Monday, December 8, 2014

On the Immaculate Conception

Today is a Holy Day of Obligation, so Catholics need to go to Mass. The Novus Ordo readings include the account of Adam and Eve partaking of the forbidden fruit. God punishes the serpent thus:
Then the LORD God said to the serpent:
“Because you have done this, you shall be banned
from all the animals
and from all the wild creatures;
on your belly shall you crawl,
and dirt shall you eat
all the days of your life.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
he will strike at your head,
while you strike at his heel.”
That is the New American Bible translation. The venerable Douay-Rheims puts it like this:
And the Lord God said to the serpent: Because thou hast done this thing, thou art cursed among all cattle, and beasts of the earth: upon thy breast shalt thou go, and earth shalt thou eat all the days of thy life. I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.
The Latin says "ipsa" and so is rendered "she" in English. Some of the Fathers read it as "ipsum," or "he." In the latter sense, it is the woman's seed, Jesus Christ, that will crush the serpent. In the former example, the woman, understood to be the Virgin Mary, is the one who crushes the serpent. It's an old chestnut of Protestant polemics that Catholics worship the Virgin Mary. Whatever virtues Mary possesses come from the unique graces she received from God. Whatever homage we pay to the Virgin Mary is reflected upon her son, Jesus Christ, from whom all virtue springs.

The way I describe the fall of the angels to children is thus: "God, in his infinite power and wisdom, showed his entire plan of salvation to his angels. Being of preternatural intelligence, angels understand everything at once as opposed to us natural human beings who learn things through linear progression. Lucifer was the most beautiful and powerful of the angels. When he heard that the angels were expected to be helpmates to human beings, when he saw that God would become incarnate and be born through a woman, he balked. 'You expect us magnificent angels to bow down before these... these filthy apes whom you've made from the mud and the slime?! Non serviam!' It was then that St. Michael the Archangel bellowed, 'Who is like God?!' The war in heaven ended when Michael grabbed the traitor Lucifer and power-bombed him spine first onto a fire hydrant so hard that he and his fellow rebels were sucked all the way down into the fiery pit where they remain to this day."

Tradition holds that what really ground Lucifer's gears was the idea that a human woman was to be the greatest of God's creatures. It was offensive enough to him that God was to become man, but to expect that he, Lucifer, would acknowledge a creature to be greater than himself was too much. Anecdotes from exorcists suggest that demons particularly hate invoking the intercession of Mary. She is the greatest of saints and her intercession is uniquely powerful among the saints. If you think loving Mary detracts from the love of God, remember that it's impossible for any of us to love her as much as her son Jesus Christ loved her. Catholics are not bound to believe private revelations, but when the Church hold that private revelations such as Fatima or Lourdes are "worthy of belief," the wise Catholic will listen to what Mary tells us.

This year marks the 160th anniversary of Pope Bl. Pius IX's proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Today is also the 150th anniversary of that same pontiff's "Syllabus of Errors." The Syllabus isn't dogma, but one dearly wishes churchmen still talked like Pio Nono.

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