hands came planets and worlds, would one day have tiny arms that were not long enough to touch the huge heads of the cattle; that the feet which trod the everlasting hills would one day be too weak to walk; that the Eternal Word would be dumb; that Omnipotence would be wrapped in swaddling-clothes; that Salvation would lie in a manger - no one would ever have suspected that God coming to this earth would ever be so helpless. And that is precisely why so many miss Him. Divinity is always where one least expects to find it.

For the Creator to come among His creatures and be ignored by them; for God to come among His own and not be received by His own; for God to be homeless at home -  that could only mean one thing to the worldly-minded: the Babe could not have been God at all. And that is just why they missed Him and still miss Him. Divinity is always where one least expects to find it.

The Son of God about to be made man would be invited to enter His own world through a back door. About to be exiled from the earth, He would be born under the earth, in a cave, and there He would shake the proud civilization to its very foundations.

Because He would be born in a cave, all who would wish to see Him must learn how to stoop. To stoop is the mark of humility. The proud refuse to stoop and, therefore, they miss Divinity. Those, however, who would bend their egos and enter, will find they are not in a cave at all, but in a new universe where sits a Babe on His mother's lap, with the world poised on His fingers.

At this point, it would do very well, dear faithful and readers, who may have been used already to see the sweetness of the scene in the manger, to discern this: the Holy Infant will already bear His Cross - the only cross a Babe could bear, a cross of poverty, exile and limitation. His sacrificial intent will already shine forth in the message the angels will sing upon the hills of Bethlehem: For, this day, is born to you a Savior, Who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David (Lk. 2.11). Covetousness would be challenged by His poverty, while pride will be confronted with the humiliation of a stable. The swathing of Divine power, which needs to accept no bounds, is often too great a tax upon minds which think only of power. They cannot grasp the idea of Divine condescension, or of the 'rich man becoming poor that through His poverty, we might be rich'. Men shall have no greater sign of Divinity than the absence of power as they expect it - the spectacle of a Babe Who said He would come in the clouds of heaven, now will be wrapped in the cloths of earth.

He, Whom the angels call the Son of the Most High, will descend into the red dust from which we all were born, to be one with weak, fallen man in all things, save sin. And it is the swaddling-clothes which shall constitute His 'sign'. If He Who Is Omnipotence will come with thunderbolts, there will be no sign. There is no sign unless something happens contrary to nature. The brightness of the sun is no sign, but an eclipse is. He said that on the last day, His coming would be heralded by 'signs in the sun', perhaps an extinction of light. At Bethlehem the Divine Son will go into an eclipse, so that only the humble of spirit might recognize Him.

Only two classes of people would find the Babe: the shepherds and the Wise Men; the simple and the learned; those who knew that they knew nothing, and those who knew that they did not know everything. He is never seen by the man of one book; never by the man who thinks he knows. Not even God can tell the proud anything! Only the humble can find God!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Feast of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary


Thou art all fair, O Mary, and there is not spot of original sin in Thee
(from Canticle of Canticles, 4.7)

The Privilege of the Immaculate Conception
by Fr. Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.

The definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception, made by Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854, reads as follows:

"We declare, announce, and define that the doctrine which states that the Blessed Virgin Mary was preserved, in the first instant of Her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of God Omnipotent and because of the merits of Jesus Christ the Savior of the human race, free from all stain of original sin, is revealed by God and must therefore be believed firmly and with constancy by all the faithful" (Papal Bull, Ineffabilis Deus).

This definition contains three especially important points. First, it affirms that the Blessed Virgin was preserved from all stain of original sin from the first instant of Her conception. The conception meant is that known as passive or consummated - that in which Her soul was created and united to Her body - for it is then only that one can speak of a human person, whereas the definition bears on a privilege granted to the person of Mary.The definition states also that the Immaculate Conception is a special privilege an altogether singular grace, the work of divine omnipotence.

What are we to understand by original sin from which Mary has been preserved? The Church has not defined its intrinsic nature, but she has taught us something about it by telling us its effects: the divine hatred or malediction, a stain on the soul, a state on non-justice or spiritual death, servitude under the empire of Satan, subjection to the law of concupiscence, subjection to suffering and to bodily death in so far as they are the penalty of the common sin (cf. Second Council of Orange, in Denz. 174, 175, and the Sacred Council of Trent, in Denz 788, 789). These effects presuppose the loss of the sanctifying grace which, along with integrity of nature, Adam had received for us and for himself, and which he lost by sin, also for us and for himself (cf., the Sacred Council of Trent, in Denz 789). 

