December 8, 2022

Who Are You, O Mary?

“Who are you, O Immaculate Conception?” This prayer of Saint Maximilian Kolbe echoes in the hearts of Catholics as we celebrate the Solemnity on December 8th.

In December 1854, Blessed Pius IX proclaimed the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception, mandating the belief in this teaching. The proclamation is worth reading in full:

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 the 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.” (Ineffabilis Deus, December 8, 1854)

The clarity of this statement brings peace to the minds and hearts of devout Catholics who have grown up with an understanding of the privileged position of the Mother of God.

But for some, perhaps, this doctrine does not connect well to the heart. True, belief in an infallible teaching of the Church requires Faith- this is a gift of the Holy Spirit. But I am convinced that the Mother of God wishes to connect the head to the heart- she wants to be present to each of her children. 

In Paris is found the Shrine of the Miraculous Medal; few know this medal was originally called the “Medal of the Immaculate Conception”. Our Lady appeared to a young Sister of Charity, Catherine Labouré, and asked her to spread devotion to her Immaculate Conception, primarily through a medal inscribed with the prayer: “O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee”. Our Lady told Saint Catherine: “Have a medal struck of this model. All who wear it will receive great graces; it should be worn around the neck. Grace will abound for the persons who wear it with confidence.” 

That Our Lady asked for her medal “to be worn around the neck” emphasizes her great desire to be ever present and close to her children. When we wear a precious medal or a locket, perhaps with a picture of a loved one, “around the neck”, it is a constant reminder of the presence of that beloved person. That the Mother of God, Queen of Heaven and earth, wishes to be so close to us, her children, is amazing! Yet her coming in Paris and again in Lourdes soon after, demonstrates her true maternity. The Immaculate Conception becomes “touchable”; not only a doctrine or dogma on paper, but a living, loving, breathing mother who wishes to be involved in the lives of her children. 

The very last sentence of the proclamation “Ineffabilis Deus” is astonishing: “What she asks, she obtains. Her pleas can never be unheard.” This confidence should fill us with the same hope as the Holy Father, Pius IX as he exclaims: “Our soul overflows with joy and our tongue with exultation. We give, and we shall continue to give, the humblest and deepest thanks to Jesus Christ, our Lord… We are firm in our confidence that she will obtain pardon for the sinner, health for the sick, strength of heart for the weak, consolation for the afflicted, help for those in danger; that she will remove spiritual blindness from all who are in error, so that they may return to the path of truth and justice, and that here may be one flock and one shepherd.”

As we spend this time of Advent preparing for the birth of Jesus, let us join our confident prayers with those of Our Lady, Mother of God, who chooses also to be Mother of all of us.