Wednesday, December 31, 2014

10 Facts about Angels That Will Blow Your Mind


The Church has very few official teachings on angels (CCC 328-336, 391-395). However, theologians have come to a consensus on certain topics relating to the angels. Most of these teachings come from St. Thomas Aquinas, as well as St. Bonaventure, and Dionysius.

Below are some of the most mind-blowing things we know about angels.

1. They Exist
The very fact that they exist should blow your mind. There are a multitude of TV shows that search for ghosts (spirits without bodies), but Catholics have as an article of Faith the teaching that Angels (pure spirits) exist.
But, is it logical to believe in angels?
“Below us are intelligent animals, like apes, then less intelligent animals, like fish, then barely intelligent animals, like slugs and TV producers, then plants, then minerals. The strategy of the Creator seems to be fullness, not emptiness…if there were no angels, there would be a great gap between us and God.” – Dr. Peter Kreeft, Angels (and Demons): What Do We Really Know About Them?
In short, just as there are creatures increasing in complexity from the basic one celled organism all the way to humans, there are creatures in increasing complexity from Humans to God, as well.
If you can prove the existence of God, then you can prove the existence of angels. St. Thomas Aquinas can prove angels exist.

2. Immediately after They Were Created, the Angels Were Tested by God

We do not know for sure what this test was, but the consensus of theologians is that they were given the knowledge of the Incarnation and that they would be called upon to worship Jesus. Most angels assented to God’s will, but Lucifer (meaning “light bearer”) refused to worship anything that had a human nature. Furthermore, it was revealed that the Incarnation would be happen through a woman and that woman from that moment forward would be venerated as “Queen of Angels.” Upon learning this, Lucifer cursed God and uttered “I will not serve.”

3. Hollywood Has Lied to You about Angels

Hollywood is notorious for misinformation on angels. They often depict angels as puny, feminine, and winged. Sometimes they are depicted as naked babies.
Angels are spiritual beings and do not have matter. Therefore, they do not have bodies on which wings could attach.
What do they actually look like? Nothing. They are pure spirits, and we cannot see them. God can choose to allow us to see them, however. They could appear to be human or a winged creature, but they are almost always frightening to behold.
Another Hollywood lie about angels is that people become angels when they die.
Angels are angels and always have been. No one has ever become an angel.
Although, it is generally considered “in poor taste” to explain this to a grieving individual who has just posted a Facebook status that begins, “Heaven just gained another angel…”

4. Angels Move by Quantum Leaps

Well, sort of…. If you really want to understand quantum leaps, read this. For our purposes, a quantum leap is basically when something moves from A to Z without passing through B, C, D, etc. An angel can move from one place to another without passing through any in between places. 
Here is where things get even more confusing: This is a flawed way of looking at this. Angels do not have matter, so they do not technically move at all. They are spiritual and not subject to the laws of physics like we are. However, when God wills it, they can and do appear in our world. 
5. Angels Have Their Own Taxonomy
Angels have their own taxonomical structure. They are organized into three hierarchies and nine choirs. Each hierarchy contains three choirs. The hierarchies do not have cool names, but the nine choirs do.

First Hierarchy

1. Seraphim
2. Cherubim
3. Thrones

Second Hierarchy

4. Dominions
5. Virtues
6. Powers

Third Hierarchy

7. Principalities
8. Archangels
9. Angels
There may be more groupings within these groups, but they have not been revealed to us.

6. Each Angel Is the Sole Member of His Own Species

The simplest way of explaining and proving this is to say, “St. Thomas Aquinas said it, and you cannot argue with Aquinas.”
“In things of one species there is no such thing as “first” and “second” [prius et posterius], as the Philosopher says (Metaph. iii, text 2). But in the angels even of the one order there are first, middle, and last, as Dionysius says (Hier. Ang. x). Therefore the angels are not of the same species…For such things as agree in species but differ in number, agree in form, but are distinguished materially. If, therefore, the angels be not composed of matter and form, as was said above (Article 2), it follows that it is impossible for two angels to be of one species…” – Summa Theologica P1, Q50, A4
Dixit Aquinas. Ergo est.

7. You Have a Guardian Angel

How do we know this? Jesus said so (Matthew 18:10).
The Creator of the universe gave us an angel so that we would never be alone. Our angels are to protect us, guide us, and lead us into Heaven. 
8. Guardian Angels Are Not Recycled
The Infinite Being (God) created a being specifically for your benefit. Your guardian angel was created to get you to Heaven.
When is the last time you talked to your angel?

9. You Are Not Allowed to Name Your Guardian Angel

“The practice of assigning names to the Holy Angels should be discouraged, except in the cases of Gabriel, Raphael and Michael whose names are contained in Holy Scripture.” – Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy, 217
To name something is to assume authority/control over them. Angels are not like pets or children. We are not given power over our guardian angels.
Could your guardian angel reveal his name to you in prayer? Yes, but a demon could also attempt to trick you by giving you a name for your angel that is not your angel’s name.

