Many years ago, I heard from an old monk who at the time was a young monk, that in 1950 at the time of the definition of the dogma of the Assumption by Venerable Pius XII, there was a great enthusiasm among the Catholic faithful. What other Marian dogmas would we soon have? After the Immaculate Conception that had been defined less than a century earlier by Blessed Pius IX, now the Assumption by Pius XII, there was an excitement in the air, as Our Lady’s titles of Mediatrix of All Grace and Co-Redemptrix were discussed as potential truths of faith to be defined. Theologians were settling down to the task of scrutinising even closer the deposit of faith contained in Holy Scripture and Sacred Tradition, in order to determine with even greater depth the wonderful works of God in the masterpiece of His creation, namely Mary Immaculate. Fast forward twenty years to the early 1970’s and listen to a priest shout out from from the pulpit as he raises his Rosary to show the people: “We don’t need this anymore”!
What happened between those two events? How did the Catholic people go so quickly from such great love and devotion for Our Lady to actually listening without protest to a priest proclaim from the pulpit such blasphemous nonsense? Well, of course there happened to be between the two an event called the Second Vatican Council which really did have some very beautiful things to say about Our Blessed Mother. And yet, sadly, what came to be known as the spirit of the Council, and which was certainly not the Holy Spirit, somehow convinced too many Catholics that we had to tone down devotion to the Mother of God in favour of dialogue with our separated Protestant brethren.
A child by nature wants its mother to be a wonderful woman. A worthy child seeks to honour its mother. Such is written into our very nature. How could it be otherwise with Our Lord Jesus Christ? If anyone of us had been the given the possibility of creating our own mother, what love and care would we not have put into it? We would want our mother to be the most perfect, the most holy, the most privileged of all.
The Son of God, Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, along with the Father and the Holy Spirit, wanted to pour into Mary His chosen Mother, a measure of grace that surpasses that of all the other saints combined. In particular, it was His will that this chosen vessel would be absolutely sinless, spotless, undefiled, immaculate. This is the mystery we celebrate today. At the very moment she was conceived in the womb of St Anne – conception that took place in a perfectly natural way – the Divine Omnipotence prevented original sin from working its ravaging effects on her soul; it preserved Mary from the stain of original sin, which all the other sons and daughters of Adam and Eve must labour with. The Son of God was making for Himself the most beautiful tabernacle in which He would dwell for nine months, and from which He would come forth as the Bridegroom leaving his bridal chamber. As Son of Man He was obeying the fourth commandment which bids us honour our father and mother.
Mary Immaculate, the Mother of God, has been given to each of us as our mother in the spiritual order. When we say spiritual, we do not mean something less than motherhood in the physical order; rather we mean something more, for the most noble part of man is the soul, and Mary is the Mother of our souls. It is therefore fitting that we should rejoice with her on this day. It is right that we ask her for deeper insight into the mystery of her Immaculate Conception, so that if she deigns to reveal something of it to us, we may be filled with ineffable joy. But it is also fitting that we approach such a mystery with a heightened sense of our own unworthiness, and the immense privilege that is shown to us by the simple fact that this truth has been revealed to us.
On this day, let us also ask her for the grace to love her more, to imitate her virtues as best we can, especially her humility and purity. Let us ask her for the grace to proclaim and defend her honour and dignity, as any child would defend its own mother in the face of shameless slander, so that, were we to hear such nonsense as that of the unfortunate priest mentioned earlier, we would not be able to bear it.
What is God’s plan for the future? We do not know. Two things we do know are that in chapter 12 of the Apocalypse Our Lady is placed at the very centre of the cosmic upheaval of the end times, and that she has repeatedly and insistently intervened in numerous apparitions to prepare the world for these times. So instead of a diminishing devotion to her, we should actually have only an increase.
St Louis de Montfort tells us that in the latter days, Mary must shine ever more in mercy to lead back sinners to the true Church, in power abasing the enemies of God who rise up in revolt and seek to seduce and destroy souls, and in grace to support the valiant soldiers and servants of Christ. She is as terrible as an army in battle array to the devil and his followers, which explains the efforts in our day to lessen devotion to her. Indeed, the devil knows his time is running out to damn souls, and so he redoubles every day his efforts and attacks, giving rise to cruel persecutions and laying terrible snares for the faithful servants and true children of Mary, because he finds them more difficult to overcome than the rest. Satan hates Mary, for what he lost through pride, she won through humility. That is why there is an eternal enmity between them which was revealed at the very dawn of history: I will put enmity between you and the woman; she will crush your head. As the battle for the Church, which is really a battle for souls, intensifies, let us have every greater recourse to our Mother, confident that under her mantle we will take part in the victory.
Saint Louis de Montfort also tells us that Our Lady will raise up saints greater than those of previous times, because in those days, such saints will be required to save souls. We can think that such saints she will make of those who are most devoted to her Immaculate Heart and her immense privileges. And so let us ask her on this day for the grace to become saints, to not be afraid to take up the challenge of promoting her honour and leading souls to her. And should there be any soul infected with that unhealthy fear of taking away from Jesus by praying to Mary, let us reassure them that Jesus is no unnatural Son and that any prayer we make to Mary, any honour we give to her, does not decrease, but rather increases His own glory. Jesus and Mary are one. Let us not separate what God has united.