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Immaculate: redeemed through preservation

Blessed John Paul II's Catechesis
General Audience, Wednesday, 5 June 1996 - in Italian & Spanish

"1. The doctrine of Mary's perfect holiness from the first moment of her conception met with a certain resistance in the West, on account of St Paul's statements about original sin and about the universality of sin, which were taken up again and explained with particular force by St Augustine.

This great doctor of the Church certainly realized that Mary's status as Mother of a completely holy Son required total purity and an extraordinary holiness. This is why, in the controversy with Pelagius, he stressed that Mary's holiness is an exceptional gift of grace and stated in this regard: "We make an exception for the Blessed Virgin Mary, whom, for the sake of the Lord's honour, I would in no way like to be mentioned in connection with sin. Do we not know why she was granted a greater grace in view of the complete victory over sin, she who merited to conceive and give birth to him who obviously had no sin?" (De natura et gratia, n. 42).

Augustine stressed Mary's perfect holiness and the absence of any personal sin in her because of her lofty dignity as Mother of the Lord. Nonetheless, he could not understand how the affirmation of a total absence of sin at the time of conception could be reconciled with the doctrine of the universality of original sin and the need of redemption for all Adam's descendants. This conclusion was later reached by an ever more penetrating understanding of the Church's faith, explaining how Mary had benefited from Christ's redemptive grace from her conception.

2. In the ninth century the feast of Mary's Conception was also introduced in the West, first in southern Italy, in Naples, and then in England.

Around 1128, a monk of Canterbury, Eadmer, writing the first treatise on the Immaculate Conception, complained that its respective liturgical celebration, especially pleasing to those "in whom a pure simplicity and most humble devotion to God was found" (Tract. de conc. B.M.V., 1-2), had been set aside or suppressed. Wishing to promote the restoration of this feast, the devout monk rejected St Augustine's objections to the privilege of the Immaculate Conception, based on the doctrine of the transmission of original sin in human generation. He fittingly employed the image of a chestnut "which is conceived, nourished and formed beneath its bur and yet is protected from being pricked by it" (Tract. 10). Even beneath the bur of an act of generation which in itself must transmit original sin, Eadmer argues, Mary was preserved from every stain by the explicit will of God who "was obviously able to do this and wanted to do so. Thus if he willed it, he did it" (ibid.).

Despite Eadmer, the great theologians of the 13th century made St Augustine's difficulties their own, advancing this argument: the Redemption accomplished by Christ would not be universal if the condition of sin were not common to all human beings. And if Mary had not contracted original sin, she could not I have been redeemed. Redemption in fact consists in freeing those who are in the state of sin.

3. Duns Scotus, following several 12th-century theologians, found the key to overcoming these objections to the doctrine of Mary's Immaculate Conception. He held that Christ, the perfect mediator, exercised the highest act of mediation precisely in Mary, by preserving her from original sin.

Thus he introduced into theology the concept of Redemption by preservation, according to which Mary was redeemed in an even more wonderful way: not by being freed from sin, but by being preserved from sin.

The insight of blessed Duns Scotus, who later become known as "the Doctor of the Immaculata", was well received by theologians, especially Franciscans, from the very beginning of the 14th century. After Sixtus IV's approval in 1477 of the Mass of the Conception, this doctrine was increasingly accepted in the theological schools.

This providential development of liturgy and doctrine prepared for the definition of the Marian privilege by the Supreme Magisterium The latter only occurred many centuries later, and was spurred by a fundamental insight of faith: the Mother of Christ had to be perfectly holy from the very beginning of her life.

4. No one fails to see how the affirmation of the exceptional privilege granted to Mary stresses that Christ's redeeming action does not only free us from sin, but also preserves us from it. This dimension of preservation, which in Mary is total, is present in the redemptive intervention by which Christ, in freeing man from sin, also gives him the grace and strength to conquer its influence in his life.

In this way the dogma of Mary's Immaculate Conception does not obscure but rather helps wonderfully to shed light on the effects in human nature of Christ's redemptive grace.

Christians look to Mary, the first to be redeemed by Christ and who had the privilege of not being subjected, even for an instant, to the power of evil and sin, as the perfect model and icon of that holiness (cf. Lumen gentium, n. 65) which they are called to attain in their life with the help of the Lord's grace."


After the Catechesis, Pope John Paul II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

[In French] "Chers frères et soeurs, je suis heureux d'accueillir les pèlerins de langue française présents à cette audience. Je salue particulièrement le groupe de la promotion de Saint-Cyr « Rome-Strasbourg ». J'adresse mes souhaits cordiaux aux jeunes, venus en pèlerinage sur la tombe des Apôtres. Que ce temps fort à Rome soit l'occasion d'une découverte plus profonde du Christ, pour être ses témoins chaque jour! A tous j'accorde de grand coeur la Bénédiction Apostolique."

