Sunday, December 07, 2008

The Immaculate Conception

Carlo Crivelli (about 1430/5 - about 1494)
The Immaculate Conception 1492
Egg tempera on wood
194.3 x 93.3 cm.
The National Gallery, London

In the year that Columbus set out on his voyage of discovery, Crivelli painted this painting for the Franciscan church of San Francesco, Pergola, central Italy.

According to the catalogue of The National Gallery, this may be the earliest dated picture of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception.

The Doctrine was championed by the Franciscans although not accepted by others such as those in the Dominican order at the time.

The catalogue states:

"A standard format and symbolism developed for such pictures. The symbols derive from the Bible, including the Book of Revelation and The Song of Songs. Here, the Virgin's purity is symbolised by a lily in a pure crystal glass."

Lourdes and The Immaculate Conception have now perhaps become synonymous. Pope Pius XII in 1957 discussed the importance of Lourdes on the centenary of the Apparitions there.

"15. This century of Marian devotion has also in a certain way woven close bonds between the See of Peter and the shrine in the Pyrenees, bonds which We are pleased to acknowledge.

16. The Virgin Mary herself desired this tie.

"What the Sovereign Pontiff defined in Rome through his infallible Magisterium, the Immaculate Virgin Mother of God, blessed among all women, wanted to confirm by her own words, it seems, when shortly afterward she manifested herself by a famous apparition at the grotto of Massabielle. . ." Certainly the infallible word of the Roman Pontiff, the authoritative interpreter of revealed truth, needed no heavenly confirmation that it might be accepted by the faithful. But with what emotion and gratitude did the Christian people and their pastors receive from the lips of Bernadette this answer which came from heaven: "I am the Immaculate Conception!"

17. It is therefore not surprising that it should have pleased Our Predecessors to multiply their favors toward this sanctuary.

18. As early as 1869 Pius IX of holy memory rejoiced that the obstacles created against Lourdes by the malice of men "rendered stronger and more evident the clarity of the fact." And strengthened by this assurance, he heaped spiritual benefits upon the newly erected church and crowned the statue of our Lady of Lourdes.

19. In 1892 Leo XIII granted the proper Office and Mass of the feast "In apparitione Beatae Mariae Virginis Immaculatae," which his successor was to extend to the Universal Church a short time later. Henceforth the ancient appeal of the Scriptures was to have a new application:

"Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come. My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hollow place of the wall. . ."

20. Near the end of his life, this great Pontiff decided to install and bless a reproduction of the grotto of Massabielle in the Vatican gardens, and in those days his voice rose to the Virgin of Lourdes in an ardent and trusting prayer:

"In her power may the Virgin Mother, who once cooperated through her love with the birth of the faithful into the Church, now be the means and guardian of our salvation; may she return the tranquillity of peace to troubled souls; may she hasten the return of Jesus Christ in private and public life."

21. The fiftieth anniversary of the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin gave Saint Pius X occasion to bear witness in a solemn document to the historic connection between this act of the Magisterium and the apparitions at Lourdes.

"Pius IX," he wrote, "had hardly defined it to be of Catholic faith that Mary was from her very origin exempt from sin, when the Virgin herself began performing miracles at Lourdes."

22. Soon afterward he created the episcopal title of Lourdes, attached it to that of Tarbes, and signed the introduction of the cause for the beatification of Bernadette. It was especially reserved to this great Pope of the Eucharist to emphasize and promote the wonderful harmony existing at Lourdes between Eucharistic worship and Marianprayer. "Devotion to the Mother of God," he noted, "has led to a flowering at Lourdes of remarkable and ardent devotion to Christ our Lord."

