Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Ah..MARIA! Immaculata!

What a beautiful feast day - the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary - wow, that even sounds great.  This feast is so rich in so many ways: for one thing it celebrates a dogma that Our Lady herself came to confirm - in her apparitions to St Bernadette in Lourdes, she confirmed what Blessed Pope Pius IX had defined in 1854, resolving the theological debate which had exercised the minds of many great theologians over the centuries.  Of course this was a debate in which Our Lady took a major part. In her apparition to St Catherine Laboure in 1830 she gave us the prayer "O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee": let's face it, that's a major contribution if ever there was one.

Lots of stories surround this dogma.  I find the one concerning St Bernard interesting.  Few saints loved Our Lady as much as St Bernard.  Spiritually he was nourished on her milk, as an apparition of Our Lady reveals.  Yet he did not believe that she was conceived without sin - born sinless, yes; cleansed of original sin the womb, yes, but conceived as we all are with the sin of Adam.  The story goes that Bernard appeared to a monk with a black stain on his habit.  When asked what the stain signified, Bernard responded that it was his refusal to believe in the Immaculate Conception.  True or false, not sure, but interesting. 

Blessed John Duns Scotus

The unsung hero of this feast day has to be the Scottish Franciscan Blessed John Duns Scotus.  He believed in the Immaculate Conception and wrote a great deal about it - his theology helped the Church in her reflections.  I imagine if he was ever made a Doctor of the Church (no word of it, as far as I am aware), he could be the Doctor of the Immaculate Conception, or perhaps, the Marian Doctor (although that title could be given to St Louis Marie de Montford - why hasn't he been declared a Doctor?  His writings have been hugely influential in the Church, even inspiring the thought of the one greatest popes in the Church, John Paul II).   Blessed Duns Scotus was beatified by Pope John Paul in 1993. 

In honour of our Holy Mother today, one of the most beautiful poems ever written about her - by Dante Aligheri from the Paradiso of The Divine Comedy.
Maiden yet a mother,
daughter of thy Son,
high beyond all other,
lowlier is none;
thou the consummation
planning by God’s decree,
when our lost creation
nobler rose in thee!

Thus his place prepared,
he who all things made
‘mid his creature tarried,
in thy bosom laid;
there his love he nourished,
warmth that gave increase
to the root whence flourished
our eternal peace.

Nor alone thou hearest
when they name we hail;
often thou art nearest
when our voices fail;
mirrored in thy fashion
all creation's good,
mercy, might, compassion
grace thy womanhood.

Lady, lest our vision
striving heavenward fail,
still let thy petition
with thy Son prevail,
unto whom all merit,
power and majesty,
with the Holy Spirit
and the Father be.

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