St Mary of the Immaculate Conception
Understanding the title of our Parish
‘Hail, full of grace!’
(The words of the angel Gabriel to Mary – Luke 1:28)
The full name of Ascot Vale’s parish church is ‘St Mary of the Immaculate Conception’.
The Immaculate Conception is the teaching that the Blessed Virgin Mary, in view of the merits of Jesus her Son, was preserved by God free from all stain of original sin, from the very time she was first conceived.
This means that unlike the rest of the descendants of our first parents Adam and Eve, Mary entered existence made holy even from the start, by the divine gift of sanctifying grace – the share in God’s own life that places us in relationship with him and makes us heirs to being fully united with him in heaven. Mary is the masterpiece of Christ’s work of redeeming the human race, and so we very especially give him right honour, the more fully we recognise and praise what he has accomplished in her.
The Immaculate Conception was infallibly defined as an unchangeable dogma of the Catholic Faith by Pope Pius IX:
‘By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for the honour of the Holy and undivided 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 instant 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.”
‘Hence, if anyone shall dare – which God forbid! – to think otherwise than as has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he has separated from the unity of the Church…’
(Blessed Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, 8th December 1854)
The Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992) explains further:
490 To become the mother of the Saviour, Mary “was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role” (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 56). The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as “full of grace” (Lk 1:28). In fact, in order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God’s grace.
491 Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, “full of grace” through God (Lk 1:28), was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854:
“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, Saviour of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.”
492 The “splendour of an entirely unique holiness” by which Mary is “enriched from the first instant of her conception” comes wholly from Christ: she is “redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son” (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 53, 56). The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person “in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” and chose her “in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him in love” (Cf. Eph 1:3-4),
493 The Fathers of the Eastern tradition call the Mother of God “the All-Holy” (Panagia), and celebrate her as “free from any stain of sin, as though fashioned by the Holy Spirit and formed as a new creature” (Vatican II, Lumen Gentium 56). By the grace of God Mary remained free of every personal sin her whole life long.