10. No One Knows You Better, nor Loves You More than Your Guardian Angel

Except for God.

Further Reading:

  • Dr. Mark Miravalle, Time to Meet the Angels: The 9 Choirs and Much More
  • Dr. Peter Kreeft, Angels (and Demons): What Do We Really Know About Them?
  • St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Happy Christmas

The Christmas Truce of World War I

The Scotsman December 12, 2006:

Life in the trenches along the Western Front during the First World War was horrific. For hundreds of miles across Belgium and France, British forces – a large number of Scots among them – huddled in six-foot living graves fighting a German enemy who were only shouting distance away.

The early winter of 1914 was typical: cold, damp and grey. Rolling fog would add to the macabre surroundings. The ground was often frozen and the trenches so thick and deep with mud that men could have the socks and boots pulled from their legs.

It is in this bleak environment – where shells and other engines of death searched for their targets – that the unthinkable occurred 92 years ago. Peace broke out.

For the shortest of spells in this frantic 4 1/2-year ordeal of death and destruction, and rejecting orders from HQ to battle on, both the Britons and the Germans laid down their arms to shake hands, swap rations and tobacco, and pay respects to the religious holiday. It was a Christmas Truce like no other.

A young officer from the Royal Warwickshire Regiment wrote to a friend in Kirkcudbright: "It was the most extraordinary occurrence that I suppose ever took place in any war."

The Rev Esselmount Adams, chaplain to the Gordon Highlanders, arrived on Christmas morning to conduct the funeral service for a 6th Gordon soldier killed a day earlier. Along this fragile battlefront, unarmed German soldiers walked from their positions about 200 yards away to join their enemies in a moment of solidarity and respect.

Dozens of bodies lay across this no-man's land. The chaplain hastily arranged another service. On either side of him stood opposing forces in a line. A German interpreter assisted. Afterward, the dead – at least 100, say the soldiers – were laid to rest. It was a day of reflection, a day to exchange pleasantries rather than gunfire.

Germans love the Christmas season, so much so that about a half-million fir trees were shipped to the troops to raise their spirits. At night, burning candles produced a row of trees in silhouette atop the trenches and carols were sung well into the night. British servicemen couldn't believe their eyes or ears, describing to their families of the impromptu "fairytale" moment as a "day of fiction". But, the fairytale was true.

Private George Wylie, of the Seaforth Highlanders, wrote to his father: "The Germans have been singing every night in groups in their trenches, and some very good singers there are amongst them." Of Christmas Day, he said, "there was nothing but groups of Seaforths and Germans (from the 10th Bavarian Regiment) shaking hands, patting each other on the back, and incidentally having a drink together, of which the Germans seemed well supplied."

There were reports of a proper football match between the two sides but it was more than likely nothing more than a fun exchange. Jonathan Ferguson, assistant curator at the National War Museum of Scotland, notes: "Football was very much a shared interest between the two cultures (so) ... there is very little doubt that there were at least informal kick-abouts."

Many of the Germans spoke fluent English, after having lived and worked in Britain or America. During the brief truce, one British soldier learned from a German counterpart that they both had often attended the same church in London.

The officer from the Warwickshire regiment learned a great deal from the Germans, including where they were from and how long they were assigned to the trenches. He said some of them were as young as 16, adding: "One of our sergeants said if he caught them pointing a rifle at him he'd turn them over and spank them."

A member of the Gordons, L-Cpl Stephen, told his parents in Aberdeen that the German men were "fed up" with the war, quoting one foe as saying, "The war is finished here. We don't want to shoot."

Many men from both sides were against the idea of fraternising with the enemy. One German soldier is quoted in Stanley Weintraub's book Silent Night as saying: "Such a thing should not happen in wartime. Have you no German sense of honour left at all?"

The soldier quoted? Adolf Hitler.

A Liverpool chaplin, working in hospital at the front, put the development of an unscheduled truce in perspective when he wrote friends: "Christmas Day seems to have impressed everyone. It was a truce of God, and came not from official quarters, but from the men themselves."

Indeed, it was a fairytale Christmas come true.

