The Immaculate Conception
“She lifted up her eyes to heaven, joined her hands as though in prayer that were held out and open towards the ground, and said to me: “Que soy era Immaculada Councepciou.”’
Since the beginning of creation, when the stars and their satellites began to form, one planet would stand out from the others. It became known as the blue planet. There, a little over 2,000 years ago, a woman was born, especially selected by God, distinct from all other woman and chosen to be the Immaculate Mother of the Redeemer “…comparing her with Eve” (CCC n. 968-143). This woman responded affirmatively to the Annunciation of the Archangel Gabriel: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk 1:38).
The Immaculate Conception
She was destined to be honored above every other woman for she was endowed: “Most blessed are you among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Lk 1:42). We often refer to her as the Blessed Virgin Mary: “A woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev 12:1). She occasionally appears to children, usually young girls, and, sometimes, is surrounded by stars. At other times, she appears wearing a crown of twelve stars that often sparkle like diamonds. In 1858, she appeared to Bernadette Soubirouis, in Lourdes, France, and stated so eloquently and humbly, ”I am the Immaculate Conception!”
Adam and Eve were uniquely created: ”The first man was from the earth, a man of dust…” (CCC n. 504). “The Lord God…took out one of [Adam’s] ribs…The man called his wife Eve, because she became the mother of all the living” (Gen 2:21,3:20). Their disobedience to the Creator in the Garden of Eden is known as Original Sin. The Church clearly defines it: “Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God’s command. This is what man’s first sin consisted of. All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness” (CCC n. 397).
Yet, Mary, although conceived in the womb, was nonetheless immaculately conceived (free from Original Sin) and remained without sin throughout her life. A virgin, both before and after giving birth, Mary retained her “…real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man” (CCC n. 499).
Bernadette had no way of knowing that four years earlier, on December 8, 1854, the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception had been proclaimed by Pope Pius IX: “The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin” (CCC n. 491).
Betrothed to Joseph in her youth she was chosen to be the Mother of the Savior, “Jesus is conceived by the Holy Spirit in the Virgin Mary’s womb because he is the new Adam…” (CCC n. 504). “From the first formulations of her faith, the Church has confessed that Jesus was conceived solely by the power of the Holy Spirit in the womb of the Virgin Mary…without human seed” (CCC n. 496). Hence, we are assured of being correct when we bestow upon her the title, Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God!
This woman, now resplendent in the heavens and honored by the Creator, knew almost unimaginable suffering. Shortly after the birth of Jesus they had to flee into Egypt to escape from King Herod who jealously demanded the death of her son! Joseph, her spouse, died while Jesus was still a young man and soon thereafter she was a witness to the entire horrendous scene of her Son’s crucifixion and death on an ignominious cross.
While dying on the cross He entrusted her care to St. John, the young apostle who loved Christ more than the others. She understands our pain and anguish and is therefore able to empathize with our difficulties. In the same manner as she pleads with us, we in turn plead with her to obtain assistance, much as one might ask a good friend or a neighbor to secure a particular favor for us.
Is there anyone better able to intercede with God in hopes of gaining the assistance we need to overcome our difficulties? Is there anyone closer to God than the mother who bore Him and nourished Him throughout her life? This compassionate mother has received extraordinary graces from God during these latter days in order to obtain the conversion of many souls and the cures of thousands of people throughout the world.
Millions of people flock to the shrines dedicated to her throughout the world where they pray and give thanks for the many favors obtained through her intercession. One has only to read about the miraculous events that transpire so often in Lourdes, France to verify this. As our heavenly mother she gives us hope, joyful hope!
On July 13, 1917, Our Lady promised to “perform a miracle for all to see and believe.” It was witnessed by more than 70,000 people who traveled to Fatima on October 13, 1917 in order to see it. O Seculo, the newspaper in Lisbon, Portugal, proclaimed it so loudly and clearly that even the skeptics had difficulty denying it!
However, there is more to this story about Mary, for God entrusted her with a specific mission, one that would finally culminate in this new era. The countdown to its fulfillment actually began in 1830, and upon her acceptance of this extraordinary mission she was endowed with an abundance of graces from the Eternal Father.
She has pleaded for our help in the past and, now, even more so as this countdown nears completion. This is evidenced by her recent appearances throughout the world. Christ, her Son, has also appeared numerous times since 1917 to visionaries other than the children in Fatima.
We should not be reluctant to accept the words she has so generously uttered, often with tears, for they are always offered with great concern in her desire to help and guide us. She reminds us of those moral teachings of the Church, those we have forgotten, the things that are expected of us. Are we listening?
The Bible humbly recalls Mary’s relationship with us: “Behold, from now on will all generations call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me…” (Lk 1:48-49). And, so, throughout the world there are many shrines that honor Mary, the Mother of God.
All the sites of the approved apparitions of Our Lady have shrines which recognize and honor her for all she has done over the years. They are most prominent in France, Portugal, England, Mexico, Ireland, and Belgium; some are quite magnificent in appearance.
One of the most notable shrines is located in the United States, in Washington, D.C. known as the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. In 1990, it was elevated to the rank of a minor basilica. It is the largest Roman Catholic church in the United States and one of the ten largest churches in the world.
Dedicated to Our Lady, the shrine strives to serve people from all over the globe, a place where one may visit and pray for peace in their hearts, their homes and in the world.
Within, one finds altars for the celebration of Holy Mass, and statues of Our Lady that were donated by funds and materials from many nations of the world. They represent the faith and the love we have for God, through His mother, Mary. Here we especially honor her. We do not worship her; we acknowledge her role as the Mother of God and all men, and her work for the salvation of mankind.
In 1846, the Massachusetts Lowell Courier spoke of a Catholic church ‘to be built in Washington after the manner of the great cathedrals of the old world, with subscriptions from every Catholic Parish in America.’
By 1926, the lower Crypt Church was completed. The lower level of the National Shrine, which extends south, was completed by 1931. The death of Bishop Shahan in 1932, followed by the Depression and World War II, brought further construction to a halt.
I distinctly recall driving through the capital in my youth, wondering about the appearance of the Crypt Church. It was truly an odd sight for only the lower portion of the shrine was visible. Little did I imagine that I would one day be able to present one of the first of my lectures about the Blessed Virgin Mary there.
The effort to build the superstructure, or Great Upper Church, was renewed during the Marian Year 1953-1954 by the Episcopal Committee for the National Shrine, Bishop John Noll, of Fort Wayne, Chairman. Catholics throughout the United States responded enthusiastically to the fund raising effort and, in 1955, the superstructure began to rise.
With the completion of the Great Upper Church, the National Shrine was dedicated on November 20, 1959. The Basilica houses more than seventy chapels and oratories honoring Mary, donated by various Catholic immigrant groups and religious orders and communities.
In 1970, under the guidance of Msgr. William F. McDonough, the sixth director of the National Shrine, and Fr. John J. Nicola, the associate director, I became active in the Spiritual Committee of the Shrine Guild and was appointed chairman shortly thereafter.
I first met Patrick Cardinal O’Boyle at the shrine where he led one of the three-hour Prayers for Priests vigils. Apart from the love God has shown me throughout my lifetime there is perhaps nothing more noteworthy in my ongoing con-version or more endearing to me personally then that which He has shown me through Mary, the Mother of God.
On October 7, 1979, John Paul II became the first reigning pope to visit the shrine. He was also the first pope to visit the White House. Then, on April 27, 2014, Pope Francis announced the canonization of John Paul II, who died in 2005. At the same time Pope John XXIII was also elevated to sainthood within the Roman Catholic Church.
Pope Benedict XVI also honored the shrine with his visit on April 16, 2008. Prior to his departure, the Pope presented “a Golden Rose for Our Mother Mary” to the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception as a sign of his reverence, esteem and paternal affection.
In 2005, Msgr. Walter R. Rossi was named the 11th director and, at the same time, the second rector of the Basilica of the National Shrine where he serves at the discretion of the National Shrine Board of Trustees. The National Shrine welcomes nearly one million visitors annually.
On feast days and special occasions, the Eternal Word Television Network [EWTN] broadcasts Masses from the National Shrine worldwide.
“While we at the shrine are here to serve and assist our pilgrims as they seek to encounter the Lord through the guidance of the Blessed Virgin Mary, they, in turn, strengthen our faith through their witness.” – Msgr. Walter R. Rossi, July, 2009.
While studying to become a Carmelite in Florida in the early 1990s, one of the new lay Carmelite Communities in need of a chaplain approached Bishop Emeritus Thomas J. Grady of the Orlando, Florida Diocese to see if he would be able to assist them.
As the fifth director of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception he eagerly took on the responsibility as chaplain for that Community. I had the privilege of being asked to serve at his initial Mass for the Community.
Bishop Grady recognized the need to minister to the tourist population in his area. In 1975, he named Fr. F. Joseph Harte (with whom I later traveled to Medjugorje) as the first rector of the new shrine to be built in central Florida. By 1979, plans were made for the construction of the shrine under the patronage of Mary, Queen of the Universe.
On December 8, 1984, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, ground was broken for the first phase of construction and groundbreaking for the main church began on August 22, 1990, the feast of Mary’s Queenship.
On September 11, 2002, a decade after my return to the South Carolina Low country (coastal area), I happened upon an excellent article concerning the death of Bishop Grady on April 21, 2002. It was written by Dr. Geraldine M. Rohling, Archivist-Curator of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception:
“…In October, 1956, Msgr. Grady began his tenure as the fifth director of the National Shrine…[he] was a key player in the construction of the Upper Church…In October, 1959, one month before the dedication of the Shrine, in an article for The American Ecclesiastical Review, Msgr. Grady wrote: ‘As time passes…the meaning of the Shrine will become ever more profoundly true. As decades pass, the Shrine will age gracefully as a building.
‘In time, the architecture will mingle with the symbol…It will be part of America. It will be caught up into stone, an expression of…love and trust…It will stand older than some of the states of the Union, holding communion both with its own past and also the people it newly embraces…[on] November 20,, 1959, its doors will swing open and history will walk in.’”
St. Louis de Montfort wrote much about Mary: “Since she is the dawn which precedes and discloses the Sun of Justice, Jesus Christ, she must be known and acknowledged so that Jesus may be known and acknowledged…As she was the way by which Jesus first came to us, she will again be the way by which he will come to us the second time, though not in the same manner.
“In these latter times Mary must shine forth more than ever in mercy, power and grace; in mercy, to bring back and welcome lovingly the poor sinners and wanderers who are to return to the