by Roy Peachey

In 1858 a young girl went to gather firewood near a small cave just outside Lourdes in southern France. As she hesitated on one side of the cold stream, a beautiful lady appeared at the entrance to the cave. The lady, who did not speak a word, was surrounded by light and had a rosary on her right arm. The little girl, whose name was Bernadette, was entranced and, forgetting about the firewood, got out her own rosary and started to say her prayers. The lady then disappeared. Over the next few weeks there were seventeen more apparitions of the beautiful lady to Bernadette. During the course of these appearances she revealed that she was none other than the Virgin Mary.

Why am I telling this story? Because one surprising aspect of these events was that Mary didn’t say, “I am Mary” to Bernadette. What she said instead was, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” If you’re not sure what this means, don’t worry. Bernadette didn’t either. Her local parish priest had to explain that “immaculate” means “without a stain” or “without sin”. He also explained that “the Immaculate Conception” means that Mary was conceived without sin. As Pope Pius IX put it in his very precise proclamation about the Immaculate Conception just four years before Mary appeared to Bernadette: “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.” From the very first moment of her life she was unstained by original sin and she never committed a sin during the whole of her life. It was the sinless mother of Christ who appeared to that little French peasant girl in 1858.

If we jump forward 150 years, we can see that Mary still has an enormously important role in the life of the Church, though it is a role that is often misunderstood. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, as always, is spot on when it comments that “What the Catholic faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines in turn its faith in Christ.” Mary really matters because she always leads us onto Christ. In fact, the reason she was kept immaculate was because she had been chosen “before the foundation of the world” to be the Mother of Christ.

Only someone who was without sin could possibly have had the honour of conceiving Christ himself and of cherishing him in her womb. Only someone who was kept utterly pure by Christ himself was worthy of giving birth to him. That is why Mary is so important to Catholics today. She was and is the immaculate mother of Christ. She hasn’t stopped being mother of God now that she is in heaven. That is why we ask her to pray for us. That is why we address the rosary, the Salve Regina, and many other prayers to her. She came closer to Christ than anyone else in all human history and so she is the one who can lead us to him today.

The Creed

The Sacraments



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