Friday, December 12, 2014

December 12th - Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe

One of the most beautiful series of apparitions of the Queen of Heaven occurred on the American continent on a December day of 1531, only ten years after the Spanish conquest. A fervent Christian Indian in his fifties, Juan Diego, a widower, was on his way to Mass in Mexico City from his home eight miles distant, a practice he and his wife had followed since their conversion, in honor of Our Lady on Her day, Saturday. He had to pass near the hill of Tepeyac, and was struck there by the joyous song of birds, rising up in the most melodious of concerts; he stopped to listen. Looking up to the hilltop, he perceived a brilliant cloud, surrounded by a light brighter than a fiery sun, and a gentle voice called him by name, saying, “Juan, come.”His first fear was transformed into a sweet happiness by this voice, and he mounted the slope. There he beheld the One he had intended to honor by hearing Her Mass. She was surrounded by a radiance so brilliant it sent out rays that seemed to transform the very rocks into scintillating jewels.
“Where are you going, My child?” She asked him. “To Saint James to hear the Mass sung by the minister of the Most High in honor of the Mother of the Saviour.” “That is good, My son; your devotion is agreeable to Me, as is also the humility of your heart. Know then that I am that Virgin Mother of God, Author of Life and Protector of the weak. I desire that a temple be built here, where I will show Myself to be your tender Mother, the Mother of your fellow citizens and of all who invoke My name with confidence. Go to the bishop and tell him faithfully all you have seen and heard.”
Juan continued on his way, and the bishop, Monsignor Juan de Zumarraga, a Franciscan of great piety and enlightened prudence, heard him kindly and asked questions, but sent him home without any promises. Juan was disappointed, but on his way past the hill, he once again found the Lady, who seemed to be waiting for him as though to console him. He excused himself for the failure of his mission, but She only repeated Her desire to have a temple built at this site, and told him to return again to the bishop. This he did on the following day, begging the bishop to accomplish the desires of the Virgin. Monsignor said to him: “If it is the Most Holy Virgin who sends you, She must prove it; if She wants a church, She must give me a sign of Her will.” On his way home, Juan Diego found Her again, waiting, and She said to him, “Come back tomorrow and I will give you a certain mark of the truthfulness of your words.”
The next day Juan was desolate to find his uncle, with whom he lived, fallen grievously sick; the old gentleman was clearly on the brink of death. Juan had to go and find a priest in the city. As he was passing the hill, Our Lady again appeared to him, saying, “Do not be anxious, Diego, because of your uncle’s illness. Don’t you know that I am your Mother and that you are under My protection? At this moment your uncle is cured.” “Then please give me the sign you told me of,” replied Juan. Mary told him to come up to the hilltop and cut the flowers he would find there, place them under his cloak, and bring them to Her. “I will tell you then what to do next.” Juan found the most beautiful of roses and lilies, and chose the most fragrant ones for Mary. She made a bouquet of them and placed it in a fold of his cloak or tilma — a large square of coarse cloth resembling burlap. “Take these lilies and roses on My behalf to the bishop,” She said. “This is the certain sign of My will. Let there be no delay in raising here a temple in My honor.” With joy Juan continued on to the city and the bishop’s residence, where he had to wait nearly all day in the antechamber. Other visitors noted the fragrance of his flowers, and went so far as to open his mantle to see what he was carefully holding in it, but found only flowers pictured on the cloth. When finally he was admitted to the presence of the prelate, he opened his cloak and the fresh flowers fell on the floor. That was not the only sign; on his cloak there was imprinted a beautiful image of the Virgin. It remains today still visible in the Cathedral of Mexico City, conserved under glass and in its original state, having undergone no degeneration in 470 years.
Juan found his uncle entirely cured that evening; he heard him relate that Our Lady had cured him, and had said to him also: “May a sanctuary be raised for Me under the name of Our Lady of Guadalupe.” The bishop lost no time in having a small church built at the hill of Tepeyac, and Juan Diego himself dwelt near there to answer the inquiries of the pilgrims who came in great numbers. In effect, nearly all of the land became Catholic in a few years’ time, having learned to love the gentle Lady who like God their Father showed Herself to be the ever-watchful friend of the poor. In 1737 the pestilence ceased immediately in Mexico city after the inhabitants made a vow to proclaim Our Lady of Guadalupe the principal Patroness of New Spain. In 1910 She was proclaimed by Saint Pius X “Celestial Patroness of all Latin America.”
Source: Message MTimes New Roman, by the Brothers of the Christian Schools (FEC Press: Montreal, 1947).

