08 December 2012

Confused about the Immaculate Conception





I've been somewhat surprised this weekend by the reaction to my homily for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

Every response I've heard has been some form of "I've never heard that before, Father."  This is exceedingly disappointing and sad. 

Why haven't Catholics been taught this dogma?

Speculating here. . .

1). The dogma's definition is an exercise in papal infallibility. . .not the most popular of notions these last forty-odd years. Could the I.C. have been ignored b/c our Ecclesial Betters want to avoid discussing infallibility. . .especially since the dogma's definition was an exercise of papal infallibility before the charism was defined by VC1 in 1870?

2). Pius IX's infallible declaration also defines the I.C. in de fide terms, meaning that Catholics must accept the truth of the dogma as essential to the faith. This sort of language--common before VC2--is decidedly frowned up in the Best Catholic Circles.  So, maybe the I.C. has been ignored in order to avoid support for de fide type definitions.

3). I had a classmate in seminary--an OP sister--who proudly told me more than once that she didn't believe in the I.C. or the Assumption.  When I inquired about her reasons for rejecting these two dogmas, she couldn't give me a coherent answer.  Basically, it boiled down to some sort of feminist objection to putting Mary "on a pedestal" as a way of oppressing women in the Church.

4). Theological objections to the I.C. were common in the Middle Ages. Controversy broke out between Dominicans (contra) and Franciscans (pro). The modern definition addresses most the Dominican objections from the Middle Ages, so I doubt Aquinas would object to Pius IX's definition.  And even if he did object on theological grounds, he would submit to the magisterium of the Church.  

5). The definition of the I.C. contains one philosophically difficult proposition:  Mary was given the gift of sanctifying grace from the merits of her Son's sacrifice for all mankind. Mary was conceived before Jesus was crucified, so how did his sacrifice on the cross "save" his Mother?  The salvific effects of Christ's death and resurrection apply eternally, that is, "from all time."  Though Jesus was crucified on a specific day in history, the salvation he accomplished is eternal.  This isn't a simple idea to convey, so maybe that's part of the reason we've ignored the I.C.

Can you think of any others?
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30 comments:

  1. Anonymous11:21 AM

    Why the most obvious reason of all-- if Mary is uniquely immaculate, then the rest of us... aren't. We aren't free of the stains of sin, and we never were from the first moments of our existence. We can't clean ourselves off, despite our efforts; we can't inherit something our parents didn't have. NOT a nice thing to think about.

    The awesome news is, where she went first, we can follow behind. Freedom from the stain of sin is exactly what's on offer, free of charge, from Jesus. Even better, the ultimate purity of heaven is penetrating back into this world; we may have to wait until the next world for the complete fulfillment of the promise, but we can indeed taste and see, for real, right here and now.

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  2. I wonder if tackling the I. C. might also involve tackling original sin, and many might shy away from having to defend two difficulties at one time.

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    1. It certainly does, and I hadn't thought of that. OS is an exceedingly difficult concept to explain and defend. Believe me, I've tried. Most explanations of OS involve some sort of intuitively unjust notion of inherited fault. . .an idea very hard to defend.

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    2. Funny you saying that, Fr...the concept of Original Sin has been very commonsensical to me since I've read somebody (can't quite remember the context) describe it as the idea that Man somehow deviated from his original purpose and therefore his existence in the Earth isn't what it could/should be, and that there's basically no one in the world that disagrees with that. It seemed insightful to me.

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    3. The problem with OS is explaining how it is "transmitted" to the next generation. How do we explain subsequent generations suffering b/c of something their parents did? It seems to go against basic justice.

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    4. Hmmm...can't remember thinking about that. In my limited understanding, OS being inherent to the human condition, we share the same human nature, regardless of generation, don't we...?

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    5. I use the example of a child born addicted to drugs. Unfair, unjust? Yes and also a reality. Instead of being born addicted to drugs we are born addicted to sin.

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    6. That's a good analogy. . .only it seems to me that we would first have to sin in order to be addicted to it. So, the question remains: why did Adam and Eve sin in the first place? Part of the answer has to do with our natural desire to be in union with God. The serpent played on this Good and offered godhood w/o God. That's the root of all sin.

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  3. Can you clarify what Aquinas' position was on the Immaculate Conception? Didn't the medievals have the idea that ensoulment did not take place at the instant of conception, and would that have influenced the Dominican stance on the I.C.?

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    1. As I understand it. . .which is your first cue for doubt. . .TA had trouble with the notion that Mary could be preserve from something she was never subject to in the first place. IOW, how can one be redeemed if one had never been a sinful? I think this the modern definition avoids this problem by asserting that her human nature was made clean from the moment of conception.

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    2. If I remember correctly, whe I used to listen regularly to Catholic Answers Live the folks there were frequently addressing that issue with an analogy of Christ's merits saving all of us from the bottom of te cliff while saving Our Lady from falling into it...don't know whether it fits what you've mentioned above.