It follows therefore that Mary was not preserved free from every stain of original sin otherwise than by receiving sanctifying grace into Her soul from the first instant of Her conception. Thus She was conceived in the state of justice and holiness which is the effect of divine friendship as opposed to divine malediction, and in consequence She was withdrawn from the slavery of the devil and subjection to the law of concupiscence. She was withdrawn too from subjection to the law of suffering and death, considered as penalties of the sin of our nature, even though both Jesus and Mary knew suffering and death in so far as they are consequences of our nature and endured them for our salvation.

Second, it is affirmed in the definition, as it was already affirmed in 1661 by Pope Alexander VIII, that it was through the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, that Mary was preserved from original sin. Hence the opinion held by some 13th century theologians - that Mary was immaculate in the sense of not needing to be redeemed, and that Her first grace was independent of the future merits of Her Son - may no longer be admitted. According to the Papal Bull Ineffabilis Deus, Mary was redeemed by the merits of Her Son in a most perfect way, by a redemption which did not free Her from a stain already contracted, but which preserved Her from contracting one. Even in human affairs we look on one as more a savior if he wards off a blow than if he merely heals the wound it inflicts.

The idea of preservative redemption reminds us that Mary, being child of Adam and proceeding from him by way of natural generation, should have incurred the hereditary taint, and would have incurred it in fact had not God decided from all eternity to grant Her the unique privilege of an immaculate conception in dependence on the future merits of Her Son.

The Sacred Liturgy had already made this point in the prayer proper to the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which was approved by Pope Sixtus IV (1476): "Thou hast preserved Her from all stain through the foreseen death of this same Son." The Blessed Virgin was preserved from original sin by the future death of Her Son, that is to say, by the merits of Christ dying for us on the Cross.

It is therefore clear that Mary's preservation from original sin differs essentially from the that of Our Savior. Jesus was not redeemed by the merits of another, not even by His own. He was preserved from original sin and from all sin for two reasons: first, because of the personal union of His humanity to the Divine Word in the very instant in which His sacred soul was created [in theology, this union is called the "hypostatic union"], since it could not be that sin should ever be attributed to the Word made flesh; secondly, since His conception was virginal and due to the operation of the Holy Ghost [and not by man], so that Jesus did not descend from Adam by way of natural generation. These two reasons are peculiar to Jesus alone.

Third, the definition proposes the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception as revealed, that is, as contained at least implicitly in the deposit of Revelation - in the Sacred Scriptures and Tradition [as we have already shown in the three previous posts on the Immaculate Conception through the treatises of St. Alphonsus], or in one at least of those two sources.

The Papal Bull Ineffabilis Deus quotes actually only two texts of the Sacred Writ, Genesis III, 15 and St. Luke I,28,42.

The privilege of the Immaculate Conception is revealed as it were implicitly or confusedly in the book of Genesis in the words spoken by God to the serpent, and thereby to Satan: I will put enmity between thee and the Woman, and thy seed and Her seed: She shall crush thy head... The pronoun we translate as She is masculine in the Hebrew text; this is true also of the Greek Septuagint and the Syriac versions. St. Jerome's Sacred Latin Vulgate Bible - the official Latin translation of the Church of the Sacred Scriptures - however has the feminine Ipsa, referring the prophecy directly to the Woman Herself and for this reason: "We do not find in Eve the principle of that enmity which God will put between the race of the Woman and the race of the serpent; for Eve, like Adam, is herself fallen a victim to the [devil]. It is only between Mary, Mother of the Redeemer, that enmity ultimately exists... " (Fr. F.X. le Bachelet in Fr. Garrigou-Langrage, O.P.). God did not speak only of this enmity between Mary and Satan and their respective seed but also the outcome of this enmity between Mary and Satan: the victory of Our Blessed Mother: She shall crush thy head

Taken by themselves these words are certainly not sufficient to prove that the Immaculate Conception is revealed. But the Fathers of the Church, in their comparison of Eve and Mary, have seen in them an allusion to it, and it is on this account that the text is cited by Pope Pius IX. 

