A helpful feature when travelling by bus in London is the voice that announces the next stop. If I get on the bus at Surbiton station to get to church of which I was parish priest before coming to Canterbury as it stops at the top of the hill the voice will announce “St Mark’s Church”. A couple of miles along it nears the bus stop I get off which was placed right outside our Church the announcement was “Princes Avenue”, NOT Our Lady Immaculate, the title of the church. Princes Avenue is at least 200 yards back down the road on the other side. The title is obviously a problem, perhaps it’s as mouthful, or difficult to understand.
Even Catholics sometimes misunderstand this teaching. It was defined in 1854. You might recall that when Bernadette saw the lady in the grotto at Lourdes and asked who she was the lady replied in a local dialect, “I am the Immaculate Conception“(Qué soï era immaculado councepcioũ, a phonetic transcription of Que soi era immaculada concepcion). This was barely four years after the definition and Bernadette would not have heard of this title. When she told the parish priest that the lady had said “I am the Immaculate Conception” he was convinced that what Bernadette was experiencing was credible and true. In this solemnity we celebrate Mary who from the moment of her conception was preserved free from all stain of original sin. Mary’s immaculate conception was part of church teaching long before the papal definition.
I would like to thank Rosie, a parishioner, for pointing me to St Eadmer a monk in Canterbury who died in 1124, and is credited with influencing the spread of this teaching of the Immaculate Conception. He wrote “If God permits the chestnut to be formed unharmed within its prickly casing, could he not also grant that the human being, whom he was preparing as a temple for himself, be conceived unharmed by the thorns of sin?”
In the apostolic constitution Ineffabilis Deus, in which Pius XI defined the Immaculate Conception, he spoke of it being “fitting” that Christ’s mother would be so prepared, not that it would be “necessary” that she be so prepared.
Today in this second week of Advent we pray for an increase in faith and love for Jesus.
Lord, like Mary may I say yes to what you ask of me. May I carry Jesus in my heart and bring him to birth in my life, by seeking and doing your will in all things.