In this season of Advent, I want to share my desire for Christians, including fellow Catholics, to come to know Mary more intimately and her importance in our collective salvation history. The Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also known as the Litany of Loreto, was written during the Middle Ages and was initially approved by Pope Sixtus V in 1587. The Litany is a supplication prayer, a prayer to God asking Mary to intercede on our behalf, consisting of numerous majestic titles and invocations honoring Mary’s holiness, her motherhood, power and majesty as a queen. Many of the titles date back to the first century and others were added years later. It was in 1883 that Pope Leo XIII added, Queen conceived without original sin, pray for us.
This Wednesday, December 8th, The Feast of The Immaculate Conception of The Blessed Virgin Mary is celebrated. Unfortunately, many people do not have a clear understanding of this celebration. Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854, declared the doctrine of Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception. As stated in the Catechism of The Catholic Church, 491:
“The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.”
Mary, at her conception, received the grace of God, a very special privilege. God knew that Mary would carry Jesus Christ, the Mother of our Savior, for all of mankind, within her womb and give birth. Mary could not contain the stain of original sin for if she had she could have possibly succumbed to the devil’s temptations like Eve. Mary, at this instant, is chosen by Jesus to be his mother and to be sinless. Mary is placed at the center of Israel’s history and the history of all mankind. Mary’s all-purity and all-holiness is essential for her future to fulfill the Word of God. Mary’s purity is given by God in anticipation of Her Incarnate Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus could not be personally associated with sin and therefore, either could Mary, Mother Most Pure and Mother of Christ.
We can look to the coming of the Lord in Luke 1:28-33 when the Archangel Gabriel came upon Mary, Holy Virgin of Virgins, Virgin Most Faithful, and said:
“Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus.
He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High;
and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David,
and he will reign over the house of Jacob for ever;
and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Cardinal John Henry Newman was devoted to Mary and defends the Immaculate Conception:
…I ask, was not Mary as fully endowed as Eve? is it any violent inference, that she, who was to co-operate in the redemption of the world, at least was not less endowed with power from on high than she who, given as helpmate to her husband, did in the event but co-operate with him for its ruin? If Eve was raised above human nature by that indwelling moral gift we call grace, is it rash to say that Mary had a greater grace? And this consideration gives significance to the angel’s salutation to her as “full of grace”, — an interpretation of the original word which is undoubtedly the right one, as soon as we resist the common Protestant assumption that grace is mere external approbation and acceptance, answering to the word “favour”, whereas it is, as the [early] Father’s [of the Church] teach, a real inward condition or super-added quality of soul. And if Eve had this supernatural inward gift given her from the first moment of her personal existence, is it possible to deny that Mary too had this gift from the very first moment of her personal existence? I do not know how to resist this inference: — well, this is simply and literally the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. I say the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is in its substance this, and nothing more or less than this (putting aside the question of degrees of grace); and it really does seem to me bound up in that doctrine of the Fathers, that Mary is the Second Eve. (Mary: The Second Eve, page 20.)
There is little known about Mary’s childhood. We know that her parents, Joachim and Anne, resided in Nazareth where most people lived in stone caves. They were childless in their late stage of life and prayed to God for a child (a familiar theme in the Old Testament). Their prayers were answered when an angel visited them separately to announce that God had heard their prayers and Anne was no longer barren. Anne thanked the Lord and promised that the child would be the Lord’s servant. Mary became well versed in the Old Testament from her experiences in the synagogue and listening to her parents. When Mary is introduced in the Gospels she is already betrothed to Joseph, a man from the house of David. Today there is the Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth over Mary’s childhood home. “Verbum caro hic factum est,” “Here the Word became flesh,” is inscribed in the altar.
It is important to note that there are three birthdays celebrated in the liturgical year, and all three births were without original sin. Most people know of Jesus and Mary. Some will have a hard time naming the third. St. John the Baptist was conceived with original sin and when “Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the child leaped in her womb; and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:41) St. John the Baptist was cleansed of original sin and was born in purity.
Faith is a beautiful virtue. Come celebrate the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary on Wednesday. As I wrote in my last piece, Life of Fear or Life of Peace, “God’s doors are open.” God and Mary, Queen of Peace and Mother of the Church, welcome you, especially during this Advent season, into God’s home. Come prepare your soul for the birth of Jesus Christ where you will find Peace.
Biblical References cited from The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible The New Testament, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition with Introduction, Commentary, and Notes by Scott Hahn and Curtis Mitch, 2010.
Mary: The Second Eve by John Henry Newman compiled by Sister Ellen Breen, F.M.A., TAN Books: 1982.
The bold titles emphasized above are quoted from The Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary, also known as The Litany of Loreto:
Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, have mercy on us.
Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, hear us.
Christ, graciously hear us.
God, the Father of heaven, have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy on us.
God the Holy Spirit, have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, one God, have mercy on us.
Holy Mary, pray for us.
Holy Mother of God, pray for us.
Holy Virgin of virgins, pray for us.
Mother of Christ, pray for us.
Mother of the Church, pray for us.
Mother of divine grace, pray for us.
Mother most pure, pray for us.
Mother most chaste, pray for us.
Mother inviolate, pray for us.
Mother undefiled, pray for us.
Mother most amiable, pray for us.
Mother most admirable, pray for us.
Mother of good counsel, pray for us.
Mother of our Creator, pray for us.
Mother of our Savior, pray for us.
Virgin most prudent, pray for us.
Virgin most venerable, pray for us.
Virgin most renowned, pray for us.
Virgin most powerful, pray for us.
Virgin most merciful, pray for us.
Virgin most faithful, pray for us.
Mirror of justice, pray for us.
Seat of wisdom, pray for us.
Cause of our joy, pray for us.
Spiritual vessel, pray for us.
Vessel of honor, pray for us.
Singular vessel of devotion, pray for us.
Mystical rose, pray for us.
Tower of David, pray for us.
Tower of ivory, pray for us.
House of gold, pray for us.
Ark of the covenant, pray for us.
Gate of heaven, pray for us.
Morning star, pray for us.
Health of the sick, pray for us.
Refuge of sinners, pray for us.
Comforter of the afflicted, pray for us.
Help of Christians, pray for us.
Queen of Angels, pray for us.
Queen of Patriarchs, pray for us.
Queen of Prophets, pray for us.
Queen of Apostles, pray for us.
Queen of Martyrs, pray for us.
Queen of Confessors, pray for us.
Queen of Virgins, pray for us.
Queen of all Saints, pray for us.
Queen conceived without original sin, pray for us.
Queen assumed into heaven, pray for us.
Queen of the most holy Rosary, pray for us.
Queen of families, pray for us.
Queen of peace, pray for us.
Lamb of God, You take away sins of the world, spare us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, You take away the sins of the world, graciously hear us, O Lord.
Lamb of God, Your take away the sins of the world, have mercy on us.
V.Pray for us, O holy Mother of God.
R.That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.