The promise of Genesis speaks of a victory that will be complete: She shall crush thy head. And since the victory over Satan will be complete, so also the victory over sin which makes the soul slave and devil master. But as Pope Pius IX teaches in his Bull, the victory over Satan would not be complete if Mary had not been preserved from original sin by the merits of Her Son.

The Immaculate Conception is contained therefore in the promise of Genesis as the oak is contained in the acorn. A person who had never seen an oak could never guess the value of the acorn, nor its final stage of development. But we who have seen the oak know for what the acorn is destined, and that it does not yield an elm nor a poplar. The same law of evolution obtains in the order of progressive divine revelation.

The Bull quotes also the salutation addressed by the Archangel to Mary: Ave, gratia plena (Lk. 1.28). The habitual grace which the Blessed Virgin Mary received at the instant of the creation of Her holy soul was fulness or plenitude to which the words of the Archangel on the day of the Annunciation might have been applied. Pope Pius IX even says that, from the first instant, Mary "was loved by God more than all creatures [prae creaturis universis], that He found most extreme pleasure in Her, and that He loaded Her in a wonderful way with His graces, more than all the angels and saints." 

St. Thomas Aquinas explains the reason of this plenitude of grace: "The nearer one approaches to a principle (of truth and life) the more one participates in its effects. That is why St.Denis affirms that the angels, who are nearer to God than man is, participate more in His favors. But Christ is the principle of the life of grace; as God He is its principal cause and as Man (having first His humanity is, as it were, an instrument always united to the Divinity: grace and truth came by Jesus Christ - Jn. 1.17). The Blessed Virgin Mary, being nearer to Christ than any other human being, since it is from Her that He received His humanity, receives from Him therefore a fulness of grace, surpassing that of all other creatures." 

Furthermore, the same Angelic Doctor explains that though the angels do not manifest special respect for men, being their superiors by nature and living in holy intimacy with God, yet the Archangel Gabriel when saluting Mary, showed himself full of veneration for Her. He understood that She was far above him through Her fulness of grace, Her intimacy with God, and Her perfect purity.

She surpassed the angels in Her holy familiarity with the Most High. On that account, the Archangel Gabriel saluted Her saying: Dominus tecum (The Lord is with thee). It was as if he said: "You are more intimate with God than I. He is about to become Your Son, whereas I am but His servant." In truth, Mary, as Mother of God, is more intimate with the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, than are the angels.

On the contrary, the Blessed Virgin would not have received complete fulness of grace had Her soul been even for an instant in the condition of spiritual death which follows on original sin, had She been even for an instant  deprived of grace, turned away from God, a daughter of wrath, in slavery to the devil.


"O Mary, Mother of God and my Mother, 
what light and strength Your sweet image brings me! 
The most beautiful, the holiest, the purest of all creatures, 
so 'full of grace' that You were worthy to bear within You 
the Author and Source of all grace, truth, and life, 
You do not disdain to give Yurself to me - a poor creature, 
conscious of my sin and misery - as a model of purity, love, and holiness. 

The privileges of Your Immaculate Conception and divine maternity are inimitable, 
but You have hidden them within such a simple, humble life 
that I am not afraid to approach You, and ask You 
to take me by the hand and help me
to ascend the mountain of perfection with You.
Yes, You are Queen of heaven and earth; 
but because you are more Mother than Queen,
You encourage me to have recourse to You saying,
O my child, hear me; blessed are they who keep my ways...
He who finds me, finds life, and
will obtain salvation from the Lord 
(Pr. 8.32, 35)
And I answer You in the words of the Church,
'Draw me, O Immaculate Virgin,
I will run after you in the odor of Your ointments
(pre-Vatican II 'Roman Breviary," cf. Cant. 1.3)

Yes, draw me, Immaculate Mother, above all by the luminous charm
of Your spotless purity!
I feel so impure and stained by the things of earth compared with You,
the all-pure, so detached from everything,
so forgetful of Yourself that nothing moves You to act
apart from the divine desires, pleasures, and impulses,
apart from the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.