[In English] "Dear Brothers and Sisters, I extend a warm welcome to the members of the Focolare Movement from throughout the world present at today's Audience. Upon all the English-speaking visitors, especially the pilgrims from Malaysia and Singapore, Japan, Canada and the United States, I cordially invoke the joy and peace of Jesus Christ our Saviour."

[In German] "Liebe Schwestern und Brüder! Diesen Überlegungen richte ich meinen Willkommensgruß an die hier anwesenden Pilger und Besucher deutscher Sprache. Insbesondere grüße ich die Behindertengruppe des »Pater-Ruper-Mayer-Zentrums« in Regensburg sowie alle Schülerinnen, Schüler und Studenten. Euch, Euren lieben Angehörigen und Freunden in der Heimat sowie allen, die mit uns über Radio Vatikan und das Fernsehen verbunden sind, erteile ich gerne den Apostolischen Segen."

[In Flemish] "Nu groet ik de pelgrims afkomstig uit België en Nederland. Speciaal groet ik de ouden van dagen en de vrijwillige bloedgevers. Uit eigen ervaring weet u wat het wil zeggen uw leven te geven uit liefde voor de anderen. Dat God u allen moge zegenen!"

[In Spanish] "Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas, saludo con todo afecto a los peregrinos de lengua española. En especial a los grupos venidos desde México, Honduras y Argentina, así como a los fieles de la parroquia de Bustarvieju, a las « Amas de Casa » de Pola de Siero y al grupo de Guipúzcoa. A vosotros y a vuestras familias os imparto de corazón la Bendición Apostólica."

[In Portuguese] "Caríssimos Irmãos e Irmãs, Saúdo cordialmente os peregrinos de língua portuguesa, de modo especial um grupo de visitantes portugueses, e um outro de brasileiros da cidade de Campinas. A todos desejo uma feliz estada em Roma, com os votos de que a visita à Sé de Pedro, lhes reforce sempre mais na fé em Cristo ressuscitado, nossa Páscoa. Que Deus vos abençoe e vos proteja!"

[In Lithuanian] "Noriu pasveikinti maldininkus, atvykusius iš Lietuvos. Вrangieji! Linkiu jums, kad šis susitikimas Visuotinės Bažnyčios širdyje, išliktų jumyse, kaip džiaugsminga bažnytinės vienybės, bei solidarumo išraiška, pakviestų į vis gilesnį Kristaus Evangelijos pažinimą. Telaimina visagalis Dievas jus ir jūsų tėvynę - Lietuvą. Garbė Jėzui Kristui!"

[In Czech] "Milí studenti z církevního gamnázia v Plzni, a poutníci z Jižních Čech a Moravy! Svatý norbert, jehož ostatky jsou v Praze na Strahově, bývá zobrazován s monstrancí jako eucharistický evangelisátor. Na jeho svátek letos рřipadá Boží Tělo. Jak váś národní patron, tak liturgická slavnost vás vybízejí, abyste žili podle Ježiśových slov: « Kdo jí mé tělo a pije mou krev, má věčný život a já ho vzkřísím v poslední den » (Io. 6, 54). Z celého srdce žehnám vám i vašim drahým doma. Chvála Kristu!"

[In Croatian] "Srdačno pozdravljam liječnike i bolničare Župe sv. Antuna Padovanskoga u Našicama. Dobro došli! Predragi, želim vam da u svjetlu riječi Božje uvijek znadete biti vjerni služitelji ljudskoga života. Od srca udjeljujem Apostolski Blagoslov vama i članovima vaših obitelji. Hvaljen Isus i Marija!"

[In Hungarian] "Szeretettel köszöntelek Benneteket, kedves miskolci zarándokok. Jézus így szólt tanítványaihoz: « Én vagyok az élet kenyere. Én vagyok a mennyból alászállott kenyér. Aki e kenyérból eszik, örökké él » (Io. 6, 48-51). Adja meg az Úr, szent teste és vére titkát úgy tisztelnünk, hogy megváltása gyümölcsét szüntelenül érezzük. Ezt kérem Úrnapján a szentmisében Tinéktek és az otthoni testvéreknek. Apostoli Áldásommal. Dicsértessék a Jézus Krisztus!"

[In Slovakian] "Вratsky pozdravujem slovenských pútnikov z Ružomberka a zo Smoleníc, z Tužiny a Kl'ačna, z Košíc a zo Štvrtku na Ostrove a z okolia Bratislavy a Lučenca. Drahi bratia a sestry, zajtra sa na Slovensku slávi sviatok Božieho Tela a konajú sa procesie s Oltárnou sviatosťou. Tieto procesie sú aj výrazom toho, že krácame životom akoby v procesii - sme Cirkev putujúca - a spolu s nami kráča Boh - Ježiš Kristus. Vážce si túto Ježišovu prítomnosť, nábožne sa zúcastńujte na svàtej omši a s vierou pristupujte ku svatému prijímaniu. K tomu vás úprimne povzbudzujem a zo srdca vám udel'ujem svoje Apoštolské Požehnanie. Pochválený bud' Ježiš Kristus."

