According to this dogmatic definition, it has been revealed by God that
Mary was preserved from original sin from the moment of her conception
At the General Audience of Wednesday, 12 June, the Holy Father
continued his catechesis on the Immaculate Conception, this time
discussing the dogmatic definition of the doctrine by Pope Pius IX.
"We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which asserts
that the Blessed Virgin Mary, from the first moment of her conception,
by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God, and in view of the
merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, was preserved free
from every stain of original sin is a doctrine revealed by God and, for
this reason, must be firmly and constantly believed by all the
faithful", the Pope said in his Bull Ineffabilis. Here
is a translation of the Holy Father's catechesis, which was the 23rd in
the series on the Blessed Virgin and was given in Italian.
1. Down the centuries, the conviction that Mary was preserved from
every stain of sin from her conception, so that she is to be called all
holy, gradually gained ground in the liturgy and theology. At the start
of the 19th century, this development led to a petition drive for a
dogmatic definition of the privilege of the Immaculate Conception.
Around the middle of the century, with the intention of accepting
this request, Pope Pius IX, after consulting the theologians, questioned
the Bishops about the opportuneness and the possibility of such a
definition, convoking as it were a "council in writing". The
result was significant: the vast majority of the 604 Bishops gave a
positive response to the question.
After such an extensive consultation, which emphasized my venerable
Predecessor's concern to express the Church's faith in the definition of
the dogma, he set about preparing the document with equal care.
Blessed Virgin is free from every stain of sin
The special commission of theologians set up by Pius IX to determine
the revealed doctrine assigned the essential role to ecclesial practice.
And this criterion influenced the formulation of the dogma, which
preferred expressions taken from the Church's lived experience, from the
faith and worship of the Christian people, to scholastic definitions.
Finally in 1854, with the Bull Ineffabilis, Pius IX solemnly
proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception: "... We declare,
pronounce and define that the doctrine which asserts that the Blessed
Virgin Mary, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular
grace and privilege of almighty God, and in view of the merits of Jesus
Christ, Saviour of the human race, was preserved free from every stain
of original sin is a doctrine revealed by God and, for this reason, must
be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful" (DS 2803).
2. The proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception
expresses the essential datum of faith. Pope Alexander VII, in the Bull Sollicitudo
of 1661, spoke of the preservation of Mary's soul "in its
creation and infusion into the body" (DS 2017). Pius IX's
definition, however, prescinds from all explanations about how the soul
is infused into the body and attributes to the person of Mary, at the
first moment of her conception, the fact of her being preserved from
every stain of original sin.
The freedom "from every stain of original sin" entails as a
positive consequence the total freedom from all sin as well as the
proclamation of Mary's perfect holiness, a doctrine to which the
dogmatic definition makes a fundamental contribution. In fact, the
negative formulation of the Marian privilege, which resulted from the
earlier controversies about original sin that arose in the West, must
always be complemented by the positive expression of Mary's holiness
more explicitly stressed in the Eastern tradition.
Pius IX's definition refers only to the freedom from original sin and
does not explicitly include the freedom from concupiscence.
Nevertheless, Mary's complete preservation from every stain of sin also
has as a consequence her freedom from concupiscence, a disordered
tendency which, according to the Council of Trent, comes from sin and
inclines to sin (DS 1515).
3. Granted "by a singular grace and privilege of almighty
God", this preservation from original sin is an absolutely
gratuitous divine favour, which Mary received at the first moment of her
The dogmatic definition does not say that this singular privilege is
unique, but lets that be intuited. The affirmation of this uniqueness,
however, is explicitly stated in the Encyclical Fulgens corona of
1953, where Pope Pius XII speaks of "the very singular privilege
which was never granted to another person" (AAS 45 ,
580), thus excluding the possibility, maintained by some but without
foundation, of attributing this privilege also to St Joseph.
The Virgin Mother received the singular grace of being immaculately
conceived "in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the
human race", that is, of his universal redeeming action.
The text of the dogmatic definition does not expressly declare that
Mary was redeemed, but the same Bull Ineffabilis states elsewhere
that "she was redeemed in the most sublime way". This is the
extraordinary truth: Christ was the redeemer of his Mother and carried
out his redemptive action in her "in the most perfect way" (Fulgens
corona, AAS 45 , 581), from the first moment of her
existence. The Second Vatican Council proclaimed that the Church
"admires and exalts in Mary the most excellent fruit of the
Redemption" (Sacrosanctum Concilium, n. 103).
Solemn definition serves the faith of God's People
4. This solemnly proclaimed doctrine is expressly termed a
"doctrine revealed by God". Pope Pius IX adds that it must be
"firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful".
Consequently, whoever does not make this doctrine his own, or maintains
an opinion contrary to it, "is shipwrecked in faith" and
"separates himself from Catholic unity".
In proclaiming the truth of this dogma of the Immaculate Conception,
my venerable Predecessor was conscious of exercising his power of
infallible teaching as the universal Pastor of the Church, which several
years later would be solemnly defined at the First Vatican Council. Thus
he put his infallible Magisterium into action as a service to the faith
of God's People; and it is significant that he did so by defining Mary's