An excerpt from Our Lady: Queen of the Religious Life, by Fr. Louis Colin C.SS.R.
In regard to Mary, the liturgy shows itself lavish with titles reminding us of her candor, her innocence: she is all-beautiful, all-fair, all-immaculate; the virginal creature, inviolate, without stain, without spot, sinless; the sealed source, the enclosed garden, the closed door—in short, Purity itself.
This word, whose richness everyone senses, remains nevertheless in the minds of many, something vague, light and soft, imprecise. Let us try to analyze it and to grasp all that it contains.
The purity of a being consists in the absolute simplicity and the exclusive integrity of its nature. A substance is pure when it is all that it should be and nothing more, when nothing else is found in it, mixed with its essential bases, no dissimilar element, nothing which is contrary or foreign to its intrinsic structure or to its own particular qualities.
Purity, then, excludes all amalgam, all mixture, all alloy. Thus is it said that water is pure when it does not contain a single trace of detritus or miasma which can muddy or contaminate it. God is pure when it includes no trace of foreign mineral: tin, zinc, copper.
Likewise, thanks to certain chemical manipulations, one can analyze a compound, disassociate its different elements and reduce them to a simple state, a pure state.
A race remains pure as long as it resists all mixture of blood, all alliance foreign to its group, and keeps intact its distinctive features and its primitive virtues. Purity, then—as might be believed—is not something altogether negative, an absence of spot or blemish. On the contrary, it is a reality, a perfection of being: an immunity, an independence, a power of resistance against anything that might invade, disintegrate or corrupt it.
On this score, purity, like light, admits of infinite degrees. The more a substance maintains itself in its original integrity, safe from all destructive or harmful influence, the more pure it is.
And now, it will be easy for us to have an understanding, on a superior plane, in the more and supernatural domain, of purity of soul, particularly of the virginal and incorruptible purity of Our Lady.
Spiritual purity, which Saint Thomas holds to be the very foundation of sanctity (Summa Theologica, II-II, Q. 81, a. 8c), would, then, consist in the absolute and permanent integrity of the supernatural life without any admixture of evil or foreign elements.
Baptism confers on the newborn, together with sanctifying grace, the infused virtues and the gifts of the Holy Ghost, a divine nature and marvelous powers of operation, which he must use in order to know God, to love Him, to serve Him, and by this means to merit eternal life.
It is this moral organism which it is of the utmost importance to keep intact in all its strength and splendor, dispelling all that might falsify, degrade, or debase our moral personality. Our first consideration is to remove anything that might destroy grace within us, that might soil our conscience, darken our faith, weaken our trust, cause charity to languish, sterilize our virtues—in short, anything that might form an obstacle to the fullness of our divine life an our perfect union with God.
Purity of soul in a Christian will spring from the soul’s fidelity in keeping the baptismal vows. Has this being not pledged himself to renounce Satan and the world, with its spirit, its maxims, its works; to live by faith as a child of God, as a living member of Jesus Christ in all things, in all places, and at all times bearing and glorifying the Most High in the holy temple of his body? (Cf. 1 Cor. 6:20.) This robe of innocence with which he was clothed at the baptismal font he will keep from every tear or spot so as to wear it immaculate before the tribunal of God.
To this fundamental purity of the Christian, the religious adds another which is deeper and more universal: a more complete and more definite separation from the corrupted and corrupting world, an irreducible opposition to everything that might fraudulently diminish his complete belonging and total subjection to the Lord, to all that might contaminate his spirit of poverty, chastity, obedience, all that might impoverish his interior life, prevent him from dying to self and being buried in Christ, from living henceforth only for God.
In brief, for a consecrated soul, purity would find its expression in this motto: “To be a religious, to be a religious completely, exclusively, and to be nothing but a religious.” Like Saint Benedict, he desired to be “alone with The Alone.”
Is it necessary to add that nobody here below possesses that spiritual candor in its fullness? How many distortions do we find in all men, even the most saintly, what weaknesses, what falls, what sins, what imperfections, what deficiencies! Who has ever been all that he should have been? Under the influence of multiple motives, every moral being becomes degraded and every life is contaminated.
A single creature is the exception: Our Lady. Alone, she was always, to the fullest extent of the term, integra et casta, she in whom all is pure. She was a virgin in body and in soul, a virgin in all her faculties and in all her senses, a virgin in all her thoughts, desires, affections, wishes, imaginings, memories; she was a virgin in all her activities, and in all her works. Having come forth immaculate from the Hand of the Creator, she was to remain so all her life.
The Immaculate Conception is a mystery of grace and, pre-eminently, of integrity. From the very first moment Mary possessed in the natural order and in the supernatural order, and in a becoming measure, all the perfections, virtues and gifts requisite for her future divine and human maternity and for her twofold role of co-redemptrix and universal mediatrix. She lacked nothing, absolutely nothing of what she should have, and she would continue to lack nothing throughout her life.
To this integrity was then added a grace of immunity: preservation from original sin. “We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine according to which, by a special grace and privilege of Almighty God and in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, the Blessed Virgin Mary was preserved from all stain of original sin from the very first instant of her conception, has been revealed by God and must therefore be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful.” (Denziger, Enchiridion Symbolorum, n. 1641)
Because Our Lady was exempt from original corruption, she escaped by that very privilege the lamentable consequences of the sin of Adam. In her intelligence, her will, her heart, there was not the slightest trace of slime from the first fall or of the millenary atavism. Her whole being is one of absolute rectitude with no moral deformation or evil tendency. There was no discord in her harmonious soul. “The brightness of eternal light—candor … lucis eternae” (Wisdom 7:26); mirror without spot—“speculum justitiae”; royal beauty without the appearance of a wrinkle—she is “the Immaculate.”