If I see You always docile and ready to respond
to every least invitation, even though it be hidden under
the most human, ordinary circumstances;
if I hear You gently repeating Your 'Yes,' Ecce ancilla Domini... fiat...
(Behold the handmaid of the Lord... let it be done...),
in all happenings of Your life, big and little, agreeable and disagreeable,
it is because You are the Immaculate.
No shadow of creatures or purely human interests or affections
touches Your heart; and therefore, nothing
can delay Your most rapid course toward God

Illumine my mind then with the light which emanates 
from Your resplendent purity,
so that no attachment, no earthly affection may remain hidden in me
to prevent my leading a life truly [and fully] consecrated to my God.

With Your help, O Immaculate Mother, I am ready to renounce
any affection, even if slight, which could still bind me to creatures.
I want my heart to belong wholly to God, for Whom
I would keep its every throb in a spirit of perfect chastity,
so that I will never refuse anything to the Lord,
and will always be able to repeat with You my prompt fiat. Amen.

A blessed Feast to all!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Christian Instruction: The Immaculate Conception of Mary (III)


Mary in the Sacred Scriptures: The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
by St. Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church and Founder of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer

Since, then, it was becoming that the Father should preserve Mary from original sin as His Daughter, and the Son as His Mother, it was also becoming that the Holy Ghost should preserve Her as His spouse.

St. Augustine says that "Mary was that only one who merited to be called the Mother and Spouse of God." For St. Anselm asserts that "the Divine Spirit, the Love Itself of the Father and the Son, came corporally into Mary, and enriching Her with graces above all creatures, reposed in Her and Her His spouse, the Queen of heaven and earth." He says that He came into Her corporally, that is, as to the effect: for He came to form of Her immaculate body the immaculate body of Jesus Christ, as the Archangel had already predicted to Her: The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee (Lk. 1.35). And therefore it is, says St. Thomas Aquinas, "that Mary is called the temple of the Lord, and the sacred resting-place of the Holy Ghost: for by the operation of the Holy Ghost She became the Mother of the Incarnate Word."

And now, had an excellent artist the power to make his bride such as he could represent her, what pains would he not take to render her as beautiful as possible! Who, then, can say that the Holy Ghost did otherwise with Mary, when He could make Her who was to be His spouse as beautiful as it became Him that She should be? Ah, no! He acted as it became Him to act: for this same Lord Himself declares: Tota pulchra es, Amica Mea, et macula non est in te [Thou art all fair, O my love, and there is not a spot in thee (Cant. 4.7)]. 

The Holy Ghost signified the same thing when He called this His spouse an enclosed garden and a sealed fountain: My sister, My spouse, is a garden enclosed, a fountain sealed up (Cant. 4.12). "Mary," says St. Sophronius, "was this enclosed garden and sealed fountain, into which no guile could enter, against which no fraud of the enemy could prevail, and who always was holy in mind and body." St. Bernard likewise says, addressing the Blessed Virgin, "Thou art an enclosed garden, into which the sinner's hand has never entered to pluck its flowers."

We know that this Divine Spouse love Mary more than all the other saints and angels put together. He loved Her from the very beginning, and exalted Her in sanctity above all others, as it is expressed by David in the Psalms: The foundations thereof are in the holy mountains: the Lord loveth the gates of Sion above all the tabernacles of Jacob... a man is born of Her, and the Highest Himself hath founded Her (Ps. 86.1, Vulg. and DRV). Words which all signify that Mary was holy from Her conception. The same thing is signified by other passages addressed to Her by the Holy Ghost. In Proverbs we read: Many daughters have gathered together riches: thou hast surpassed them all (31.29). If Mary surpassed all others in the riches of grace, She must have had original justice, as Adam and the angels had it. In the Canticle of Canticles we read, There are... young maidens without number. One is my dove, my perfect one [in Hebrew, it is my entire, my immaculate one] is but one, She is the only one of Her mother (6.7). All just souls are daughters of divine grace; but amongst these Mary was the dove without the gall of sin, the perfect one without spot in Her origin, the one conceived in grace.