Monday, December 8, 2014

December 8th: The Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

From Dom Gueranger's The Liturgical Year:
At length, on the distant horizon, rises, with a soft and radiant light, the aurora of the Sun which has been so long desired. The happy Mother of the Messias was to be born before the Messias Himself;  and this is the day of the Conception of Mary. The earth already possesses a first pledge of the Divine mercy; the Son of Man is near at hand. Two true Israelites, Joachim and Anne, noble branches of the family of David, find their union, after a long barrenness, made fruitful by the Divine omnipotence. Glory be to God, Who has been mindful of His promises, and Who deigns to announce, from the high heavens, the end of the deluge of iniquity, by sending upon the earth the sweet white dove that bears the tidings of peace!
The feast of the Blessed Virgin's Immaculate Conception is the most solemn of all those which the Church celebrates during the holy time of Advent; and if the first part of the cycle had to offer us the commemoration of some one of the mysteries of Mary, there was none whose object could better harmonize with the spirit of the Church in this mystic season of expectation. Let us, then, celebrate this solemnity with joy; for the Conception of Mary tells us that the Birth of Jesus is not far oft.
The intention of the Church, in this feast, is not only to celebrate the anniversary of the happy moment in which began, in the womb of the pious Anne, the life of the ever-glorious Virgin Mary; but also to honor the sublime privilege, by which Mary was preserved from the original stain, which, by a sovereign and universal decree, is contracted by all the children of Adam the very moment they are conceived in their mother's womb.
The faith of the Catholic Church on the subject of the Conception of Mary is this: that at the very instant when God united the soul of Mary, which He had created, to the body which it was to animate, this ever-blessed soul did not only not contract the stain, which at that same instant defiles every human soul, but was filled with an immeasurable grace which rendered her, from that moment, the mirror of the sanctity of God Himself, as far as this is possible to a creature. The Church with her infallible authority, declared, by the lips of Pius IX, that this article of her faith had been revealed by God Himself. The Definition was received with enthusiasm by the whole of Christendom, and the eighth of December of the year 1854 was thus made one of the most memorable days of the Church's history.
It was due to His own infinite sanctity that God should suspend, in this instance, the law which His Divine justice had passed upon all the children of Adam. The relations which Mary was to bear to the Divinity, could not be reconciled with her undergoing the humiliation of this punishment. She was not only daughter of the eternal Father; she was destined also to become the very Mother of the Son, and the veritable bride of the Holy Ghost. Nothing defiled could be permitted to enter, even for an instant of time, into the creature that was thus predestined to contract such close relations with the adorable Trinity; not a speck could be permitted to tarnish in Mary that perfect purity which the infinitely holy God requires even in those who are one day to be admitted to enjoy the sight of His Divine majesty in Heaven; in a word, as the great Doctor St. Anselm says, "it was just that this holy Virgin should be adorned with the greatest purity which can be conceived after that of God Himself, since God the Father was to give to her, as her Child, that only-begotten Son, whom He loved as Himself, as being begotten to Him from His own bosom; and this in such a manner, that the selfsame Son of God was, by nature, the Son of both God the Father and this blessed Virgin. This same Son chose her to be substantially His Mother; and the Holy Ghost willed that in her womb He would operate the conception and birth of Him from whom He Himself proceeded."
Moreover, the close ties which were to unite the Son of God with Mary, and which would elicit from Him the tenderest love and the most filial reverence for her, had been present to the Divine thought from all eternity: and the conclusion forces itself upon us that therefore the Divine Word had for this His future Mother a love infinitely greater than that which He bore to all His other creatures. Mary's honor was infinitely dear to Him, because she was to be His Mother, chosen to be so by His eternal and merciful decrees. The Son's love protected the Mother. She, indeed, in her sublime humility, willingly submitted to whatever the rest of God's creatures had brought on themselves, and obeyed every tittle of those laws which were never meant for her: but that humiliating barrier, which confronts every child of Adam at the first moment of his existence, and keeps him from light and grace until he shall have been regenerated by a new birth—oh! this could not be permitted to stand in Mary's way, her Son forbade it.
The eternal Father would not do less for the second Eve than He had done for the first, who was created, as was also the first Adam, in the state of original justice, which she afterwards forfeited by Sin. The Son of God would not permit that the woman, from whom He was to take the nature of Man, should be deprived of that gift which He had given even to her who was the mother of sin. The Holy Ghost, who was to overshadow Mary and produce Jesus within her by His Divine operation, would not permit that foul stain, in which we alone are aIl conceived, to rest, even for an instant, on this His Bride. All men were to contract the sin of Adam; the sentence was universal; but God's Own Mother is not included. God who is the author of that law, God who was free to make it as He willed, had power to exclude from it her whom He had predestined to be His own in so many ways; He could exempt her, and it was just that He should exempt her; therefore, He did it.