23. It could not have been otherwise. Everything about Mary directs us to her Son, our only Savior, in anticipation of whose merits she was immaculate and full of grace. Everything about Mary raises us to the praise of the adorable Trinity; and so it was that Bernadette, praying her rosary before the grotto, learned from the words and bearing of the Blessed Virgin how she should give glory to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

24. We are pleased in this centenary year to adopt as Our home the homage rendered by Saint Pius X:

"The unique glory of the shrine of Lourdes lies in the fact that people are drawn there from everywhere by Mary to adore Jesus Christ in the august Sacrament, so that this shrine - at once a center of Marian devotion and a throne of the Eucharistic mystery - surpasses in glory, it seems, all others in the Catholic world. "

25. Benedict XV wanted to enrich this shrine, already loaded down with favors, with new and valuable indulgences, and though the tragic circumstances of his Pontificate did not allow him to multiply public expressions of his devotion, he nevertheless willed to honor the Marian city by granting to its bishop the privilege of the pallium at the place of the apparitions.

Pius XI, who had been to Lourdes himself as a pilgrim, continued the work of Benedict XV. He had the joy of raising to the honors of the altar the girl who had been favored by the Virgin and who, in the habit of the Congregation of Charity and Christian Instruction, had become Sister Marie Bernard. Did he not, so to say, authenticate on his part the promise made by the Immaculate to young Bernadette that she would "be happy not in this world, but in the next"?

27. From that time on, Nevers, which takes pride in keeping Bernadette's precious relics, has attracted a great number of Lourdes pilgrims who have wanted to learn from her how the message of Lourdes applies to our day.

28. Soon the illustrious Pontiff who, like his predecessors, had honored the anniversary celebrations of the apparitions by sending a legate, decided to conclude the Jubilee of the Redemption at the Grotto of Massabielle where, in his own words,

"the Immaculate Virgin Mary appeared several times to Blessed Bernadette Soubirous, and, in her kindness, exhorted all men to do penance at the scene of these wondrous apparitions, a place she has showered with graces and miracles."

Truly, Pius XI concluded, is this sanctuary "now justly considered one of the principal Marian shrines in the world."

29. We could not refrain from adding Our voice to this unanimous chorus of praise. We did so particularly in Our Encyclical Fulgens corona, by recalling, in the spirit of Our Predecessors, that "the Blessed Virgin Mary herself wanted to confirm by some special sign the definition which the Vicar on earth of her Divine Son had pronounced amidst the vigorous approbation of the whole Church."

30. On that occasion We recalled how the Roman Pontiffs, conscious of the importance of this pilgrimage, had never ceased to "enrich it with spiritual favors and generous benefits."

31. The history of the past century, which We have recalled in its broad outlines, is a constant illustration of this Pontifical generosity, the most recent manifestation of which has been the closing at Lourdes of the centenary year of the definition of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception.

32. But We would like especially to recall to your attention, Beloved Sons and Venerable Brothers, a recent document in which We encouraged the growth of a missionary apostolate in your beloved country. We intended by this message to call to mind the "singular merits which France had acquired through the centuries in the progress of the Catholic faith," and for this reason "We turned Our mind and heart to Lourdes where, four years after the definition of the dogma, the Immaculate Virgin herself gave supernatural confirmation to the declaration of the Supreme Teacher, by appearances, conversations, and miracles."

33. Today once again We turn to the famous shrine as it prepares to receive the crowds of centenary pilgrims on the shores of the River Gave. In the past century ardent public and private prayers have obtained from God many graces of healing and conversion at Lourdes through Mary's intercession, and We are firmly confident that in this jubilee year our Lady intends to respond open-handedly once more to the expectation of her children. But We are particularly convinced that she urges us to master the spiritual lessons of the apparitions and set ourselves upon the path which she has so clearly traced for us.

34. These lessons, a faithful echo of the Gospel message, accentuate in a striking way the differences which set off God's judgments from the vain wisdom of this world.

35. In a society which is barely conscious of the ills which assail it, which conceals its miseries and injustices beneath a prosperous, glittering, and trouble-free exterior, the Immaculate Virgin, whom sin has never touched, manifests herself to an innocent child. With a mother's compassion she looks upon this world redeemed by her Son's blood, where sin accomplishes so much ruin daily, and three times makes her urgent appeal: "Penance, penance, penance!" She even appeals for outward expressions: "Go kiss the earth in penance for sinners." And to this gesture must be added a prayer: "Pray to God for sinners."

(Pope Pius XII (2nd July 1957) The Pilgrimage to Lourdes: Encyclical warning against Materialism on the Centenary of the Apparitions at Lourdes