Photo: This window of the Immaculate Conception is in the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Natchitoches, LA (photo by John Glover).
The foundation of the belief of the Divinity of Christ
by Fr. Matthew Long, Diocesan Director of Church Vocations
There are countless images of the Blessed Virgin Mary. No Catholic Church, hospital, school or home is complete without at least one. Her role in our redemption and salvation has always been recognized by the faithful. One example of how important she is is the fact that in Jerusalem there are two Churches of the Dormition, and in Ephesus stands Mary’s house where, tradition holds Our Lady fell asleep. The Blessed Virgin Mary bears many titles, but the title of Immaculate Conception is the one that was bestowed upon her not by man, but by God.
The Immaculate Conception as a Dogma of the Church was not formally pronounced as an infallible teaching by the Pontiff until December 8, 1854. On this date the Apostolic Constitution Ineffabilis Deus was issued by Pope Pius IX. A reading of this encyclical indicates that although it was the first formal pronouncement supporting this dogma, the Church’s tradition has always held the Immaculate Conception to be a doctrine of the Church handed down by the Fathers and professed by the faithful in every generation.
The importance of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception can never be underestimated. The dogma is important because it is the foundation upon which our belief in the Divinity of Christ rests. Christ is God and He was with the Father from the beginning. As the Creed states he is consubstantial with the Father, which means that He is of the same substance as the Father. Our belief about God is that sin or anything unholy cannot be in His presence. What that means is that God cannot be contained in a sinful place. Therefore, in order for Mary to be the Ark of the New Covenant, the Tabernacle of the Bread of Life and the Bearer of the Christ it was necessary that she not be tainted by any sin. Since, all of humanity bore the taint of Original Sin passed down to us by our first parents, Adam and Eve, “before time began, the eternal Father chose and prepared for his only-begotten Son a mother in whom the Son of God would become incarnate and from whom, in the blessed fullness of time, he would be born into this world.” (ID). So, at her conception in the womb of St. Anne, God endowed “her with the abundance of all heavenly gifts poured from the treasury of His divinity that this mother, ever absolutely free of all stain of sin, all fair and perfect, would possess that fullness of holy innocence and sanctity.” (ID). This free gift of grace and privilege granted by God was only possible because of the merits of Jesus Christ.
When I was appointed to begin my work as Vocations Director by Bishop Duca, I was filled with many ideas. Some of my ideas were innovative and others had been tried before, but as with any new ministry one must be willing to try, whether it ends in success or failure. As I prayed for guidance and grace one word kept echoing in my mind, “Immaculata.” I at first ignored this call and then tried to discern what it meant. I finally came to the conclusion that God was encouraging me to place my work under patronage of His beloved Mother under the title of the Immaculate Conception. Once I had reached this conclusion I began to think how fitting a patronage this was. Under the title of Immaculate Conception, Mary our mother is the patroness of our country and of our diocese. It was about that time I visited the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Natchitoches, the proto-cathedral of North Louisiana. Within the Basilica lie the remains of the first Bishop of Natchitoches, Augustus Marie Martin. Upon the marble slab marking his tomb is his Episcopal Coat of Arms. At the center of his shield is the symbol of the Immaculate Conception. As I began to read about the Immaculate Conception I discovered that this same symbol was on the back of the Miraculous Medal. I then obtained some Miraculous Medals for each of our seminarians and the bishop blessed them. I sent them to each of our seminarians and asked them to pray each morning with me, “O, Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.” Therefore all of us are united in our prayer to our Patroness to foster a culture of vocations and to be faithful sons of the Church. I encourage all of you to place your own lives under the Immaculate Conception’s patronage and join the seminarians and me in this prayer for the Church in the Diocese of Shreveport and our nation as all of us work together to re-evangelize our world.