Was it not this grand exemption which God Himself foretold, when the guilty pair, whose children we all are, appeared before Him in the garden of Eden.  In the anathema which fell upon the serpent, there was included a promise of mercy to us.  'I will put enmities,' said the Lord, ' between thee and the Woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head.'
Thus was salvation promised the human race under the form of a victory over Satan; and this victory is to be gained by the Woman, and she will gain it for us also. Even granting, as some read this text, that it is the Son of the Woman that is alone to gain this victory, the enmity between the Woman and the serpent is clearly expressed, and she, the Woman, with her own foot, is to crush the head of the hated serpent. The second Eve is to be worthy of the second Adam, conquering and not to be conquered. The human race is one day to be avenged not only by God, made Man, but also by the Woman miraculously exempted from every stain of sin, in whom the primeval creation, which was in justice and holiness, will thus reappear, just as though the Original Sin had never been committed.
Raise up your heads, then, ye children of Adam, and shake off your chains! This day the humiliation which weighed you down is annihilated. Behold! Mary, who is of the same flesh and blood as yourselves, has seen the torrent of sin, which swept along all the generations of mankind, flow back at her presence and not touch her: the infernal dragon has turned away his head, not daring to breathe his venom upon her; the dignity of your origin is given to her in all its primitive grandeur. This happy day, then, on which the original purity of your race is renewed, must be a feast to you. The second Eve is created; and from her own blood [which, with the exception of the element of sin, is the same as that which makes you to be the children of Adam], she is shortly to give you the God-Man, who proceeds from her according to the flesh, as He proceeds from the Father according to the eternal generation.
And how can we do less than admire and love the incomparable purity of Mary in her Immaculate Conception, when we hear even God, Who thus prepared her to become His Mother, saying to her, in the Divine Canticle, these words of complacent love: 'Thou art all fair, O my love, and there is not a spot in thee!' It is the God of all holiness that here speaks; that eye, which sees all things, finds not a vestige, not a shadow of sin; therefore does He delight in her, and admire in her that gift of His own condescending munificence. We cannot be surprised after this, that Gabriel, when he came down from Heaven to announce the Incarnation to her, should be full of admiration at the sight of that purity, whose beginning was so glorious and whose progress was immeasurable; and that this blessed spirit should bow down profoundly before this young Maid of Nazareth, and salute her with 'Hail, O full of grace!'  And who is this Gabriel? An Archangel, that lives amidst the grandest magnificences of God's creation, amidst all the gorgeous riches of Heaven; who is brother to the Cherubim and Seraphim, to the Thrones and Dominations; whose eye is accustomed to gaze on those nine angelic choirs with their dazzling brightness of countless degrees of light and grace; he has found on earth, in a creature of a nature below that of Angels, the fulness of grace, of that grace which had been given to the Angels measuredly. This fulness of grace was in Mary from the very first instant of her existence. She is the future Mother of God, and she was ever holy, ever pure, ever Immaculate.
This truth of Mary's Immaculate Conception—which was revealed to the Apostles by the Divine Son of Mary, inherited by the Church, taught by the holy fathers, believed by each generation of the Christian people with an ever increasing explicitness—was implied in the very notion of a Mother of God. To believe that Mary was Mother of God, was implicitly to believe that she, on whom this sublime dignity was conferred, had never been defiled with the slightest stain of sin, and that God had bestowed upon her an absolute exemption from sin. But now the Immaculate Conception of Mary rests on an explicit definition dictated by the Holy Ghost. Peter has spoken by the mouth of Pius; and when Peter has spoken, every Christian should believe; for the Son of God has said: 'I have prayed for thee, Peter, that thy faith fail not.' And again: 'The Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you.'
The Symbol of our faith has therefore received not a new truth, but a new light on a truth which was previously the object of the universal belief. On that great day of the definition, the infernal serpent was again crushed beneath the victorious foot of the Virgin-Mother, and the Lord graciously gave us the strongest pledge of His mercy. He still loves this guilty earth, since He has deigned to enlighten it with one of the brightest rays of His Mother's glory. How this earth of ours exulted! The present generation will never forget the enthusiasm with which the entire universe received the tidings of the definition. It was an event of mysterious importance which thus marked this second half of our century ; and we shall look forward to the future with renewed confidence; for if the Holy Ghost bids us tremble for the days when truths are diminished among the children of men, He would, consequently, have us look on those times as blessed by God in which we receive an increase of truth; an increase both in light and authority.
The Church, even before the solemn proclamation of the grand dogma, kept the feast of this eighth day of December; which was, in reality, a profession of her faith. It is true that the feast was not called the Immaculate Conception, but simply the Conception of Mary. But the fact of such a feast being instituted and kept, was an unmistakable expression of the faith of Christendom in that truth.
St. Bernard and the angelical doctor, St. Thomas, both teach that the Church cannot celebrate the feast of what is not holy; the Conception of Mary, therefore, was holy and immaculate, since the Church has, for ages past, honored it with a special feast. The Nativity of the same holy Virgin is kept as a solemnity in the Church, because Mary was born full of grace; therefore, had the first moment of Mary's existence been one of sin, as is that of all the other children of Adam, it never could have been made the subject of the reverence of the Church. Now, there are few feasts so generally and so firmly established in the Church as this which we are keeping today.
The Greek Church, which, more easily than the Latin, could learn what were the pious traditions of the east, kept this feast even in the sixth century, as is evident from the ceremonial or, as it is called, the Type, of St. Sabas. In the west, we find it established in the Gothic Church of Spain as far back as the eighth century. A celebrated calendar which was engraved on marble, in the ninth century, for the use of the Church of Naples, attests that it had already been introduced there. Paul the deacon, secretary to the emperor Charlemagne, and afterwards monk at Monte-Cassino, composed a celebrated hymn on the mystery of the Immaculate Conception; we will insert this piece later on, as it is given in the manuscript copies of Monte-Cassino and Benevento. In 1066, the feast was first established in England, in consequence of the pious Abbot Helsyn's (Some writers call him Elsym, and others Elpyn. See Baronius in his notes on the Roman Martyrology, Dec. 8. [Tr.]) being miraculously preserved from shipwreck; and shortly after that, was made general through the whole island by the zeal of the great St. Anselm, monk of the Order of St. Benedict, and archbishop of Canterbury. From England it passed into Normandy, and took root in France. We find it sanctioned in Germany, in a council held in 1049, at which St. Leo IX. was present; in Navarre, 1090, at the abbey of Irach; in Belgium, at Liege, in 1142. Thus did the Churches of the west testify their faith in this mystery, by accepting its feast, which is the expression of faith.
Lastly, it was adopted by Rome herself, and her doing so rendered the united testimony of her children, the other Churches, more imposing than ever. It was Pope Sixtus IV who, in the year 1476, published the decree of the feast of our Lady's Conception for the city of St. Peter. In the next century. 1568, St. Pius V published the universal edition of the Roman breviary, and in its calendar was inserted this feast as one of those Christian solemnities which the faithful are every year bound to observe. It was not from Rome that the devotion of the Catholic world to this mystery received its first impulse; she sanctioned it by her liturgical authority, just as she has confirmed it by her doctrinal authority in these our own days.
The three great Catholic nations of Europe, Germany, France, and Spain, vied with each other in their devotion to this mystery of Mary's Immaculate Conception. France, by her king Louis XIV, obtained from Clement IX that this feast should be kept with an octave throughout the kingdom; which favour was afterwards extended to the universal Church by Innocent XII. For centuries previous to this, the theological faculty of Paris had always exacted from its professors the oath that they would defend this privilege of Mary; a pious practice which continued as long as the university itself.
As regards Germany, the emperor Ferdinand III, in 1647, ordered a splendid monument to be erected in the great square of Vienna. It is covered with emblems and figures symbolical of Mary's victory over sin, and on the top is the statue of the Immaculate Queen, with this solemn and truly Catholic inscription:
AS A PERPETUAL MEMORIAL. (D. O. M. supremo cœli terræquæ imperatori, per quem reges regnant; Virgini Deiparæ Immaeulatæ Conceptræ, per quam principes imperant, in peculiarem Dominam, Austriæ Patronam, singulari pietate susceptæ, se, liberos, populos, exercitus, provincias, omnia denique confidit, donat, consecrat, et in perpetuam rei memoriam statuam hanc ex voto ponit Ferdinandus III Augustus.)
But the zeal of Spain for the privilege of the holy Mother of God surpassed that of all other nations. In the year 1398, John I, king of Arragon, issued a chart in which he solemnly places his person and kingdom under the protection of Mary Immaculate. Later on, kings Philip III and Philip IV sent ambassadors to Rome, soliciting, in their names, the solemn definition, which heaven reserved, in its mercy, for our days. King Charles III, in the eighteenth century, obtained permission from Clement XIII, that the Immaculate Conception should be the patronal feast of Spain. The people of Spain, which is so justly called the Catholic kingdom, put over the door, or on the front of their houses, a tablet with the words of Mary's privilege written on it; and when they meet, they greet each other with an expression in honour of the same dear mystery. It was a Spanish nun, Mary of Jesus, abbess of the convent of the Immaculate Conception of Agreda, who wroteGod's Mystic City, which inspired Murillo with his Immaculate Conception, the masterpiece of the Spanish school.
But, whilst thus mentioning the different nations which have been foremost in their zeal for this article of our holy faith, the Immaculate Conception, it were unjust to pass over the immense share which the seraphic Order, the Order of St. Francis of Assisi, has had in the earthly triumph of our blessed Mother, the Queen of heaven and earth. As often as this feast comes round, is it not just that we should think with reverence and gratitude on him, who was the first theologian that showed how closely connected with the divine mystery of the Incarnation is this dogma of the Immaculate Conception? First, then, all honour to the name of the pious and learned John Duns Scotus! And when at length the great day of the definition of the Immaculate Conception came, how justly merited was that grand audience, which the Vicar of Christ granted to the Franciscan Order, and with which closed the pageant of the glorious solemnity! Plus IX received from the hands of the children of St. Francis a tribute of homage and thankfulness, which the Scotist school, after having fought four hundred years in defence of Mary's Immaculate Conception, now presented to the Pontiff.
