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Guide The Saints Guide to the Immaculate Conception

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The Greek Fathers never formally or explicitly discussed the question of the Immaculate Conception. A comparison with the conception of Christ and that of St. John may serve to light both on the dogma and on the reasons which led the Greeks to celebrate at an early date the Feast of the Conception of Mary.

Of these three conceptions the Church celebrates feasts. The Orientals have a Feast of the Conception of St. John the Baptist 23 September , which dates back to the fifth century; it is thus older than the Feast of the Conception of Mary, and, during the Middle Ages, was kept also by many Western dioceses on 24 September. The Conception of Mary is celebrated by the Latins on 8 December; by the Orientals on 9 December; the Conception of Christ has its feast in the universal calendar on 25 March.

In celebrating the feast of Mary's Conception the Greeks of old did not consider the theological distinction of the active and the passive conceptions, which was indeed unknown to them. They did not think it absurd to celebrate a conception which was not immaculate, as we see from the Feast of the Conception of St.

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They solemnized the Conception of Mary, perhaps because, according to the "Proto-evangelium" of St. James, it was preceded by miraculous events the apparition of an angel to Joachim, etc. John , and that of our Lord Himself. Their object was less the purity of the conception than the holiness and heavenly mission of the person conceived. In the Office of 9 December, however, Mary, from the time of her conception, is called beautiful, pure, holy, just, etc.

John the Baptist. The analogy of St. John's sanctification may have given rise to the Feast of the Conception of Mary. If it was necessary that the precursor of the Lord should be so pure and "filled with the Holy Ghost " even from his mother's womb, such a purity was assuredly not less befitting His Mother. The moment of St. John's sanctification is by later writers thought to be the Visitation "the infant leaped in her womb" , but the angel's words Luke seem to indicate a sanctification at the conception.

This would render the origin of Mary more similar to that of John. And if the Conception of John had its feast, why not that of Mary? There is an incongruity in the supposition that the flesh, from which the flesh of the Son of God was to be formed, should ever have belonged to one who was the slave of that arch-enemy, whose power He came on earth to destroy.

Hence the axiom of Pseudo-Anselmus Eadmer developed by Duns Scotus, Decuit, potuit, ergo fecit , it was becoming that the Mother of the Redeemer should have been free from the power of sin and from the first moment of her existence ; God could give her this privilege, therefore He gave it to her. Again it is remarked that a peculiar privilege was granted to the prophet Jeremiah and to St.

They were sanctified in their mother's womb, because by their preaching they had a special share in the work of preparing the way for Christ. Consequently some much higher prerogative is due to Mary. A treatise of P. Marchant, claiming for St. Joseph also the privilege of St. John, was placed on the Index in Scotus says that "the perfect Mediator must, in some one case, have done the work of mediation most perfectly, which would not be unless there was some one person at least, in whose regard the wrath of God was anticipated and not merely appeased.

The older feast of the Conception of Mary Conception of St. Anne , which originated in the monasteries of Palestine at least as early as the seventh century, and the modern feast of the Immaculate Conception are not identical in their object. John's conception, not discussing the sinlessness. This feast in the course of centuries became the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, as dogmatical argumentation brought about precise and correct ideas, and as the thesis of the theological schools regarding the preservation of Mary from all stain of original sin gained strength.

Even after the dogma had been universally accepted in the Latin Church , and had gained authoritative support through diocesan decrees and papal decisions, the old term remained, and before the term "Immaculata Conceptio" is nowhere found in the liturgical books, except in the invitatorium of the Votive Office of the Conception. The Greeks, Syrians, etc. Anne Eullepsis tes hagias kai theoprometoros Annas , "the Conception of St.

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Anne, the ancestress of God". Sabas: which was substantially composed in the fifth century, believes that the reference to the feast forms part of the authentic original, and that consequently it was celebrated in the Patriarchate of Jerusalem in the fifth century III, n. But the Typicon was interpolated by the Damascene, Sophronius, and others, and, from the ninth to the twelfth centuries, many new feasts and offices were added.

