Pope Benedict XVI is to pray for the Roman Catholic Church, the sick, and for peace in the world when he visits the Masabielle Grotto at Lourdes this weekend. The Pope's visit will take place within the context of the 150th Anniversary of the so-called "apparitions" experienced by an impressionable 14 year old French girl, Bernadette Soubirous.
Zenit reports that the Pontiff is traveling to France to visit Lourdes as a pilgrim:
"After visiting Paris, your country's capital, I will have the great joy to join the crowd of pilgrims who are going to follow the stages of the jubilee journey, after St. Bernadette, to the Massabielle grotto.
"My prayer will intensify at the feet of Our Lady for the intentions of the whole Church, in particular for the sick, the abandoned, as well as for peace in the world.
"May Mary be for all of you," he added, "in particular for young people, the Mother always attentive to the needs of her children, a light of hope that illuminates and guides your ways.
"I invite you to join me in prayer," the Holy Father said, "so that this trip will bring abundant fruits."
As I said in The Patter of Little Feet, the timing of an "apparition" on 11 February 1858 was fortuitous indeed as the Dogma of the Immaculate Conception had been proclaimed only three years and 10 months previously.
From the Catholic Encyclopaedia article "The Immaculate Conception" -
"In the Constitution Ineffabilis Deus of 8 December, 1854, Pius IX pronounced and defined that the Blessed Virgin Mary "in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin."
The article goes on to declare -
"...The term conception does not mean the active or generative conception by her parents. Her body was formed in the womb of the mother, and the father had the usual share in its formation. The question does not concern the immaculateness of the generative activity of her parents. Neither does it concern the passive conception absolutely and simply (conceptio seminis carnis, inchoata), which, according to the order of nature, precedes the infusion of the rational soul. The person is truly conceived when the soul is created and infused into the body. Mary was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin at the first moment of her animation, and sanctifying grace was given to her before sin could have taken effect in her soul.
"...The formal active essence of original sin was not removed from her soul, as it is removed from others by baptism; it was excluded, it never was in her soul. Simultaneously with the exclusion of sin, the state of original sanctity, innocence, and justice, as opposed to original sin, was conferred upon her, by which gift every stain and fault, all depraved emotions, passions, and debilities, essentially pertaining to original sin, were excluded. But she was not made exempt from the temporal penalties of Adam -- from sorrow, bodily infirmities, and death."
The article furnishes many undubitable proofs as to the truth of the Dogma but, despite all such assurances, some residual doubt must have troubled the minds and hearts of the faithful because, as the article admits -
"no direct or categorical and stringent proof of the dogma can be brought forward from Scripture."
Mary decided to squash such doubts altogether by appearing to a poor fourteen year old girl and announcing "I am the Immaculate Conception."
What joy must have swelled the breasts of the theologians who framed the Dogma. To know that that not even the New Testament authors had been vouchsafed such marvellous insight. To know that they had at last been vindicated by Mary herself! Innumerable prayers of gratitude must have shot straight up to Heaven. Well, perhaps not straight up because the pathway to Heaven must be a touch circuitous judging by the amount of time it had taken Mary to discover that her devoted servants had finally banished from the minds of men any thought that, unlike them, her immaculate purity had ever been sullied with "every stain and fault, all depraved emotions, passions, and debilities."
In the beginning, "God made them male and female." Only men deprived of the psychological and physical companionship of their god-given partner could come up with such utter drivel!