The year 1954 is a highly significant year.
Because of its meaning, the Pope, Pius XII, pronounced it a Marian Year.
One hundred years ago from it, the Holy Father, Pius IX, speaking out of the power that was Peter’s, whose power had come with the voice of Christ, pronounced that belief in the Immaculate Conception of Mary was an article of Christian faith. We call it the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception.
Actually 1854, one century and more removed from us, is recent history by the standards of the Church. Christ had been dead and ascended into Heaven over eighteen hundred years. The body of revelation had been closed with the death of St. John the Evangelist eighteen centuries before.
How then did it happen that in that recent year, late in the Christian era, the Holy Father gave the world “a new dogma”? Even the word “dogma” has an unpleasant sound to many a non-Catholic ear. They forget that it simply means a Christian teaching, a revealed truth, one of God’s guideposts along the road to Heaven, a basic principle by which men can more inspiringly and effectively live, a rule of right conduct, a basis for deeper inquiry intoGod’s truth.
But “a new truth in 1854!” Isn’t this something added to Christian teaching? Isn’t it strange that at that late date Catholics are called upon to believe “something they had never believed before”?
OLD AS CHRISTIANITY AND OLDER
The fact is t hat the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception is as old as Christianity. We’ll explain it a little later, just what it means to Catholics. But now, turn instead to the first time that in Christian times the truth was declared.
The scene is a lovely little house in Nazareth where an engaged girl is busy about the kitchen of her old mother Ann and father Joachim. The leading characters are the Angel Gabriel, recently sent from the Throne of God with history’s most important message, and the young woman who was shortly to marry the village carpenter whose name was Joseph.
In the stark, detail-less mastery of essentials that characterizes the Gospel, we hear the Angel speak.
“Hail, full of grace!” he cries. “The Lord is with thee.”
Never had words, since “Let there be light” rang out from the Creative Voice of God, been so packed with meaning.
“Hail!” he cried, addressing her as one who rated the greeting of high Heaven. “Full of grace,” he called her. He did not call her “holy” or “saintly” or “my good woman!” He looked upon her with the vision of an angel and found her full of grace. More than that, at a time when the Gates of Heaven had been slammed shut by sin and God no longer dwelt with the children of men, the Angel saw that here was an exception: the Lord God was with her. Because she was full of grace, she knew the indwelling of God. And because God was with her, she was filled with grace.
THIS BEFORE CHRIST CAME
Now it is important to remember that Christ had not as yet come to redeem us. In fact, His coming hinged on a decision which this young woman would presently make. Mankind had not yet been saved. Grace was not flowing in the abundant streams that were to be released by the hands of the Saviour. It was an almost graceless world, a world without God’s intimate and affectionate presence.
Yet the Angel looked upon Mary and found her different.
She was not just a good woman, she was filled with the grace of God. She was not someone upon whom a remote God smiled in approval; the Lord of heaven and earth was with her.
Now the Jewish wise man had said gravely that the just man falls seven times a day. Mary was more than merely just; she was filled with the life and power of God which is grace. She was pleasing in the sight of the Creator Who turned away in distaste from sin and defect and evil.
In a world of sin, Mary shone like the bright Morning Star.
Her beauty of soul was the Aurora preceding the coming of the Sun of Justice. The clear vision of the Angel saw her for what she was, saw her with the vision of God Himself, and he hailed her as no creature was hailed before or since.
This was not a goddess; Christians have never claimed or thought she was. Here is a woman beloved of God.
Here is not infinity; but perfect cleanness of soul.