"I am the Immaculate Conception"
Only four years after this dogma was officially declared by Pope Pius IX in the document "Ineffabilis Deus" on December 8, 1854, the Blessed Virgin appeared to fourteen-year-old Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes to confirm what had been a universal feast of the Church since 1476.
Have you ever wondered what was "immaculate" about the way Mary was conceived? Didn't St. Anne and St. Joachim conceive Mary in the way married couples usually do?
The "Catholic Encyclopedia" offers this explanation:
The term conception does not mean the active or generative conception by her parents. Her body was formed in the womb of the mother, and the father had the usual share in its formation. The question does not concern the immaculateness of the generative activity of her parents. Neither does it concern the passive conception absolutely and simply (conceptio seminis carnis, inchoata), which, according to the order of nature, precedes the infusion of the rational soul. The person is truly conceived when the soul is created and infused into the body. Mary was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin at the first moment of her animation, and sanctifying grace was given to her before sin could have taken effect in her soul.
Here we have a beautiful image of how a married couple participates as co-creators of life, by God's design. In the case of Mary, God had chosen her to bear His Son and to bestow upon Him His humanity -- all that made Him truly a man. To prepare her for this miracle, another miracle was needed. Nothing but the purest vessel could have withstood such an intimate encounter with the Almighty.
You who stand
before the Throne of Grace and plead for me.
I ask not for great treasure, but for ample gratitude;
I ask not for great fame, but for constant faithfulness;
I ask not for great intellect, but for simple wisdom.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for me,
That one day by God's grace
I will be just like you.
Photo credit: "The Artchive" of Diego Velasquez "The Immaculate Conception"