Hence, it is that the Angel, before She became the Mother of God, already found Her gratia plena [full of grace, Lk. 1.28]; on which words St. Sophronius writes, that "grace is given partially to other saints, but to the Blessed Virgin all was given." So much so, says St. Thomas Aquinas, that "grace not only rendered the soul, but even the flesh of Mary holy, so that this Blessed Virgin might be able to clothe the Eternal Word with it." Now all this leads us to the conclusion that Mary, from the moment of Her conception, was enriched and filled with divine grace by the Holy Ghost: the plenitude of grace was in Her; for from the very moment of Her conception the whole grace of the divinity overflowed upon Her, by the outpouring of the Holy Ghost. Hence, St. Peter Damian says, "that the Holy Ghost was about to bear Her off entirely to Himself, who was chosen and pre-elected by God." The Saint says "to bear Her off" to denote the holy velocity of the Divine Spirit in being beforehand in making this spouse His own before Lucifer should take possession of Her

Monday, December 5, 2011

Christian Instruction: The Immaculate Conception of Mary (II)

Mary in the Sacred Scriptures: The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
by St. Alphonsus Liguori, Doctor of the Church and Founder of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer

In the second place, it was becoming that the Son should preserve Mary from sin, as being His Mother. No man can choose his mother; but should such a thing ever be granted to any one, who is there who, if able to choose a queen, would wish for a slave? If able to choose a noble lady, would he wish for a servant? Or if able to choose a friend of God, would he wish for His enemy? If, then, the Son of God alone could choose a Mother according to His own Heart, His liking, we must consider, as a matter of course, that He chose one worthy of God. St. Bernard says, "that the Creator of men becoming man, must have selected Himself a Mother who He knew [was worthy of] Him." And as it was becoming that a most pure God should have a mother pure from all sin, he created Her spotless. St. Bernardine of Sienna, speaking of the different degrees of sanctification, says, that "the third is that obtained by becoming the Mother of God; and that this sanctification consists in the entire removal of original sin. This is what took place in the Blessed Virgin: truly God created Mary such, both as to the eminence of Her nature and the perfection of grace with which He endowed Her, as became Him Who was to be born of Her." Here we may apply the words of the Apostle to the Hebrews: For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest; holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners (7.26). According to St. Paul, it was fitting that our Blessed Redeemer should not only be separated from sin, but also from sinners; according to the explanation of St. Thomas Aquinas, who says, "that it was necessary that He, who came to take away sins, should be separated from sinners, as to the fault under which Adam lay." But how could Jesus Christ be said to be separated from sinners if He had a Mother who was a sinner?

St. Ambrose says, "that Christ chose this vessel into which He was about to descend, not of earth, but from heaven; and He consecrated it a temple of purity." The Saint refers to the text of St. Paul: The first man was of the earth, earthly; the second Man from heaven, heavenly (1 Cor. 15.47). The Saint calls the divine Mother "a heavenly vessel," not because Mary was not earthly by nature, as heretics have dreamt, but because She was heavenly by grace; She was as superior to the angels of heaven in sanctity and purity, as it was becoming that She should be, in whose womb a king of glory was to dwell. This agrees with that which St. John the Baptist revealed to St. Bridget, saying, "It was not becoming that the King of Glory should repose otherwise than in a chosen vessel, exceeding all men and angels in purity." And remark these last words, "Mary was conceived without sin, that the divine Son might be born of Her without sin." Not that Jesus Christ could have contracted sin; but that He might not be reproached with even having a mother infected with it, who would consequently have been the slave of the devil.

The Holy Ghost says that the glory of man is from the honor of the father, and a father without honor is the disgrace of the son (Ecclus. 3.13). Therefore it was that Jesus preserved the body of Mary from corruption after death [the glorious Assumption of the Blessed Mother into Heaven body and soul]; for it would have redounded to His dishonor had that virginal flesh with which He had clothed Himself become the food of worms. For corruption is a disgrace of human nature; and as Jesus was not subject to it, Mary was also exempted; for the flesh of Jesus is the flesh of Mary. But since the corruption of Her body would have been a disgrace for Our Lord Jesus Christ, because He was born of Her, how much greater would the disgrace have been, had He been born of a mother whose soul was once infected with the corruption of sin? For not only is it true that the flesh of Jesus is the same as that of Mary, but the flesh of Our Savior, even after His resurrection, remained the same that He had taken from His Mother. Hence the Abbot Arnold of Chartres says, "The flesh of Mary and that of Christ are one; and therefore I consider the glory of the Son as being not so much common to, as one with, that of His Mother." And now if this is true, supposing that the Blessed Virgin was conceived in sin, though the Son could not have contracted its stain, nevertheless His having united flesh to Himself which was once infected with sin, a vessel of uncleanness and subject to Lucifer, would always have been a blot.

The Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas, says "that when God chooses any one for a particular dignity, He renders him fit for it;" whence he adds, "that God, having chosen Mary for His Mother, He also by His grace rendered Her worthy of this highest of all dignities." And we are assured by the Archangel Gabriel: For thou hast found grace with God; behold thou shalt conceive (Lk. 1.30-31); earlier he addressed our Blessed Lady, Ave, gratia plena! [Hail, full of grace!] (ibid., v.28). And thence the Saint argues that "the Blessed Virgin never committed any actual sin, not even a venial one. Otherwise, She would not have been a mother worthy of Jesus Christ; for the ignominy of the Mother would also have been that of the Son, for He would have had a sinner for His mother." And now if Mary, on account of a single venial sin, which does not deprive a soul of divine grace, would not have been a mother worthy of God, how much more unworthy would She have been had She contracted the guilt of original sin, which would have made Her an enemy of God and a slave of the devil?

Therefore, as St. Peter Damian observes, we must consider it as certain "that the Incarnate Word chose Himself a becoming Mother, and one of whom He would not have to be ashamed." St. Proclus also says, "that He dwelt in a womb which He had created free from all that might be to His dishonor." It was not shame to Jesus Christ, when He heard Himself contemptuously called by the Jews the Son of Mary, meaning that He was the Son of a poor woman: Is not His Mother called Mary? (Mt. 13.55) for He came into this world to give us an example of humility and patience. But, on the other hand, it would undoubtedly have been a disgrace, could He have heard the devil say, "Was not His Mother a sinner? was He not born of a wicked Mother, who was once our slave?" It would even have been unbecoming had Jesus Christ been born of a woman whose body was deformed, or crippled, or possessed by devils; but how much more would it have been so, had He been born of a woman whose soul had been once deformed by sin, and in the possession of Lucifer!

Indeed, God, Who Is Wisdom Itself, well knew how to prepare Himself a becoming dwelling, in which to reside on earth: Wisdom hath built herself a house (Pr. 9.1). The Most High hath sanctified His own tabernacle... God will help it in the morning early (Ps. 46.5; chapter and verse enumeration according to the Sacred Latin Vulgate and DRV). David says that Our Lord sanctified His dwelling in the morning early; that is to say, from the beginning of Her life, to render Her worthy of Himself; for it was not becoming that a Holy God should choose Himself a dwelling that was not holy: Holiness becometh Thy house (Ps. 92.5). And if God declares that He will never enter a malicious soul, or dwell in a body subject to sin, for wisdom will not enter into a malicious soul, nor dwell in a body subject to sin (Wis. 1.4), how can we ever think that the Son of God chose to dwell in the soul and body of Mary, without having previously sanctified and preserved it from every stain of sin? for, according to the doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas, "the Eternal Word dwelt not only in the soul of Mary, but even in Her womb." The Holy Church sings in her Te Deum: Non horruisti Virginis uterum (Thou, O Lord, hast not disdained to dwell in the Virgin's womb.). Yes, for He would have disdained to have taken flesh in the womb of an Agnes, a Gertrude, a Teresa, because these virgins, though holy, were nevertheless for a time stained with original sin; but He did not disdain to become man in the womb of Mary, because this Beloved Virgin was always pure and free from the least shadow of sin, and was never possessed by the infernal serpent. And therefore, St. Augustine says, "that the Son of God never made Himself a wore worthy dwelling than Mary, who was never possessed by the enemy, or despoiled of Her ornaments." On the other hand, St. Cyril of Alexandria asks, "Who ever heard of an architect who built himself a temple, and yielded up the first possession of it to his greatest enemy?"

Yes, says St. Methodius, speaking on the same subject, that Lord Who commanded us to honor our parents, would not do otherwise, when He became man, than observe it, by giving His Mother every grace and honor: "He Who said, Honor thy father and thy mother, that He might observe His own decree, gave all grace and honor to His Mother." Therefore, we must certainly believe that Jesus Christ preserved the body of Mary from corruption after death, for if He had not done so, He would not have observed the law, which, at the same time that it commands us to honor our mother, forbids us to show her disrespect. But how little would Jesus have guarded His Mother's honor, had He not preserved Her from Adam's sin!