To determine the origin of this feast we must take into account the genuine documents we possess, the oldest of which is the canon of the feast, composed by St. Andrew of Crete, who wrote his liturgical hymns in the second half of the seventh century, when a monk at the monastery of St. Sabas near Jerusalem d. Archbishop of Crete about But the solemnity cannot then have been generally accepted throughout the Orient, for John, first monk and later bishop in the Isle of Euboea, about in a sermon, speaking in favour of the propagation of this feast, says that it was not yet known to all the faithful ei kai me para tois pasi gnorizetai ; P.

But a century later George of Nicomedia, made metropolitan by Photius in , could say that the solemnity was not of recent origin P. It is therefore, safe to affirm that the feast of the Conception of St. Anne appears in the Orient not earlier than the end of the seventh or the beginning of the eighth century.

As in other cases of the same kind the feast originated in the monastic communities. The monks, who arranged the psalmody and composed the various poetical pieces for the office, also selected the date, 9 December, which was always retained in the Oriental calendars. Gradually the solemnity emerged from the cloister, entered into the cathedrals, was glorified by preachers and poets, and eventually became a fixed feast of the calendar, approved by Church and State.

It is registered in the calendar of Basil II and by the Constitution of Emperor Manuel I Comnenus on the days of the year which are half or entire holidays, promulgated in , it is numbered among the days which have full sabbath rest. The influence of Constantinople was consequently strong in the Neapolitan Church, and, as early as the ninth century, the Feast of the Conception was doubtlessly kept there, as elsewhere in Lower Italy on 9 December, as indeed appears from the marble calendar found in in the Church of S. Giorgio Maggiore at Naples.

Today the Conception of St. Anne is in the Greek Church one of the minor feasts of the year. The lesson in Matins contains allusions to the apocryphal "Proto-evangelium" of St.


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To the Greek Orthodox of our days, however, the feast means very little; they continue to call it "Conception of St. Anne", indicating unintentionally, perhaps, the active conception which was certainly not immaculate. In the Menaea of 9 December this feast holds only the second place, the first canon being sung in commemoration of the dedication of the Church of the Resurrection at Constantinople. The Russian hagiographer Muraview and several other Orthodox authors even loudly declaimed against the dogma after its promulgation, although their own preachers formerly taught the Immaculate Conception in their writings long before the definition of In the Western Church the feast appeared 8 December , when in the Orient its development had come to a standstill.

The timid beginnings of the new feast in some Anglo-Saxon monasteries in the eleventh century, partly smothered by the Norman conquest, were followed by its reception in some chapters and dioceses by the Anglo-Norman clergy. But the attempts to introduce it officially provoked contradiction and theoretical discussion, bearing upon its legitimacy and its meaning, which were continued for centuries and were not definitively settled before The "Martyrology of Tallaght" compiled about and the "Feilire" of St. Aengus register the Conception of Mary on 3 May. It is doubtful, however, if an actual feast corresponded to this rubric of the learned monk St.

This Irish feast certainly stands alone and outside the line of liturgical development. It is a mere isolated appearance, not a living germ. The Scholiast adds, in the lower margin of the "Feilire", that the conception Inceptio took place in February, since Mary was born after seven months -- a singular notion found also in some Greek authors.

The first definite and reliable knowledge of the feast in the West comes from England ; it is found in a calendar of Old Minster, Winchester Conceptio S'ce Dei Genetricis Mari , dating from about , and in another calendar of New Minster, Winchester, written between and ; a pontifical of Exeter of the eleventh century assigned to contains a "benedictio in Conceptione S. Mariae "; a similar benediction is found in a Canterbury pontifical written probably in the first half of the eleventh century, certainly before the Conquest.

These episcopal benedictions show that the feast not only commended itself to the devotion of individuals, but that it was recognized by authority and was observed by the Saxon monks with considerable solemnity. The existing evidence goes to show that the establishment of the feast in England was due to the monks of Winchester before the Conquest The Normans on their arrival in England were disposed to treat in a contemptuous fashion English liturgical observances; to them this feast must have appeared specifically English, a product of insular simplicity and ignorance. Doubtless its public celebration was abolished at Winchester and Canterbury, but it did not die out of the hearts of individuals, and on the first favourable opportunity the feast was restored in the monasteries.

