Monday, December 8, 2014

The Immaculate Conception

Bouguereau's "Innocence"
Today is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, which is a Holy Day of Obligation. The United States is under the patronage of Mary, Immaculately Conceived. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception was promulgated by Pope Pius IX in 1854 in a rare exercise of papal infallibility.

It means that Mary was preserved from the taint of Adam's sin -- Original Sin -- right from the moment of her conception.

Of course, the Bear suspects his readers knew all that already.

The rest of us must struggle against the inclination to sin, which we call concupiscence. The psalmist's plaint is all too personal and real: "For behold I was conceived in iniquities; and in sins did my mother conceive me." (Psalm 50:7).

What does The Immaculate Conception mean to us? Is it a mere fact, a technicality required by dry exegesis?

The sinlessness of Mary can seem remote, even something which incites more shame in us than encouragement. We are so far from sinlessness ourselves. But she is first of all our mother, and loves our boldness with her.  She is not a standard for us poor, wounded sinners. That would,be impossible. She is, rather, a standard bearer. She is the first soldier on the ground in an army invading Paradise. We cannot go very wrong if we simply follow her the best we can.

William Wordsworth summed this day up in the wonderful phrase: "Our tainted nature's solitary boast." Here is the poem, "The Virgin," from which that line comes.

Mother! whose virgin bosom was uncrost
With the least shade of thought to sin allied.
Woman! above all women glorified,
Our tainted nature's solitary boast;
Purer than foam on central ocean tost;
Brighter than eastern skies at daybreak strewn
With fancied roses, than the unblemished moon
Before her wane begins on heaven's blue coast;
Thy image falls to earth. Yet some, I ween,
Not unforgiven the suppliant knee might bend,
As to a visible Power, in which did blend
All that was mixed and reconciled in thee
Of mother's love with maiden purity,
Of high with low, celestial with terrene!


  1. I'm a big fan of Bouguereau. He has one of the Holy Mother with toddler Jesus and toddler St. John the Baptist.

    1. Yes, we have a framed print of this painting in our dining room. I'm love Bouguereau, too. His reputation probably suffers for being appreciated by the likes of us.

  2. I love that painting!


    When Jesus was
    A little Boy
    I'm sure sometimes
    He cried
    Cradled in Saint
    Joseph's arms
    Next to Mary's
    Just like today
    At Mass sometimes
    Our patience can
    Be tried
    When little children
    Fuss and fret
    Take all of it
    In stride
    For they're vocations
    Progeny of
    His Bride
    And possibly
    Another Christ
    With you
    At death's bed-side

    1. I wish we had babies to bother us in our parish, but the demographic tilts the wrong way.

  3. "Woman! above all women glorified,

    Our tainted nature's solitary boast..."

    Thanks for the Wordsworth poem. Although not a native English speaker, I memorized this more than 50 years ago and recited it before my high school classmates. I didn't understand what it all meant, except for the two lines quote above which never left me.

    Now, at 70, I understand this poem much, much more and appreciate it. I can't help but be astonished at the beauty of it. Thanks again and God bless you.

    1. What a lovely story! Yes, it is a phrase that sticks.


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