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History and Significance of Dogma of Immaculate Conception

Interview With Father Jesús Castellano Cervera

ROME, JULY 19, 2004 (Zenit) - The dogma of the Immaculate Conception, proclaimed 150 years ago, rediscovers in its profundity the expression "full of grace," says a consultor of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Discalced Carmelite Father Jesus Castellano Cervera, a specialist in Marian studies, reflects in this interview with us on the origin and significance of this dogma. Next month John Paul II will make a pilgrimage to Lourdes, the place in France where the Blessed Virgin appeared in 1858 and confirmed the truth of her immaculate conception.

Q: What is the history and significance of this dogma?

Father Castellano Cervera: It is a long and complex history. It goes back to the understanding of the mystery of Mary in her privileged relationship with God and with the mystery of salvation, to which she is associated from the first moment of her existence, as being full of grace and love of God.

Q: Can you explain how it has developed from its origin?

Father Castellano Cervera: Such awareness is developed first at the level of the people's faith, in the understanding of her conception as a moment of grace; first of all, beginning with the apocryphal Gospels, which recount the grace of the meeting of her parents Joachim and Anne. From this narrative is derived the feast of Anne's conception [of Mary] in Byzantine liturgy, celebrated since the eighth century on December 9.

This feast was introduced in the West around the 10th century, and it celebrates explicitly the Conception of Mary without original sin. The feast was extended to the universal calendar by Sixtus IV in 1476 with a very beautiful formulation, but sadly reduced to a simple memorial of the "Conception of Mary" in the Missal of 1570.

Popular piety and liturgical celebration spark a great debate between theologians of opposing tendencies. On one hand, there are theologians who defend Mary's conception without original sin, and on the other those who deny it in order to affirm that Mary also had to benefit from the redemption of Christ.

Duns Scotus gives the theological key to understand the mystery, affirming that Mary was preserved from original sin in view of the merits of Christ.

The sense of the faithful, the liturgy and theology finally receive the confirmation of the magisterium of the Church which, following situations of different kinds, arrives at the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception by Pius IX on December 8, 1854, with the bull "Ineffabilis Deus."

Q: What were the reasons that led to the definition of this dogma?

Father Castellano Cervera: First of all, a better understanding of the facts of revelation, in the Bible and in the Tradition of the Church, foundation of all dogmatic definitions, with the help of the Holy Spirit, who leads the Church to the fullness of truth.

In a particular way, the expression "full of grace" has been rediscovered in its profundity, the words that the angel addressed to Mary at the annunciation as revealing of the condition of Mary before the Trinity from the beginning of her existence and as she was willed to be from all eternity in the plan of God: "You who are and have always been full of the grace of God."

In light of the key word, one also sees all the reality of Mary as collaborator of Christ in the Redemption. She who is called to collaborate as Mother of the Redeemer could not be, not even for an instant, outside of the grace of God in his victory over sin and death.

However, in addition to this negative aspect -- the absence of original sin -- Mary is presented from the first instant of her existence as the favorite daughter of the Father, the Mother of the Son-Redeemer, the tabernacle of the Holy Spirit, All Holy, designed and made a new creature by the Holy Spirit, greatly loved by God.

It is the fullness of the understanding of the dogma, as it is explicitly expressed in "Lumen Gentium" and in the beautiful present Preface of the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, which sings of her as Mother of the spotless Lamb, and origin and figure of the Church, Spouse without wrinkle or stain.

In this way it is made clear that Mary is an exception of original sin and in her is intact the original plan of God and the future destiny of the Church, called to be for ever "holy and immaculate in love."

As Max Thurian affirmed, immaculate conception means that in Mary everything is grace from the beginning and she is witness that everything comes from God. And that Mary corresponds to this with absolute freedom of love, not stained by sin.

Q: The Holy Father will travel to Lourdes. What is the significance of this trip?

Father Castellano Cervera: Lourdes is the place ...

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1 - 2 of 2 Comments

  1. Fran Salaun
    4 years ago

    I am so grateful to Mary, Our Lady of Lourdes. Going to Lourdes for me and working with the sick and infirm was such a humbling experience. Going to Lourdes for was like "falling in love all over again" with my God, my Church, my Mother Mary.

  2. Michael Peter DSouza
    4 years ago

    It seems that P.Pius ix proclaimed the Dogma without consulting the college of cardinals which is mandatory.This move clashed with the dogma on Infallibility of the Pope.Please clear my doubts.

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