[In Polish] "Serdecznie witam wszystkich pielgrzymów z Polski. W szczególności pozdrawiam parafie: z Krakowa - Podwyższenia Krzyża Św. i św. Brata Alberta, z Rzeszowa - katedralną i św. Stanisława Biskupa - na piątą rocznicę odwiedzin Papieża, z Kielc, Suwałk, Radomia i Bogatyni - Świętych Piotra i Pawła. Pozdrawiam młodzież i nauczycieli z Rabki, Czarnej Białostockiej i ze Złocieńca oraz wszystkich pielgrzymów: z Bytomia, Bielska-Białej, Białej Podlaskiej, Bydgoszczy, Gorlic, Jarosławia, Katowic, Knurowa, Kraśnika, Łodzi, Opola, Płocka, Poznania, Rybnika, Sanoka, Szczecina, Warszawy oraz grupę policjantów z Zakopanego i Podkarpacia, ponadto Polską Misję Katolicką z Bohum w Niemczech. « Witaj, Jezu, Synu Maryi, Tyś jest Bóg prawdziwy w świętej Hostii ». Często śpiewamy tę pieśń еuсhаrуstусzną, równocześnie pieśń maryjną. Jezus, Syn Maryi. Katecheza dzisiejsza była o Niej, o Niepokalanie Poсzętеj, ukazała rozwój Jej kultu od pierwszych stuleci aż do XIX w. i naszych czasów. Jednakże pragnę wrócić do pieśni, która będzie śpiewana na pewno w ciągu tych dni - jutro na Boże Ciało i w czasie oktawy - na ulicach miast i drogach wiejskich. Jesteśmy bardzo przywiązani do tradycji Bożego Ciała, do procesy Bożego Ciała. Ja sam pamiętam z czasów, kiedy byłem w Krakowie, ile musiałem wysiłku włożyć, ażeby tej procesji z Wawelu na Rynek Krakowski przywrócić właściwy wymiar. Niech te procesje Bożego Ciała w Krakowie i całej Polsce będą jutro wyrazem naszej wiary i naszego dążenia wraz z Chrystusem, Synem Maryi, do ojczyzny wiecznej, do której nas Chrystus w Boźe Ciało prowadzi. Wszystkich pozdrawiam i błogosławię pielgrzymom, którzy tutaj w Rzymie będą uczestniczyć w uroczystości Bożego Ciała. Niech będzie pochwalony Jezus Chrystus!

[In Italian] "Rivolgo un cordiale benvenuto a tutti i pellegrini di lingua italiana, in particolare al gruppo di sacerdoti della diocesi di Brescia, che festeggiano il 25° anniversario di Ordinazione presbiterale. Carissimi, vi ringrazio per la vostra presenza e mi associo volentieri alla vostra gioia per il ministero svolto in questi anni, mentre invoco su di voi una rinnovata effusione di favori e conforti celesti. Saluti il gruppo di Ministranti della diocesi di Termoli-Larino, accompagnati dal Vescovo, Monsignor Domenico D'Ambrosio e alcuni sacerdoti ordinati in questi ultimi anni, come pure i fedeli della Parrocchia di Santa Caterina da Siena a Coverciano, dell'Arcidiocesi di Firenze, che guidati dal loro Parroco, sono venuti a Roma per coronare le celebrazioni per il 25° anniversario dell'apertura al culto della loro Chiesa parrocchiale. Saluto poi gli organizzatori-dirigenti della Federazione Italiana di Atletica Leggera, ed una rappresentanza di atleti partecipanti alla manifestazione sportiva « Golden Gala 1996 »; come pure i membri dell'Associazione Nazionale Educatori Benemeriti, ed il Rettore Magnifico, il Senato Accademico ed un gruppo di studenti dell'Università degli Studi di Salerno, accompagnati dall'Arcivescovo della Città, Monsignor Gerardo Pierro. Il mio pensiero si dirige ora ai membri della Comunità di accoglienza Caritas di Reggio Calabria, della Casa di Accoglienza di Passirano della Diocesi di Brescia e dell'Associazione Nazionale Tutela Handicappati e Invalidi."

[To the young people, the sick and the newly married] "Rivolgo infine un pensiero ai giovani, ai malati e agli sposi novelli, ispirato alla prossima festa del « Corpus Domini ». A Roma celebriamo domani sera la Santa Messa alle ore 19 e рoi la Processione Eucaristica dalla Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano alla Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore. Cari giovani, e particolarmente voi, cari bambini, che avete fatto quest'anno la Prima Comunione: accostatevi con frequenza e devozione a Gesù, Pane di vita, per averne il necessario sostegno nell'adempimento dei vostri doveri. Voi, cari malati, unite spiritualmente le vostre sofferenze al Corpo e Sangue del Signore, offerti quotidianamente per la salvezza del mondo. E per voi, cari Sposi novelli, l'Eucaristia, espressione massima dell'amore di Dio per l'uomo, sia il modello del vostro mutuo e fedele amore."


© Copyright 1996 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana