Month: December 2018

WHY MARY TRULY IS THE MOTHER OF GOD

 

“The Virgin Mary . . . is acknowledged and honored as being truly the Mother of God and of the redeemer….” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 963).

It is a matter of dogma, concerning the Most Blessed Trinity, that God the Son is eternally begotten by the Father (“God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God“). It is a matter of dogma that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Eternal Love between the Father and the Son (“I believe in the Holy Spiritthe Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son“). The Holy Spirit is the fulfillment or “terminus” of the Holy Trinity, and therefore (unlike the Father and the Son) He does not bring forth (to use human terms) another Divine Person, except through Mary in the Incarnation!

The Holy Trinity chose to take its “repose” in Mary in order that the Holy Spirit could bring forth a God-man, Jesus Christ, through the unspeakable grace of the true and never-ending maternity of Mary Immaculate who is, and will always be, the Mother of God. Through Mary’s consent, the Holy Spirit’s shadow covered Mary, and she conceived our Savior in her womb (Luke 1:35). Even now in Heaven she is truly the Mother of Jesus Christ.

Although we are all adopted sons and daughters of God through baptism, Mary is, as Saint Maximilian Kolbe points out, the actual Mother of God! There is, then, a unique and special relationship between Mary and the Holy Trinity that far exceeds in profundity our understanding. We can only approach this mystery in love.

Mary’s supreme office then – her predestination we might say – is that of Mother! And since she is the mother of the first born of all the elect, Jesus Christ, she is our mother too. She intercedes for us as a good mother – no, much more, as “the best of mothers!” Jesus bequeathed her to us! “Behold your Mother.”

The Fathers at Vatican II put it this way in Lumen Gentium:

“The predestination of the Blessed Virgin as Mother of God was associated with the incarnation of the divine word: in the designs of divine Providence she was the gracious mother of the divine Redeemer here on earth, and above all others and in a singular way the generous associate and humble handmaid of the Lord. She conceived, brought forth, and nourished Christ, she presented him to the Father in the temple, shared her Son’s sufferings as he died on the cross. Thus, in a wholly singular way she cooperated by her obedience, faith, hope and burning charity in the work of the Savior in restoring supernatural life to souls. For this reason she is a mother to us in the order of grace.

This motherhood of Mary in the order of grace continues uninterruptedly from the consent which she loyally gave at the Annunciation and which she sustained without wavering beneath the cross, until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect. Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation.[15] By her maternal charity, she cares for the brethren of her Son, who still journey on earth surrounded by dangers and difficulties, until they are led into their blessed home.”

January 1, 2019 is the feast of the Solemnity of Mary, the Holy Mother of God. Let us begin the new year by drawing closer to the maternal heart of Mary. 

“In Mary’s case we have a special and exceptional mediation…Jesus Christ prepared her ever more completely to become for all people their ‘mother in the order of grace’ ” (Saint Pope John Paul II, Mother of the Redeemer, 39).

Let us then acknowledge, like Elizabeth, our littleness, and then cry out in faith:

“And why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:43).

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Sources: I am relying on Chapter One of True Devotion to Mary by Saint Louis DeMontfort, and also on Aim Higher, Spiritual and Marian Reflections of Saint Maximilian Kolbe. I am indebted to these two saints for the content of this note. Thank you, Mother Mary, for these two great saints!

Image: Our Lady of Good Counsel by Pasqualle Sarullo (Public Domain, U.S.A.).

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A SPECIAL DEVOTION TO THE HOLY INNOCENTS OF BETHLEHEM

(The Massacre of the Innocents by Giotto, circa 1304)

“Then Herod, when he saw that he had been outwitted by the wise men, flew into a rage. He gave orders to massacre all the male children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under, in keeping with the time he had learned from the wise men” (Matthew 2:16)

I have to admit that I have a special fascination with obscure devotions in the Church that have largely fallen out of practice. It is like discovering a hidden mine, full of gold! After all, these children of Bethlehem – these murdered children – were the first Christian martyrs. That has to mean something. That has to mean a lot. The Church thinks so – the feast of the Holy Innocents is celebrated on December 28.

Some biblical scholars have questioned whether the massacre of the Holy Innocents (as related in Matthew’s Gospel above) is more of a midrash than literal history, and yet we know from genuine historical sources that Herod was a ruthless madman who even killed his own sons. “Extrabiblical history paints a similar [Biblical] portrait of Herod; he murdered his favorite wife, three of his sons, and others who threatened his throne” (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, p.10). “The number of these children was so small that this crime appeared insignificant amongst the other misdeeds of Herod” (Catholic Encyclopedia). Scripture scholar Scott Hahn adds that Herod “slaughtered Jerusalem priests whose scriptural interpretations made him anxious, and his other sporadic purges claimed victims by the hundreds” (Joy to the World, p.138).

“The two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel devoted to the infancy narratives are not a meditation presented under the guise of stories, but the converse: Matthew is recounting real history, theologically thought through and interpreted….” (Pope Benedict XVI).

Add to this the testimony of a great saint regarding the efficacy of this particular devotion and you have ample reasons to practice it! A gifted spiritual writer, F.W. Faber, relates the following: “The revelations of the Saints also tell us of the singular power now accorded in Heaven to these infant Martyrs, especially in connections with death-beds, and St. Francis of Sales died reiterating with marked emphasis and significance the invocation of the Holy Innocents” (Bethlehem, p.198).

Of these infant martyrs Faber states: “They were [Jesus’] companions in nativity, His mates in age and size; and though it was no slight thing to have these natural alliances with Him, by grace they were much more, for they were likenesses of Him, and they were His Martyrs” (Id). “The Church has always held the firm conviction that those who suffer death for the sake of the faith without having received Baptism are baptized by their death for and with Christ. This Baptism of blood, like the desire for Baptism, brings about the fruits of Baptism without being a sacrament” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1258).

Faber relates that this devotion has a special relationship to Mary and to growth in the virtue of purity.

“A twofold light shines in the faces of this infant crowd, the light of Mary and the light of Jesus. They resembled Mary in their sinless purity; for even if our Lord had not constituted them in a state of grace before, their Original Sin would be more than expiated by their guileless blood, when it was shed for Him. It was a fearful font, a most bloody sacrament…. They were like Mary in their Martryrdom for Jesus, as all the Martyrs were; but they were like her also, in that their Martyrdom was as it were the act of Jesus Himself….It is only more remotely so with the other Martyrs. This is one of their distinctions. They resembled her also in their nearness to Jesus. They were among the few who were admitted into the hierarchy of the Incarnation” (Bethlehem, p. 198).

Finally, these infant martyrs remind us that meritorious suffering has a special place in a Christian’s life. Father Faber reminds us that the “law of the Incarnation is a law of suffering. Our Blessed Lord was the man of sorrows, and by suffering He redeemed the world….Calvary was not unlike Bethlehem….This same law of suffering, which belongs to Jesus, touches all who come nigh Him, and in proportion to their holiness, envelops them, and claims them wholly for itself” (The Foot of the Cross, p. 13, as edited). Pertaining specifically to these Holy Innocents, Faber states:

“These infant Martyrs represent also what must in its measure befall everyone who draws near to Jesus. Suffering goes out of him, like an atmosphere. The air is charged with the seed of crosses, and the soul is sown all over with them before it is aware. Moreover, the cross is a quick growth and can spring up, and blossom, and bear fruit almost in a night, while from its vivacious root a score of fresh crosses will spring up and cover the soul with the peculiar verdure of Calvary. They that come nearest to our Lord are those who suffer most, and who suffer the most unselfishly” (Bethlehem, p.198).

CONCLUSION: An intense, mysterious, supernatural aroma hovers over our devotion to the Holy Innocents, teaching us to “manage our sorrows” and sufferings according to “supernatural principles”. Certainly this devotion teaches us that there is “no solid peace to be found among the perishable things of this life.” This devotion seems to focus light and grace in three areas: it has a special efficacy for the dying; it helps us to grow in purity and in devotion to Mary; and finally it teaches us to value and see all our sufferings in a supernatural light. All of the Holy Innocents lived less than three years, but now they live in the glorious splendor of an untiringly joyous eternity! Praise be Jesus Christ! Now and forever. Amen.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

References: All the quotes in the conclusion are from Faber, so you can see I am relying on him for the conclusion; and it is Faber who writes in one of his books about an “untired eternity.” Pope Benedict XVI defends the historicity of the Infancy narratives of Matthew and Luke in his series of books, Jesus of Nazareth. See page 119: “The two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel devoted to the infancy narratives are not a meditation presented under the guise of stories, but the converse: Matthew is recounting real history, theologically thought through and interpreted, and thus he helps us to understand the mystery of Jesus more deeply” (The Infancy Narratives, Image).

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BETHLEHEM IS AN OCEAN OF WORSHIP

(Adoration of the Magi by Bartolome Esteban Murillo, 1655, Public Domain, U.S.A.)

“He will be called Immanuel,” which means “God is with us” (Matthew 1:23)

There are two extremes we must guard against in our theology of Jesus. The one extreme overemphasizes the Divinity of Jesus to the detriment of his humanity, and the other extreme overemphasizes the humanity of Jesus so as to almost downplay his Divine life. In modern Scripture scholarship the later course has enjoyed considerable popularity even to the extent of questioning the Divinity of Jesus. But on Christmas day we see a perfect blending of Jesus’ two natures (fully God and fully man), for he is clearly a helpless infant boy whom shepherds and angels and even magi come to worship! In this context, Bethlehem does not shy away from clearly proclaiming both the humanity and Divinity of Jesus.

As F.W. Faber says, “Bethlehem is an ocean of worship.”  Faber himself identifies nine types of “first worshipers” of the babe of Bethlehem (Bethlehem, p. 203), but in this short note I will quickly focus on just three of them. To worship Jesus, of course, is the supreme acknowledgment that he is both God and man. And what do we need now, more than ever, then a “more fervent worship of the Eternal Word” (Id at 247). Bethlehem draws us into this ocean of worship. And as Faber reminds us, “Worship is our highest thought…worship alone is power” (Id, 70-73). Are you looking for more power in your spiritual life?

THE MAGI

When the Magi (or Three Kings) finally made their way to the crib of Jesus they did something amazing! They kneeled down! The Gospel says: “They fell down and worshiped him” (Matthew 2: 11). “The gifts of the Magi signify the mystery of Christ Incarnate. Gold, a symbol of royalty, represents the kingship of Jesus. Frankincense, used in the worship of God, points to his divinity. Myrrh, a burial ointment, signifies the humanity of Christ, especially in his Passion and death” (Ignatius Catholic Study Bible).

A noted scripture scholar states: “The visit of the Magi is a brief episode in the Christmas story, but we cannot exaggerate its importance. It signals the salvation of the whole world….God had extended joy to the world, and the world [represented by the Magi] responded with worship” (S. Hahn, Joy to the World, as edited, pp. 114-115).

THE SHEPHERDS AND THE ANGELS

We read in Luke’s Gospel about shepherds in the vicinity of Jesus’ birth. “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger’ ” (Luke 2: 8-12).

Right then and there a whole host of angels broke out in worship! The Scripture says: “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’ When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them” (Luke 2: 13-18).

“Worship is what angels do….A gathering of angels is a clear and unmistakable sign of God’s presence and his favor. For both Matthew and Luke, the angels of Christmas are a sign that God is present among his people in Jesus….The holy angels were those who were willing to follow God in his descent to earth and worship him there” (Joy to the World, as edited, pp. 87-92).

Father Faber states: “Next to that of Mary and Joseph, theirs [the Shepherds’] was the first external worship earth offered to the new born Babe of Bethlehem. Simplicity comes very near to God. Such are the men the Babe calls first….They come to worship him, and their simplicity is joy, and the voice of joy is praise. God loves the praise of the lowly….The very simplicity of the Shepherds would not let them keep their praise a secret to themselves” (Bethlehem, as edited, pp. 179-181).

CONCLUSION: All our good is in Jesus Christ, so that our own self-realization in the truest sense is intrinsically related to our worship of Jesus. “We must continue ceaselessly to live a life of praise to the Glory of God,” says Father Tichenor. And as “one praises and worships, he is transformed step-by-step from glory-to-glory, into the image of the infinitely joyous God.”

Bethlehem is an ocean of worship. If we transport ourselves there meditatively, we encounter Mary and Joseph, the angels and the shepherds, and the Magi, all worshiping Jesus, who came for us out of an Infinite love. Christmas is here! “O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.”

Merry Christmas!

Tom Mulcahy

 

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THE PROPHET ISAIAH SPEAKS TO THE DIVINE ATTRIBUTES OF THE FUTURE MESSIAH

(Stained glass window at the Annunciation Melkite Catholic Cathedral in Roslindale, Massachusetts, depicting Christ the King)

“Look! The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they will call him Emmanuel,” which means “God with us.” (Matthew 1:23; Isaiah 7:14)

The prophecy of a new born King in Isaiah 9, whose attributes “reveal a mysterious union of divinity and humanity” (Christ in Prophecy, p. 91), is really quite remarkable by way of its ultimate and perfect fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ. The prophet Isaiah, who lived some 700 years before Christ, wrote the following words:

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil.  (Isaiah 9:2-3) ***
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called 
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting FatherPrince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.” (Isaiah 9:6-7, ESV)

On pages 93-94 of Christ in Prophecy, renowned Catholic Bible scholar Dr. Paul Heinisch explains how this prophecy of a child with Divine attributes finds its “perfect understanding” in the “second Person of the Blessed Trinity…become Incarnate.” He states:

“Did the prophet’s oracle come true? St. John [in his Gospel] heralded the incarnate Son of God as ‘the Light that shines in the darkness but which the darkness did not comprehend and as the ‘true Light that enlightens every man’[John 1:5; 1:9]. *** Jesus refers to Himself as ‘the Light of the world’ [John 8:12]. ***
On the plains of Bethlehem angels announced the birth of the Prince of Peace [Luke 2:14]. ***  Considered together, the attributes listed in Isaias find their fulfillment in Jesus, and in no other descendant of David. Only Jesus was God and man. Before Pilate he acknowledged being king of the Jews and then added: ‘My Kingdom is not of this world.’ The spiritual character of His kingdom has already been expressed in our oracle, a kingdom not founded or dependent upon the power of arms, but upon justice and righteousness, a kingdom of peace enduring forever. There likewise is a connection between the Light before which ‘darkness and the shadow of death’ must flee and the name ‘Wondrous-Counsellor,’ for in the Messianic kingdom new doctrine and revelations are to be expected. Over this kingdom God is supreme. He rules through the Messiah who accomplishes His commands.”

CONCLUSION: Jesus, true God and true man, is the only possible fulfillment of Isaiah’s magnificent prophecy of a child and king who shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father and Prince of Peace. The child born of the holy Virgin is to be called Emmanuel, “God is with us” (see Is. 7:14; Matthew 1:23). He is “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6), and a light of revelation to all the nations (see Luke 2:32).

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

IMAGE ATTRIBUTION: The image mentioned at the top of this post is a January 2009 photo by John Stephen Dwyer. John Stephen Dwyer, the copyright holder of this work, hereby publishes it under the following license: This file is licensed under the Creative CommonsAttribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license. The image and information pertaining to it found at Wikipedia.

Source: For a fuller explanation of the fulfillment of this prophecy, see Christ in Prophecy by Dr. Paul Heinisch (The Liturgical Press), wherein he also explains the prophecy’s relevance “to the age and circumstances in which it was composed,” although its perfect fulfillment can only be in the Messiah (see, for example, Matthew 4: 12-17).

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IS THE DOCTRINE OF MARY’S PERPETUAL VIRGINITY BIBLICAL?

1.  CHURCH DOCTRINE
That Mary remained a virgin her entire life is a De Fide (required of the faithful) doctrine of the Catholic Church.  See Documents of Vatican II (LG57), Catechism of the Catholic Church, 499, The Mother of the Redeemer, 39 (Encyclical Letter of Pope John Paul Il, 1987), and Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, pages 203-206.
 
2. VIRGINITY FOR THE SAKE OF THE KINGDOM
Celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom is a radical feature of Christianity, and finds its biblical mandate at Matthew 19:12. Jesus, in fact, “is described” and “sees his own self identity” as that of the “celibate bridegroom” (article by Janet Smith; see also John 3:29 and Matthew 9:15). Paul presents celibacy as a highly favored state of life for believers saying, “I wish that all were as myself am [celibate].  But each has his own special gift from God….” (1 Cor. 7:7). Paul confirms the goodness of marriage at 1 Cor. 7:38 saying, “He who marries does well,” but then adds that “he who refrains from marriage will do better.” Mary embraced both marriage and celibacy, thus exemplifying in a unique way the sublime dignity of both vocations.
 
3.  MARY, SPOUSE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
Mary is properly to be considered the spouse of the Holy Spirit since the Holy Spirit “overshadowed” her and was the formal cause of her virginal conception of Jesus (Luke 1:35). This is why her offspring, Jesus, “will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35), and this is also why Mary is properly called the Mother of God according to the decree of The Council of Ephesus in 431. Mary’s unique and “supernatural maternity” through the power of the Holy Spirit necessarily precludes her from intimate union with a man. Mary is a virgin because of her “undivided gift of herself” to God (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 506).
 
4.  MARY’S VOW OF VIRGINITY
The relevant verse is Luke 1:34: “How shall this be, seeing I do not know man.” These words of Mary to the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation show that Mary did not intend to have conjugal relations with a man; otherwise, Mary surely would have known that conjugal relations with Joseph, her husband, could cause a pregnancy. Catholic theologian Stefano Manelli explains Mary’s strange response to the angel this way:
 
“Confronted by this [the angel Gabriel’s] wondrous announcement, however, the virgin finds herself embarrassed; not because of the sublime greatness of the majesty announced to her, but rather for the way in which such a maternity might be realized. The embarrassment would seem inexplicable because, on any reasonable grounds, she is precisely a woman in ideal conditions to conceive a son. She is the young spouse of Joseph – What young spouse would not be inclined to desire a beautiful son? It is obvious, therefore, and must be acknowledged that Mary’s difficulty stems from a precise commitment — vow or promise — “not to know man,” that is, to be and remain a virgin.  St. Augustine rightly says, that ‘Mary certainly would not have spoken those words If she had not vowed her virginity to Got” In fact, only by admitting Mary’s virginal consecration to God, can it be understood why she found herself facing an unsolvable dilemma: How to reconcile her virginal offering to God with the request of maternity on the part of God? How could she become a mother without betraying a promise of virginal consecration to God.”
(Stefano Manelli, All Generations Shall Call Me Blessed, pages 137-140)

Warren H. Carroll adds:

“[The] Greek present tense used for Mary’s words in Luke 1:34 corresponds…to the Hebrew and Aramaic active participle indicating a permanent condition. Mary’s words in Aramaic were ki enneni yodaat ish, the yodaat indicating a permanent condition of virginity” (Warren Carroll summarizing and quoting from Manuel Miguen’s “indispensable” work, The Virgin Birth: an Evaluation of Scriptural Evidence (p.81) in The Founding of Christendom, Vol. I, p.310).

 
5. DID JESUS HAVE BROTHERS?

Robert Payesko comments:

“It is often alleged too that such verses as Mark 6:3, “His brethren James and Joseph, and Judas and Simon,” and Matthew 13:55- 56, “his brethren James and Joseph, and Simon and Judas,” are evidence that Jesus had brothers and sisters. What is forgotten is that the Jewish expression for brothers and sisters applies to cousins and even to people in the same tribe. Although Lot was the son of Jjraharn’s brother Aran, he is described as Abraham’s “brother” (Genesis 14:14). Similarly, Jacob is referred to as the “brother” of his uncle Laban (Genesis 29:15). Similar examples are found throughout Scripture.  In any case, in Matthew 27:56, Mark 14:40 and John 19:25, James and Joseph are described as the sons of Mary, the wife of Cleophas— thus Scripture tells us that the “brethren” James and Joseph in Matthew 13:55-56 and Mark 6:3 are not blood brothers of Jesus. If James, the bishop of Jerusalem, was truly a son of Mary it would be impossible for the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary to be affirmed in the early Church Nevertheless, such ancient writers as IrenaeusPolycarp and Ignatius all taught the doctrine as an article of faith.”
(Robert Payesko. The Truth about Mary, page 2-198).

 Section 500 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:

“Against this doctrine the objection is sometimes raised that the Bible mentions brothers and sisters of Jesus. The Church has always understood these passages as not referring to other children of the Virgin Mary. In fact James and Joseph, “brothers of Jesus,” are the sons of another Mary, a disciple of Christ, whom St. Matthew significantly calls “the other Mary.” They are close relations of Jesus, according to an Old Testament expression.”
 
 
6. MATTHEW 1:25: “UNTIL SHE BORE A SON”
The relevant verse is sometimes translated, “he [Joseph] had no relations with her [Mary] until she bore a son, whom he named Jesus.” The New American Bible translates the verse as follows: “He had no relations with her at anytime before she bore a son, whom he named Jesus,” This verse demonstrates that Joseph did not have sexual relations with Mary before Jesus’ birth, thus establishing the doctrine of Jesus’ virginal birth, The verse does not mean that Joseph had sexual relations with Mary after Jesus was born.

Dr. Scott Hahn comments:

“The Greek hoes [until] does not imply that Joseph and Mary had marital relations following Jesus’ birth. This conjunction is often used (translated ‘”to” or “till”) to indicate a select period of time, without implying change in the future (2 Sam 6:23 [LXX]; Jn 9:18; 1 Tim 413). Here Matthew emphasizes only that Joseph had no involvement in Mary’s pregnancy before Jesus’ birth.”
(Scott HahnIgnatius Catholic Study Bible, Gospel of Matthew, page 18).
 

J. Laurericeau explains:

The semitic locution “until” makes no judgment about the future. Thus, “Michal was childless until the clay of her death” (2 Sm 6:23) [does not’t imply Michal became a mother after her death.]”
(Dictionary of Mary, page 485)
 
7. MARY EXCLUSIVELY REFERRED TO IN BIBLE AS JESUS’ MOTHER
Mary is never called the mother of anyone else except Jesus in the New Testament. The Gospels refer only to Jesus as Mary’s son (the verses where Jesus is referred to as Mary’s son include John 2:1, John 19:25, and Acts 1:14). Further, as Dr. Scott Hahn points out, it is unlikely that Jesus would have entrusted Mary to the Apostle John’s care at his crucifixion if Mary had other natural sons to care for her (John 19:26-27).
 
8. LUKE 2:7 “FIRSTBORN SON”

J. Laurencaau explains:

Luke says: “Mary gave birth to her firstborn son” (2:7). This makes allusion to the legal prescriptions concerning the first male child of a family, even if there were no other children.
(Dictionary of Mary, page 485)

 Dr. Scott Hahn comments:

[Luke 2:7 is] a legal term linked with a son’s social standing and rights of inheritance.  It does not imply that Mary had other children after Jesus, only that she had none before him.
(Scott HahnIgnatius Catholic Study Bible, Gospel of Luke, page 22)
 
9. THE CHURCH FATHERS
The Protoevangelium of James, written around A.D. 120, had as one of its “principal aims” to prove the perpetual virginity of Mary.  Origin (died 254) strongly defended Mary’s perpetual virginity but Tertullian (died 230), who was excommunicated, denied it.  Other early Church fathers affirming Mary’s perpetual virginity include Athanasius, Epiphanius, Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine and Cyril of Alexandria.  Reference: Mary: Ever Virgin (This Rock: February, 2002) and Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, pages 203-206.
 
10. EARLY DOCTRINAL DEVELOPMENT
Mary referred to as “perpetual virgin” by the Fifth General Council at Constantinople in 553.  The first doctrinal formulation of this belief takes place at the Lateran Synod of 649 under Pope Martin I where Mary is called “blessed ever-virginal and Immaculate Mary.”  Reference: Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, pages 203-206.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Image: Black Madonna of Częstochowa (Public Domain, U.S.A.). Pope Francis prayed in front of this famous icon during his  World Youth Day visit to Poland in July of 2016. According to Joan Carroll Cruz, “the miracles attribited to Our Lady of Czestochowa are numerable and spectacular.” When my daughter Bridget Mulcahy visited the image in question at the Jasna Gora Monastery in Poland (during her WYD pilgrimage) she took the following photograph of the “wall of crutches” there which speaks to the miraculous, healing intercession of Our Lady of Czesochowa. Thanks Bridget!

 

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DEVOTION TO MARY’S IMMACULATE CONCEPTION CAN RENEW THE CHURCH

           

       “I am the Immaculate Conception” (The Blessed Virgin at Lourdes)

The Kingdom of the Incarnation – that is, the Kingdom founded by Jesus – is built on purity. “Since all God’s works are a disclosure of Himself,” we can look  backwards to the commencement of the Kingdom of the Incarnation to see that Christ’s Kingdom is built on purity (we cannot deny that God’s love is an even deeper foundation for this Kingdom, but love and purity go hand in hand).

The basis for our conclusion is simply the overwhelming purity of the four main members of Christ’s Kingdom at its very inception:

FIRST, we have the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose Immaculate Conception is, in essence, the hidden beginning of Christ’s Kingdom. Jesus chose to enter humanity through the Immaculate one, who is both Virgin and mother.

SECOND, we have our Lord himself, the “Celibate Bridegroom,” who is nothing short of INFINITE PURITY.

THIRD, we have Saint John the Baptist,  Jesus’ forerunner, who is a man of “mighty mortifications” and consecrated to celibacy.

FOURTH, we have Saint Joseph, a preeminent model of purity in the church (often depicted in art holding a lily of purity).

From these telling facts, we can see very clearly that not only was the Kingdom of the Incarnation built on purity, but that, in fact, this new Kingdom ushered in a monumental purity revolution. From these providential works of God (namely, the persons Mary, Jesus, John the Baptist and Joseph), which came at the very beginning of the Kingdom of the Incarnation, we reach the very important conclusion that the Eternal Father has the highest regard for purity (and thus that purity and holiness are inseparable). Stated differently, God’s Eternal and Infinite Purity shines forth at the commencement of Jesus’ Kingdom.  “…God’s works are so many mirrors in which He allows His creatures to behold the reflection of His invisible perfections and hidden beauty….” (F.W. Faber).

And yet when we look at the current condition of the Church there is great confusion being sown (by some Catholics) about sexual morality, even at very high levels (even within the Vatican). And there are certain priests and even Bishops who give impetus to the idea of approving homosexual relationships in some way, even while the Church is embroiled in a clergy sex abuse crisis which has rocked the very foundations of her existence. The only remedy out of this crisis is for the Church to lead the life of purity that has always been taught and preached by the Church. Trying to revise Catholic morality to fit the times is a complete disaster.

We are in need of power in the spiritual life in order to live lives of purity consistent with our baptismal consecration into the Kingdom of Christ. Here is a devotion full of power because Mary’s Immaculate Conception was a spiritual revolution in human history. It was a revolution because it brought forth a human being no longer contaminated by sin (Mary), who was fit to be the mother of the Savior of the world (Jesus). It is the Saints themselves who understood the marvelous union of Mary and Jesus.

Mary entered human existence by a remarkable grace that preserved her from original sin, and which set her apart to become the Mother of God and the harbinger of God’s own human existence in the person of Jesus.  Mary’s Immaculate Conception thus warrants a special devotion, and wearing the Miraculous Medal (first called the medal of the Immaculate Conception), and saying the prayer each morning, “Oh Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to you,”  is one way to effectively practice this devotion. Saints who have been devoted to Mary’s Immaculate Conception include Saint Catherine Laboure (the nun who received the Miraculous Medal devotion from the Virgin Mary), Saint Bernadette, Saint Maximilian Kolbe, and Saint Mother Teresa (whose nuns have given out millions of Miraculous Medals).

Father Faber, who I am essentially relying on for this note, talks about the power of this devotion to Mary’s Immaculate Conception; he indicates that her Immaculate Conception “is the first dawn of the world’s redemption.” He further indicates that devotion to Mary’s Immaculate Conception is calculated to help us greatly in our “present needs…against the torrent of modern impurity” (and Faber was writing around 150 years ago, so how much more do we need this devotion now!). Perhaps you know someone battling impurity: here is a devotion “eminently calculated” to sanctify our unruly passions. Faber recommends immense devotion to Mary and her Immaculate Conception, calling such devotion “a special power with God.” Of the power of Mary’s mediation Saint Pope John Paul II once said:

“In Mary’s case we have a special and exceptional mediation…Jesus Christ prepared her ever more completely to become for all people their ‘mother in the order of grace’ ” (Saint Pope John Paul II, Mother of the Redeemer, 39)

This “preparation” began with the Immaculate Conception. If you are interested in the Miraculous Medal devotion, I recommend you read about the amazing conversion story of a Jewish man, Alphonse Ratisbonne. To do so, click on the post below:
The Miraculous Conversion of Alphonse Ratisbonne

“…even the worlds of grace with which the angels were so munificently endowed, were as drops to the ocean compared with the grace of the Immaculate Conception” (F.W. Faber, The Precious Blood, p.145).

Renewal of the Church will come through devotion to Mary Immaculate. Otherwise, without devotion to the purity of Mary and Jesus, the Church is not true to her mission and suffers the horrible consequences of its own impurity.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8).

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

Note: A short but powerful prayer invoking the Immaculate Conception is: “Oh Mary, by thy Immaculate Conception make my body pure and my soul holy.”  The tone and content of this note owing to the writings of Father Faber, and in the first two sentences I am copying him.

