The Feast of the Miraculous Medal, which is celebrated on 27 November, and the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception on 8 December are ten days apart. However, there is a close relationship between the two feasts.
In the apparitions of Rue de Bac in 1830, Our Lady asked Saint Catherine Labouré to have a medal struck with her image, bearing an inscription: “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee”. The Blessed Virgin therefore promised her maternal protection to those who had invoked her as Immaculate.
In the grotto of Lourdes on 25 March 1858, when Saint Bernadette Soubirous asked the name of the mysterious Lady who appeared to her, she replied, “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
Saint Maximilian Kolbe believed that this phrase expressed the most hidden mystery of Mary, insomuch that he wished to open a Marian Academy in order to study, teach and publicise to the whole world what the Immaculate Conception is. “This name,” he wrote, “indicates the first grace she received in the first instant of her existence, and the first gift is always the dearest.”1
With the apparition at Lourdes, Our Lady sealed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception proclaimed by Pius IX four years earlier, on 8 December 1854, in the bull Ineffabilis Deus:
“… for the honour of the Holy and Indivisible Trinity, for the glory and adornment of the Virgin Mother of God, for the exaltation of the Catholic Faith, and for the furtherance of the Catholic religion, by the authority of Jesus Christ our Lord, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own, we declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her Conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.”2
From the first moment of her existence, we read in the pontifical document, Mary was filled with light, beauty, holiness and was placed above all the angels and saints. Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate, possesses, by Himself and for Himself alone, the fullness of unfathomable and infinite grace. But Divine Providence wanted to impart all the fullness of grace of the Man-God to a mere creature, elevating her to the almost infinite dignity of the Mother of the Word Incarnate. Divine Motherhood, the foundation of all the privileges of Mary, is incompatible with any stain or shadow of sin and presupposes immaculate purity of the Mother of the Saviour.
By defining this dogma, Pius IX demonstrated his deep conviction of the connection between the Mother of God and historical events; and in particular, the importance of the privilege of her Immaculate Conception as an antidote to contemporary errors at the heart of which was the denial of original sin and the resulting naturalism. If Our Lady alone was conceived immaculate, then every other human being is born with original sin and needs the supernatural help of grace to be saved. In his famous letter to Cardinal Fornari, 19 June 1852, Juan Donoso Cortés identified the notion of the supposedly sinless conception of man as being in contradiction with the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary and the root of modern errors on the theological, political and social levels. Man conceived in sin is opposed to Mary conceived without sin. And Mary, in that she is Immaculate, is destined to overcome all evil, all errors, all heresies that arise and develop in the world as a consequence of sin.
The dogma of the Immaculate Conception deeply affected liberal optimism, but also the egalitarian spirit which raged in Europe since the French Revolution. As Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira pointed out,
“To see a mere creature so elevated over others by an inestimable privilege conceded to her at the first moment of her existence, cannot but pain the children of the Revolution that proclaim absolute equality among men as the principle of all order, justice and good. It was painful for non-Catholics, as well as Catholics who were more or less infected with the spirit of 1789, to accept the fact that God had, with great prominence, established in creation an element of such marked inequality.”3
All the graces given to angels and men, from the beginning of creation to the end of the world, in their number, variety and depth, are gathered and perfected in Mary Most Holy, whom Divine Providence wanted to establish as treasurer and dispenser of all graces. Saint Alphonsus Maria de Liguori writes in The Glories of Mary that nothing is higher than her in the universe and, as in Jesus Christ, so also in Mary, there is nothing more excellent or nobler than her Heart. In the Heart of Mary, says Saint Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort, God himself took up his abode with all his perfections.4
Devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary is a logical consequence of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. This devotion was explicitly requested by Our Lady in her apparition at Fatima in 1917: the apparition which, after Lourdes, impressed the second seal on the proclamation of Blessed Pius IX. Our Lady asked us at Fatima to choose between the devil and the Immaculate, between the world of sin and that of grace; and through the practice of Communion, confession and meditation upon the mysteries of the Rosary on the first Saturday of the month, she showed us a powerful means of salvation for the world. Chastisement will fall on humanity if it is not converted. But in the end, after anguish and suffering, the Immaculate Heart of Mary will triumph. This great promise is irreversible. The apparitions of Our Lady and the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception marked the beginning of a historical process intended to lead us to the Reign of Mary over souls and over the whole society.
- H. Manteau-Bonamy, The Marian doctrine of Fr Kolbe, Edizioni LEMI, 1974, pp. 17-18.
- Declaramus, pronuntiamus et definimus doctrinam quae tenet beatissimam Virginem Mariam in primo instanti suae conceptionis fuisse singulari Omnipotentis Dei gratia et privilegio, intuitu meritorum Christi Jesu Salvatoris humani generis, ab omni originalis culpae labe praeservatam immunem, esse a Deo revelatam, atque idcirco ab omnibus fidelibus firmiter constanterque credendam. Cf. Denz., n. 1641.
- Catolicismo, no 86, February 1958.
- True Devotion to Mary, no 178.