In the presence of the fifty-four Cardinals, forty-two archbishops, and ninety-two bishops; before an immense concourse of people that filled St. Peter's, and had united in prayer, begging the assistance of the Spirit of truth; the Vicar of Christ had just pronounced the decision which so many ages had hoped to hear. The Pontiff had offered the holy Sacrifice on the Confession of St. Peter. He had crowned the statue of the Immaculate Queen with a splendid diadem. Carried on his lofty throne, and wearing his triple crown, he had reached the portico of the basilica; there he is met by the two representatives of St. Francis: they prostrate before the throne: the triumphal procession halts: and first, the General of the Friars Minor Observantines advances, and presents to the holy Father a branch of silver lilies: he is followed by the General of the Conventual Friars, holding in his hand a branch of silver roses. The Pope graciously accepted both. The lilies and the roses were symbolical of Mary's purity and love; the whiteness of the silver was the emblem of the lovely brightness of that orb, on which is reflected the light of the Sun; for, as the Canticle says of Mary, `she is beautiful as the moon.' (Cant. vi. 9.) The Pontiff was overcome with emotion at these gifts of the family of the seraphic patriarch, to which we might justly apply what was said of the banner of the Maid of Orleans: `It had stood the brunt of the battle; it deserved to share in the glory of the victory.' And thus ended the glories of that grand morning of the eighth of December, eighteen hundred and fifty-four.
It is thus, O thou the humblest of creatures, that thy Immaculate Conception has been glorified on earth! And how could it be other than a great joy to men, that thou art honoured by them, thou the aurora of the Sun of justice? Dost thou not bring them the tidings of their salvation? Art not thou, O Mary, that bright ray of hope, which suddenly bursts forth in the deep abyss of the world's misery? What should we have been without Jesus? And thou art His dearest Mother, the holiest of God's creatures, the purest of virgins, and our own most loving Mother!
How thy gentle light gladdens our wearied eyes, sweet Mother! Generation had followed generation on this earth of ours. Men looked up to heaven through their tears, hoping to see appear on the horizon the star which they had been told should disperse the gloomy horrors of the world's darkness; but death came, and they sank into the tomb, without seeing even the dawn of the light, for which alone they cared to live. It is for us that God had reserved the blessing of seeing thy lovely rising, O thou fair morning star! which sheddest thy blessed rays on the sea, and bringest calm after the long stormy night! Oh! prepare our eyes that they may behold the divine Sun which will soon follow in thy path, and give to the world His reign of light and day. Prepare our hearts, for it is to our hearts that this Jesus of thine wishes to show Himself. To see Him, our hearts must be pure: purify them, O thou Immaculate Mother! The divine wisdom has willed that of the feasts which the Church dedicates to thee, this of thy Immaculate Conception should be celebrated during Advent; that thus the children of the Church, reflecting on the jealous care wherewith God preserved thee from every stain of sin because thou wast to be the Mother of His divine Son, might prepare to receive this same Jesus by the most perfect renunciation of every sin and of every attachment to sin. This great change must be made; and thy prayers, O Mary! will help us to make it. Pray—we ask it of thee by the grace God gave thee in thy Immaculate Conception—that our covetousness may be destroyed, our concupiscence extinguished, and our pride turned into humility. Despise not our prayers, dear Mother of that Jesus who chose thee for His dwelling-place, that He might afterwards find one in each of us.
O Mary! Ark of the covenant, built of an incorruptible wood, and covered over with the purest gold! help us to correspond with those wonderful designs of our God, who, after having found His glory in thine incomparable purity, wills now to seek His glory in our unworthiness, by making us, from being slaves of the devil, His temples and His abode, where He may find His delight. Help us to this, O thou that by the mercy of thy Son hast never known sin! and receive this day our devoutest praise. Thou art the ark of salvation; the one creature unwrecked in the universal deluge; the white fleece filled with the dew of heaven, whilst the earth around is parched; the flame which the many waters could not quench; the lily blooming amidst thorns; the garden shut against the infernal serpent; the fountain sealed, whose limpid water was never ruffled; the house of the Lord, whereon His eyes were ever fixed, and into which nothing defiled could ever enter; the mystic city, of which such glorious things are said. (Ps. lxxxvi. 3.) We delight in telling all thy glorious titles, O Mary! for thou art our Mother, and we love thee, and the Mother's glory is the glory of her children. Cease not to bless and protect all those that honour thy immense privilege, O thou who wert conceived on this day! May this feast fit us for that mystery, for which thy Conception, thy Birth, and thy Annunciation, are all preparations—the Birth of thy Jesus in Bethlehem: yea, dear Mother, we desire thy Jesus, give Him to us and satisfy the longings of our love.  