Image: The Virgin of the Lillies by William-Adolphe Bouguereau,1899 (Public Domain, U.S.A.)

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WHAT IS THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION AND IS IT BIBLICAL?

(The Immaculate Conception by Francisco de Zurbaran, 1630, Public Domain, U,S.A.)

“And the angel … said… : ‘Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women’.” (Luke 1:28)

1. Mary’s Immaculate Conception – the teaching that she was preserved from original sin from the first moment of her conception in her mother’s womb –  is an infallible doctrine of the Catholic Church promulgated by Pope Pius IX , ex cathedra  (from the chair of St. Peter) on December 8, 1854. The Papal Bull reads:

“We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which asserts that the Blessed Virgin Mary, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God, and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, was preserved free from every stain of original sin is a doctrine revealed by God and, for this reason, must be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful.” 

“With these words in 1854, Pope Pius IX in the Papal Bull Ineffabilis Deus, declared Mary’s Immaculate Conception to be dogma. Pius was simply affirming a long-held belief of many Christians East and West before him, that Mary was conceived free of the stain of original sin, on account of Christ’s work, in order to bear God-made-flesh.”  (From Saint John Cantius Parish web-site)

2The dogma is confirmed four years later (in 1858) by the Blessed Virgin Mary herself in the most famous of her apparitions at Lourdes. At Lourdes, when asked her name by St. Bernadette, Mary responded in an extraordinary fashion, saying, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” Since then, Lourdes has been the situs of countless miracles.

3. Some of the early Reformers, such as Martin Luther, at least initially stood firmly behind this doctrine in that they saw that Mary would have to be a pure and sinless vessel in order to communicate to Jesus his sacred and holy body. The following quote from Martin Luther is illustrative:
 
“It is a sweet and pious belief that the infusion of Mary’s soul was effected without original sin; so that in the very infusion of her soul she was also purified from original sin and adorned with God’s gifts, receiving a pure soul infused by God; thus from the first moment she began to live she was free from all sin.”
Martin Luther, (Sermon: “On the Day of the Conception of the 
Mother of God,” 1527).

4. Contrary to popular belief, the doctrine has strong scriptural support in that:

A. Gabriel announces that Mary is “full of grace” (Luke 1:28). If Mary is full of grace it follows that she is without sin (note how the angel does not call Mary by her name, but rather by a title, saying:“Hail, full of grace”  – and the angel is God’s messenger). The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible defends the traditional translation, “Hail, full of grace,” as against some modern translations, stating: “[The Greek word used by Luke], kecharitomene, indicates that God has already graced Mary previous to this point, making her a vessel who ‘has been’ and ‘is now’ filled with divine life. Alternative translations like ‘favored one’… are possible but inadequate.”   

B. Saint Luke (in his Gospel) and Saint John (in the Book of Revelation) identify Mary as the  Ark of the New Covenant, thus comparing her to the all-holy Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament. See “Topical Essay: Mary Ark of the Covenant” in The Ignatius Catholic Bible Study or click the following on-line article from Catholic Answers: Mary, the Ark of the New Covenant | Catholic Answers

C.  Mary’s Immaculate Conception is internally consistent with the doctrine of Original Sin (which flows from a number of Old and New Testament passages, especially at Romans 5:12-21). Since original sin is transmitted by physical generation, it follows logically that Jesus, who was born without sin, would have to be born from a spotless womb. Mary is that pure and spotless vessel: the woman who overflows with God’s grace; and

D. John the Baptist was sanctified in his mother’s womb. At Luke 1:15 it states that John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. The passage, in context, reads as follows:

Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to give him the name John. He will be a joy and delight to you, and many will rejoice because of his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He is never to take wine or other fermented drink, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth. Many of the people of Israel will he bring back to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous—to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”(Luke 1:11-17)

The angel then identifies himself as Gabriel, the same angel of Mary’s annunciation a few lines later at Luke 1:26, who addresses Mary, not by a name, but by a title, “Hail, Full of grace.”  The point is obvious (I think its obvious): if John was filled with the Holy Spirit from birth, what was done in God’s providence to prepare Mary to be the mother of God? Luke then, as you know, makes a direct comparison between Mary and the Ark of the Covenant, implying the incredible magnitude of her sanctity and holiness. All of this fits in very nicely with the Church’s proclamation of her Immaculate Conception.

Tom Mulcahy, M.A.

 

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