At Canterbury however, it was not re-established before An angel appeared to him during a severe gale and saved the ship after the abbot had promised to establish the Feast of the Conception in his monastery. However we may consider the supernatural feature of the legend, it must be admitted that the sending of Helsin to Denmark is an historical fact.

The account of the vision has found its way into many breviaries, even into the Roman Breviary of The Council of Canterbury attributes the re-establishment of the feast in England to St. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury d. But although this great doctor wrote a special treatise "De Conceptu virginali et originali peccato", by which he laid down the principles of the Immaculate Conception, it is certain that he did not introduce the feast anywhere.

The letter ascribed to him, which contains the Helsin narrative, is spurious. The principal propagator of the feast after the Conquest was Anselm, the nephew of St. He was educated at Canterbury where he may have known some Saxon monks who remembered the solemnity in former days; after he was for a time Abbot of St.

Sabas at Rome, where the Divine Offices were celebrated according to the Greek calendar. When in he was appointed Abbot of Bury St. Edmund's he established the feast there; partly at least through his efforts other monasteries also adopted it, like Reading, St. Albans, Worcester, Gloucester, and Winchcombe. But a number of others decried its observance as hitherto unheard of and absurd, the old Oriental feast being unknown to them.

Two bishops, Roger of Salisbury and Bernard of St. Davids, declared that the festival was forbidden by a council, and that the observance must be stopped. And when, during the vacancy of the See of London, Osbert de Clare, Prior of Westminster, undertook to introduce the feast at Westminster 8 December, , a number of monks arose against him in the choir and said that the feast must not be kept, for its establishment had not the authority of Rome cf.

Osbert's letter to Anselm in Bishop, p.

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Whereupon the matter was brought before the Council of London in The synod decided in favour of the feast, and Bishop Gilbert of London adopted it for his diocese. Thereafter the feast spread in England, but for a time retained its private character, the Synod of Oxford having refused to raise it to the rank of a holiday of obligation. In Normandy at the time of Bishop Rotric the Conception of Mary, in the Archdiocese of Rouen and its six suffragan dioceses, was a feast of precept equal in dignity to the Annunciation.

At the same time the Norman students at the University of Paris chose it as their patronal feast. Owing to the close connection of Normandy with England, it may have been imported from the latter country into Normandy, or the Norman barons and clergy may have brought it home from their wars in Lower Italy, it was universally solemnised by the Greek inhabitants. During the Middle Ages the Feast of the Conception of Mary was commonly called the "Feast of the Norman nation", which shows that it was celebrated in Normandy with great splendour and that it spread from there over Western Europe.

Passaglia contends III, that the feast was celebrated in Spain in the seventh century. Bishop Ullathorne also p. If this be true, it is difficult to understand why it should have entirely disappeared from Spain later on, for neither does the genuine Mozarabic Liturgy contain it, nor the tenth century calendar of Toledo edited by Morin.

The two proofs given by Passaglia are futile: the life of St. Isidore, falsely attributed to St. Ildephonsus , which mentions the feast, is interpolated, while, in the Visigoth lawbook, the expression "Conceptio S. Mariae" is to be understood of the Annunciation. No controversy arose over the Immaculate Conception on the European continent before the twelfth century.

The Norman clergy abolished the feast in some monasteries of England where it had been established by the Anglo-Saxon monks. But towards the end of the eleventh century, through the efforts of Anselm the Younger, it was taken up again in several Anglo-Norman establishments. That St. Anselm the Elder re-established the feast in England is highly improbable, although it was not new to him. He had been made familiar with it as well by the Saxon monks of Canterbury, as by the Greeks with whom he came in contact during exile in Campania and Apulin The treatise "De Conceptu virginali" usually ascribed to him, was composed by his friend and disciple, the Saxon monk Eadmer of Canterbury.

Edmund's, personally introduced the feast into their choir after the death of their bishop in , St.

Bernard deemed it his duty to publish a protest against this new way of honouring Mary. He addressed to the canons a vehement letter Epist.

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Not knowing that the feast had been celebrated with the rich tradition of the Greek and Syrian Churches regarding the sinlessness of Mary, he asserted that the feast was foreign to the old tradition of the Church. Yet it is evident from the tenor of his language that he had in mind only the active conception or the formation of the flesh, and that the distinction between the active conception, the formation of the body, and its animation by the soul had not yet been drawn. No doubt, when the feast was introduced in England and Normandy, the axiom "decuit, potuit, ergo fecit", the childlike piety and enthusiasm of the simplices building upon revelations and apocryphal legends, had the upper hand.