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

How the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception Was Defined


Divinely revealed truths do not change.
But sometimes it takes a while to figure out what those truths are.
It took the Church hundreds of years before it finally settled the question of who exactly Jesus Christ was in the most basic terms of the question—God? Man? One person or two? (The Council of Chalcedon, in 451, hashed out what has been the Church’s final answer.) It also took hundreds of years before the Church affirmed, in a dogmatic definition, the divinity of the Holy Spirit (Council of Constantinople, 381).
Then there is the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. That took nearly two millennia. Or, 1854 years after the birth of Christ to be exact.
The Church had always believed in the sinlessness of Mary. Justin Martyr and Irenaeus identified Mary as a second Eve, as one who undid Eve’s work in bringing humanity into sin. Origen, one of the earliest Church Fathers called her “immaculate of the immaculate.” St. Augustine did not even want to raise the question of sin in Mary out of honor for her Son.
The dogma was implied, but not defined in their statements. While venerating Mary, the Church had stopped short of the absolutism required by the dogma of the Immaculate Conception—which holds that Mary was spared even the stain of original sin at the moment of her conception—because it also did not want to go so far as to say that Mary was not in need of Christ her savior. That certainly seemed very wrong.
The solution eluded some of the brightest minds and greatest saints of Christendom. In the Summa Theologica, St. Thomas Aquinas affirms only that Mary was sanctified in the womb and that the inclination to sin caused by original sin was fettered in her person. St. Bernard of Clairvaux believed that Mary could have been sanctified soon after the moment of conception, but not at her conception.
Instead, it took an obscure monk, a Franciscan dunce, and a French nun to help win the Church over to acceptance of this dogma.
The turning point undoubtedly was the work of the great Franciscan scholastic theologian, John Duns Scotus, who lived and worked from the late 1200s early into the next century.
But much of the intellectual heavy lifting was done well over a century before him by an English Benedictine monk named Eadmer. Born around 1060, Eadmer became a close companion and biographer to St. Anselm of Canterbury. (Eadmer is even sometimes referred to as Pseudo-Anselm.) Eadmer would later write the lives of many other English saints, including Sts. Wilfrid, Oda, and Dunstan.
Eadmer was once offered a position as the bishop of St. Andrews. He refused, writing that “he would not in exchange for all of Scotland deny himself a monk of Canterbury.” (Besides a commitment to the monastic life, there seems to be more than a tinge of Anglo-Saxon nationalism in his decision. For more about Eadmer read his biography from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.) It was at this time that Eadmer reached new, previously unachieved heights in the development of Marian theology.
Eadmer assembles a phalanx of arguments in favor of the Immaculate Conception. As one influential synopsis of his writings sums them up this way: “Taking Mary’s relation to other creatures: St. John the Baptist was sanctified from his birth, what then of Mary? Mary enjoys dominion over all other creatures and must not, therefore, be brought down to our level by original sin; God preserved the Angels from sin and Mary is the Queen of Angels.”
Then there is also the parallel with Eve. Mary completely undid the role of Eve and in a superior way (Eve had been mother of all humanity, Mary was Mother of God). There was also the question of how Mary could cooperate in the Incarnation had she been stained by original sin.
It was left to John Duns Scotus, however, to discover the solution to the dilemma Aquinas and others had—how to affirm the sinlessness of Mary without excluding her from the need for a Savior. He argued that Mary was pre-emptively redeemed by Christ. Or, to use his words, Scotus held that Mary was “preserved” from original sin, rather than freed from it. This formula both affirmed her absolute purity in the strongest possible sense while doing nothing to detract from her need for a Redeemer.
In fact, much of the genius of Scotus’ argument is that the Immaculate Conception further adds to Christ’s own dignity as Mediator. In a theological commentary, Scotus put it this way:
For a most perfect mediator exercises the most perfect mediation possible in regard to some person for whom he mediates. Thus Christ exercised a most perfect act of mediation in regard to some person for whom He was Mediator. In regard to no person did He have a more exalted relationship than to Mary. Such, however, would not have been true had He not preserved Her from original sin.
To prove this claim, Scotus goes on to argue that Christ had to have been “the perfect Mediator of at least one person.” That person must have received from Christ the “greatest possible good”—complete preservation from original sin. “It is a greater good to be preserved from evil than to fall into it and afterwards be freed from it,” Scotus wrote. Therefore, it would have been fitting for Christ to preserve Mary from original sin.
The solution ingeniously shifts the Immaculate Conception from being a belief perceived as being in potential antithesis to the redemptive work of Christ to further supporting it. (Click here to read the full excerpt of Scotus’ argument.) The Church was well on its way towards widespread acceptance. As the Catholic Encyclopedia puts it, Scotus had “so solidly and dispelled the objections in a manner so satisfactory, that from that time onward the doctrine prevailed.”
Yet it would be several hundred more years before the Immaculate Conception was dogmatically defined.
Along the way, one extraordinary intervention from heaven helped nudge the Church forward.
It was July 18, 1830 and a French nun from a little village on the Seine River in what was once part of the wine-rich region of Burgundy lay awake praying to St. Vincent de Paul, asking for a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In her hand she was grasping a relic of the saints, cloth from his surplice. On a sudden impulse, she tore it into two and swallowed one half. Gradually she dozed off only to be awoken by a little boy who called out to her three times, beckoning her to come to the chapel.
Here is how her biographer describes what happened next:
Now they were at the chapel. Catherine gasped in astonishment when the heavy door, which must be locked, swung wide at the child’s mere touch. The chapel was ablaze with light! The chandeliers, the candles on the altar, all burned brightly. Why, she thought, it is like a midnight Mass!
St. Catherine Labouré was about to have her first of several visions of Our Lady. In her second, she saw Mary on a globe with rays of light showering downward from her fingers. She was encircled by these words: “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” This image was an M entwined with a cross and the Sacred Heart and Immaculate Heart beneath it. The image is known to us today as the Miraculous Medal.
It would be a mistake to see this vision as the source of the dogmatic definition that would come a quarter of a century later. New revelation had not been given to the faithful. Rather, the truth of a revelation of which the Church had always been conscious but never fully grasped had been confirmed in some special way. (In his introduction to Marian theology, scholar Mark Miravalle says the vision gave “positive encouragement” to Pope Pius IX.)
The dogma of the Immaculate Conception, now a firm fixture of the Church’s theology and devotion, certainly took the long road to widespread acceptance and belief. One is reminded of Christ’s words in Matthew 11:25, “I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.”