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  4. Matt G12:42 PM

    I think all of those speculations are very likely, and I have met not a few Catholics who were confused by the idea that Mary is sinless. But I will offer a much more mundane suggestion that this may simply be sample bias. Many of us who have known and believed this doctrine read your homily, nodded agreement or pondered some of your points, and then moved on. Those who didn't left their feedback. In other words, the only people who were moved to respond were the ones who were challenged by your post. The fact that there were Catholics who were challenged by it is sad, but I would not presume that this means the great majority of Catholics are failing to learn this important part of our faith.

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    1. Good point. However, I have to say that many of the comments came from older religious women who regularly attend Mass at St Dominic's. And I agree that many--most--Catholics are not being taught the faith.

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  5. I just think it's a rejection of the papal ability to define dogma under the conditions of V1, because it has implications for other issues, like women's ordination. It's one of the few times that the liberal nutcases are being intellectually honest.
    No, I think the Angelic Doctor would be throwing a fit- well, as much as a fit as he would throw- at people using his arguments still. He would borrow his own point about believing something in Scripture as literally true when observations of the world firmly disproved it as true (such as the earth's movement or lack thereof), and would say it is crazy to believe contrary to a dogma fully defined and explained by the Pope.

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    1. TA would be appalled that moderns were using his 13th c. arguments against a papal pronouncement. He was a faithful son of the Church and never claimed to be infallible himself.

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  6. Anonymous1:15 PM

    I think especially in America is that we are too influenced by Protestantism and by that extension Sola Scriptura and as it is not explicit in the Bible, we tend to ignore it especially as the mood of the past 50 years has been accommodation and removing the "stumbling blocks" between us and them.

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    1. False ecumenism is probably one of the major sins of the 20th c. Agreed.

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  7. Anonymous5:03 AM

    At 81 I'm one of those older religious parishioners at St Dominic's and was surprised to learn from your reply to Matt G, that this was the troubling age group. I'm puzzled as someone born & raised in N.O., who was always taught fully of the IC. Before I read your reply I assumed the problem was with those who were instructed in CCD classes, which is a matter of serious concern.-- Many thanks for your homilies and your blog which foster increase faith and courage.

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    1. Most of those responding after Mass were in the 50's-60's.

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  8. ModerateRealist4:11 PM

    Original Sin is even more problematic in an evolutionary context. Your own Aidan Nichols OP:

    "To a secular mind, the difficulty with this doctrine (of original sin) will be not only the concept of vicariousness but also the question of historicity. The story of the Fall could be read as a symbolic account of human rebelliousness against God, of how all our cultural developments (as for the Genesis writer, clothing, metal-working, city-building) are spoilt by an element of vengefulness and pride. Yet sin must have entered human life at some historical moment, whether identifiable or not. For unless evil marred the creation of humanity contingently (i.e., historically), it could only have done so essentially (i.e., by God's own creative act), which is unthinkable."

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    1. Yes, exactly. Now, how to explain sin's introduction into both our biological and cultural DNA? At the extreme, we could say that "the Fall" is a mythical way of explaining our evolution into sentient animals; that is, when Adam and Eve eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they become conscious of and capable of making moral choices. This evolutionary step in moral knowledge and the step into self-awareness happen simultaneously. As an evolutionary explanation, this is no one demonstrable scientifically than the Genesis myth.

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    2. I should add here that I am using "myth" in its proper sense, i.e., "an explanatory story" and not its contemporary sense, i.e., "a falsehood."

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  9. Anonymous4:23 PM

    Perhaps the Gospel reading on the feast day, which I'm assuming is the same every year, confuses some people since it is about the Annunciation and not the Immaculate Conception.

    Luke

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    1. I agree with this reason. Also the immaculate conception OF Mary, can also be confused with the immaculate conception IN Mary. Also since Mary is listed as Immaculate and Virgin, people tend to think that they are two ways of saying the same thing. So when they hear Immaculate Conception paired with the reading they think, she became pregnant without sex, i.e. Immaculately. I heard bill oreilly say that catholics call the Virgin Birth the Immaculate Conception. Also this is what I thought for a long time before becoming a priest.

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    2. This is why I focused on the "full of grace" greeting to the BVM. If one is "full of grace," then there is no room for sin, original or otherwise.

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  10. Lynda6:42 PM

    I think it highly likely that those who don't know about the Immaculate Conception dont know many of the fundamental teachings of the Church. In many churches, one never hears the teachings from the pulpit, so even a person doing the minimum regarding practise and going to Mass on Sundays and days of obligation would not receive his due education. Forget the rubbish taught for "religion" in most Catholic schools.

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    1. You're right about this. There's the problem too of the general decline in critical thinking skills in the US. I've found that many folks simply don't know how to make needful distinctions.

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  11. And people think "consubstantial" is difficult to understand! LOL.

    The same ICEL mindset that turned the Magnificat into "Mary's Song" and Vespers into "Evening Prayer" seems to have left Immaculate Conception alone. I guess "Stainless Start" was too challenging.

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    1. Yikes! Don't give The Liturgists any ideas.

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