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The object of the feast was not clearly determined, no positive theological reasons had been placed in evidence. Bernard was perfectly justified when he demanded a careful inquiry into the reasons for observing the feast. Not adverting to the possibility of sanctification at the time of the infusion of the soul, he writes that there can be question only of sanctification after conception, which would render holy the nativity, not the conception itself Scheeben, "Dogmatik", III, p.

Hence Albert the Great observes: "We say that the Blessed Virgin was not sanctified before animation, and the affirmative contrary to this is the heresy condemned by St.

I, ad 1, Q. Bernard was at once answered in a treatise written by either Richard of St. Victor or Peter Comestor. In this treatise appeal is made to a feast which had been established to commemorate an insupportable tradition. It maintained that the flesh of Mary needed no purification; that it was sanctified before the conception. Some writers of those times entertained the fantastic idea that before Adam fell, a portion of his flesh had been reserved by God and transmitted from generation to generation, and that out of this flesh the body of Mary was formed Scheeben, op.

The letter of St. Bernard did not prevent the extension of the feast, for in it was observed all over France, until in , through the efforts of the Paris University, it was abolished in Paris and other dioceses. After the saint's death the controversy arose anew between Nicholas of St. Albans, an English monk who defended the festival as established in England, and Peter Cellensis, the celebrated Bishop of Chartres.

Nicholas remarks that the soul of Mary was pierced twice by the sword, i. Bernard wrote his letter against her feast Scheeben, III, The point continued to be debated throughout the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, and illustrious names appeared on each side. Bonaventure, and Albert the Great are quoted as opposing it.

Thomas at first pronounced in favour of the doctrine in his treatise on the "Sentences" in I. I ad 3 , yet in his "Summa Theologica" he concluded against it. Much discussion has arisen as to whether St. Thomas did or did not deny that the Blessed Virgin was immaculate at the instant of her animation, and learned books have been written to vindicate him from having actually drawn the negative conclusion.

Yet it is hard to say that St. Thomas did not require an instant at least, after the animation of Mary, before her sanctification. His great difficulty appears to have arisen from the doubt as to how she could have been redeemed if she had not sinned. This difficulty he raised in no fewer than ten passages in his writings see, e. But while St.

Thomas thus held back from the essential point of the doctrine, he himself laid down the principles which, after they had been drawn together and worked out, enabled other minds to furnish the true solution of this difficulty from his own premises. In the thirteenth century the opposition was largely due to a want of clear insight into the subject in dispute.

O Lord, who, by the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, did prepare a fitting dwelling for your Son, we beseech you that as by the foreseen death of your Son, you did preserve her from all stain of sin, grant that through her intercession, we may be favored with the granting of the grace that we seek for at this time Glorious and immortal Queen of Heaven, we profess our firm belief in your Immaculate Conception preordained for you in the merits of your Divine Son.

We rejoice with you in your Immaculate Conception. O Mother of the Word made Flesh, listen to our petition as we ask this special grace during this novena O Immaculate Virgin, Mother of God, and my mother, from the sublime heights of your dignity turn your merciful eyes upon me while I, full of confidence in your bounty and keeping in mind your Immaculate conception and fully conscious of your power, beg of you to come to our aid and ask your Divine Son to grant the favor we earnestly seek in this novena O Most gracious Virgin Mary, beloved Mother of Jesus Christ, our Redeemer, intercede with him for us that we be granted the favor which we petition for so earnestly in this novena O Mother of the Word Incarnate, we feel animated with confidence that your prayers in our behalf will be graciously heard before the throne of God.

O Glorious Mother of God, in memory of your joyous Immaculate Conception, hear our prayers and obtain for us our petitions. Day Nine. O Holy Mary, assist us in our present necessity. By your Immaculate Conception, O Mary conceived without sin, we humbly beseech you from the bottom of our heart to intercede for us with your Divine Son and ask that we be granted the favor for which we now plead Recite the Litany of the Blessed Virgin.