Was Mary able during the whole of her earthly existence to keep intact that original purity which was superior to that of the angels and which God alone surpasses? Did she live always rich in her moral integrity and clad in her primal innocence?
The entire body of tradition teaches and Christian understanding has always affirmed that all through her life Mary avoided every serious fault. No theologian has ever disputed or refused to ascribe to the Mother of God this confirmation in grace, this privilege of sinlessness, even of impeccability.
“If Mary, by committing only one venial offense, which does not really deprive the soul of divine grace, might be said not to have been a worthy mother of God, how much more so if she had been stained with original sin, which would have made her an enemy of God, and a slave of the devil! Saint Augustine says, therefore, in a celebrated passage of his writings (De Natura et gratia, cap. XXVI) that, speaking of Mary, he would make no mention of sins, for the honor of that Lord whom she merited for her Son, and through whom she had the grace to conquer sin in every way” (Saint Alphonsus).
There is the same unanimity in regard to venial sin, deliberate or indeliberate, and for the same reason. In the judgment of the Council of Trent, “Man once justified cannot continue throughout his life to avoid all venial sin, without a special privilege like that which the Church recognizes as having been given to the Blessed Virgin.” (Session VI, canon 23, in Denziger, Enchiridion Symbolorum, n. 833)
“All pure was the Blessed Virgin, and without a stain; for, since she was exempt from original sin she did not afterwards commit any actual fault, mortal or venial” (Garrigou-Lagrange).
And Bossuet says: “Is there any just man who can escape those sins of weakness which we call venial? Although this supposition is so general and so true, the admirable Saint Augustine does not fear to exempt the most innocent Mary from it.”
Our Lady was able to avoid even those semi-deliberate, half-venial sins, of surprise, of weakness, of circumstance, from which even the greatest saints were not exempt. There was no surprise in that woman, always so vigilant and always mistress of herself; there was no compromise in that valiant Virgin, stronger than an army in battle array; there was no occasion to fall in that soul which always lived a stranger to the world and was completely lost in God.
If we are to believe the voice of sanctity, of theology, and of the heart, the moral virginity of Mary excluded even the tiniest voluntary imperfection. “Mary never committed a sin, not even the least” (Saint Alphonsus). “It was sovereignly becoming that the Blessed Virgin Mary, who had been destined to reinstate us, should triumph over the devil to the point of never yielding an inch nor a line to him, ad modicum” (Saint Thomas).
“In truth, Thou Thyself and Thy mother art alone, in every respect, of perfect beauty, ‘for in neither Thee nor Thy mother is found the slightest stain’” (Saint Ephraem). This doctrine Pius XII made his own, affirming in one of his encyclicals on the Blessed Virgin: “The perfect innocence of her souls [was] exempt from every fault!”
“The Fathers of the Church and theologians, by the very way in which they treat of Mary, exclude even the slightest voluntary imperfection,” observes Father Garrigou-Lagrange.
As she was free from all concupiscence and was absolute mistress of her interior faculties, spiritual and sensitive, she never experienced a spontaneous urge of selfishness, she never needed to fight or to repress the first movement of passion. We always observe some alloy even in the purest of souls, “a slight warping, an attachment. Mary is
Rectitude pure and simple. She is all-Virgin. There is not a disturbance, not a shadow.” (“Notre-Dame de la Route,” Les Cahiers de la Vierge, Nov. 1935, p. 89)
We would seek in vain for any manifestation in her of those faults of character or of temperament which are sequels of original sin or offshoots of heredity.
In that long, marvelously well-filled life, no time was lost, not a minute was squandered and barren. At every moment Mary was performing the work of sanctity and of divine glorification. “Mary did not cease to have her eyes fixed on the ultimate end of her journey, on God Himself, and she did not lose a minute of the time which was given to her. Every instant of her earthly life, through her accumulated and increasingly perfect merits, entered thus into the one instant of motionless eternity.” (Garrigou-Lagrange).
None of those half-acts of virtue (actus remissi) can be attributed to Mary which are so frequent with us, acts performed without eagerness or generosity, merely through routine or habit, without any great spirit of faith and love. With the Immaculate, the virtues bore only fruits that had reached their full maturity, and were juicy and savory. Everywhere and always Mary acted with the totality of the grace she had received, with the plenitude of her will and of her love, thus accomplishing all day long “the best possible,” “the most perfect.”
Thanks to her intimate and unbroken union with God, to her disengagement from all things created, her soul vibrated to every breath of the Holy Spirit with exquisite sensitivity and perfect docility. There was not a single call, a single invitation or desire of the Spouse which did not find a joyous echo and loving response in her heart.
Had she been questioned as to what she would have done if she could begin her life again, Our Lady would, without hesitation, have answered: “What I have done.” She had nothing to regret, nothing to repair. Like Jesus, she had done all things well: “Omnia bene fecit” (Mark 7:37).
A passage from the Bull Ineffabilis Deus of Pius IX seems to sum up very clearly the Catholic doctrine on the purity of the Virgin: “That is why, drawing from the treasure of His divinity, God lavished upon her more than upon all the angelic spirits, more than upon all the saints, an abundance of all celestial graces and enriched her with a marvelous profusion, in order that she might always be without stain, entirely exempt from the slavery of sin, all-beautiful, all-perfect, and have such a plentitude of innocence and of holiness that none could be conceived greater under God, and no mind but that of God could measure her greatness.”