"Moreover, we know," says St. Bernardine of Sienna, "that the divine Son came into the world more to redeem Mary than all other creatures." There are two means by which a person may be redeemed, as St. Augustine teaches us: the one by raising him up after having fallen, and the other by preventing him from falling; and this last means is doubtless the most honorable. "He is more honorably redeemed," says the learned Suarez, S.J., "who is prevented from falling, than he who after falling is raised up;" for thus the injury or stain is avoided which the soul always contracts by falling. This being the case, we ought certainly to believe that Mary was redeemed in the more honorable way, and the one which became the Mother of God. On the same subject, Cardinal Cusano beautifully remarks that "others had Jesus as a liberator, but to the Most Blessed Virgin He was a pre-liberator;" meaning, that all others had a Redeemer Who delivered them from sin with which they were already defiled, but that the Most Blessed Virgin had a Redeemer Who, because He was Her Son, preserved Her from ever being defiled by it.

In fine, to conclude this point in the words of Hugo of St. Victor, the tree is known by its fruits. If the Lamb was always immaculate, the Mother must also have been always immaculate: "Such the Lamb, such the Mother of the Lamb; for the tree is known by its fruit."

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Christian Instruction: The Immaculate Conception of Mary (I)

The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
by St. Alphonsus de Liguori, Doctor of the Church and Founder of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer

Great indeed was the injury entailed on Adam and all his posterity by his accursed sin; for at the same time that he thereby, for his own great misfortune, lost grace, he also forfeited all the other precious gifts which he had originally been enriched, and drew down upon himself and all his descendants the hatred of God and an accumulation of evils. But from this general misfortune God was pleased to exempt that Blessed Virgin whom He had destined to be the Mother of the Second Adam – Jesus Christ – Who was to repair the evil done by the first.  Now let us see how befitting it was that God, and all the Three Divine Persons, should thus preserve her from it; that the Father should thus preserve her as His daughter, the Son as His Mother, and the Holy Ghost as His spouse.

In the first place, it was befitting that the Eternal Father should preserve Mary from the stain of original sin… for He destined her to crush the head of that infernal serpent, which, by seducing our first parents, entailed death upon all men; and this Our Lord foretold: I will put enmity between thee and the Woman, and thy seed and Her seed: She shall crush thy head (Gen. 3.15). But if Mary was to be that valiant Woman brought into the world to conquer Lucifer, certainly it was not becoming that he should first conquer Her, and make Her his slave; but it was reasonable that She should be preserved from all stain, and even momentary subjection to Her opponent. The proud spirit endeavored to infect the most pure soul of this Virgin with his venom, as he had already infected the whole human race. But praised and ever blessed be God, who, in His infinite goodness, pre-endowed Her with such great grace [the Angel whom God sent to the Blessed Virgin addressed Her: Ave, gratia plena! (Hail, full of grace! – Lk. 1.28)], that, remaining always free from any guilt of sin, She was ever able to beat down and confound his pride: since the devil is the head of original sin, this head it was that Mary crushed; for sin never had any entry into the soul of this Blessed Virgin, which was consequently free from all stain.” And St. Bonaventure more expressly says, “It was becoming that the Blessed Virgin Mary, by whom our shame was to be blotted out, and whom the devil was to be conquered, should never, ever for a moment, have been under his dominion.”

But, above all, it principally became the Eternal Father to preserve this His Daughter unspotted by Adam’s sin, as St. Bernardine of Sienna remarks, because He destined Her to be the Mother of His only Begotten Son: “Thou wast preordained in the mind of God, before all creatures, that thou mightest beget God Himself as man.” If, then, for no other end, at least for the honor of His Son, who was God, it was reasonable that the Father should create Mary free from every stain. The Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas, says, that all things that are ordained for God should be holy and free from stain: “Holiness is to be attributed to those things that are ordained for God.” Hence when David was planning the temple of Jerusalem, on a scale of magnificence becoming a God, he said, For a house is prepared not for man, but for God [1 Paralipomenon (1 Chronicles in the ‘modern’ versions) 29.1]. How much more reasonable, then, is it not, to suppose that the sovereign Architect, Who destined Mary to be the Mother of His own Son, adorned Her soul with all most precious gifts, that She might be a dwelling worthy of a God! Denis the Carthusian says, “that God, the Artificer of all things, when constructing a worthy dwelling for His Son, adorned it with all attractive graces.” And the Holy Church herself, in the following prayer, assures us that God prepared the body and soul of the Blessed virgin so as to be a worthy dwelling on earth for His Only-Begotten Son: “Almighty and Eternal God, Who, by the cooperation of the Holy Ghost, didst prepare the body and soul of the glorious Virgin and Mother Mary, that She might become a worthy habitation for Thy Son” (Oremus after Salve Regina).

We know that a man’s highest honor is to be born of noble parents: And the glory of children are their fathers (Prov. 17.6). Hence in the world the reputation of being possessed of only a small fortune, and little learning, is more easily tolerated than that of being of low birth; for, whilst a poor man may become rich by his industry, an ignorant man learned by study, it is very difficult  for a person of humble origin to attain the rank of nobility; but, even should he attain it, his birth can always be made a subject of reproach to him. How, then, can we suppose that God, Who could cause His Son to be born of a noble mother by preserving her from sin, would on the contrary permit Him to be born of one infected by it, and thus enable Lucifer always to reproach Him with the shame of having a Mother who had once been his slave and the enemy of God? No, certainly, the Eternal Father did not permit this; but He well provided for the honor of His Son by preserving His Mother always immaculate, that She might be a Mother becoming such a Son. The Greek Church bears witness to this, saying, “that God, by a singular Providence, caused the Most Blessed Virgin to be as perfectly pure from the very first moment of Her existence, as it was fitting that She should be, who was to be the worthy Mother of Christ.”

God,” says St. Anselm, “could preserve angels in heaven spotless, in the midst of the devastation that surrounded them, was He, then, unable to preserve the Mother of His Son and the Queen of angels from the common fall of men?” And I may here add, that as God could grant Eve the grace to come immaculate into the world, could He not, then, grant the same favor to Mary?

Yes indeed! God could do this, and did it; for on every account “it was becoming,” as the same St. Anselm says, “that the Virgin, on whom the Eternal Father intended to bestow His Only-Begotten Son, should be adorned with such purity as not only to exceed that of all men and angels, but exceeding any purity that can be conceived after that of God.” And St. John Damascene speaks in still more clearer terms, for he says, “that Our Lord had preserved the soul, together with the body of the Blessed Virgin, in that purity which became  Her who was to receive God into Her womb; for, as He is holy, He only reposes in holy places.” And thus the Eternal Father could well say to His beloved Daughter, As the lily among thorns, so is My love among the daughters (Cant. 2.2). My daughter, amongst all my other daughters, thou art as a lily in the midst of thorns; for they are all stained with sin, but thou wast always immaculate and always My beloved. 

Salvation is in the "Blood of the Lamb"

Apocalypse XIV now unfolding (cf., our posts "The Wine of the Wrath of God" and "After Pope Benedict XVI, the 'Last' Roman Pontiff?"). The divine chastisement of world-wide conflagration (Lk. 17.29-30, cf., our post "Our Lady, Vatican II Disorientation, and the Annihilation of Many Nations") to annihilate the 'super-power' and cities and nations drunk with the wine of its immodesty, impurity, fornication, homosexuality, and blasphemies (Apoc. 14.8) is imminent - the close of our end-times period (distinct from the consummation of the world, Mt. 28.20).

They... have made them white in the Blood of the Lamb
(Apoc. 7.14) ... All things... are cleansed with Blood: and without shedding of Blood there is no remission (Heb. 9.22).

The Blood of the [Divine] Lamb can be availed of in the traditional Rite of the Sacrament of Penance (cf., our post "On Concealing Sins in Confession") and of the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist (the Traditional Latin Mass). Go to our traditional Catholic Mass Centers (links on the left-side bar of this site). Flee to the mountains... (Mt. 24.16).

See also the Messages and Appeals (on the upper right-side bar) of the Apocalyptic Woman in her title of Our Lady of Fatima.