The Immaculate Conception

by the late Father Robert Burns (+)

originally appeared in The Wanderer titled, "And The Word Was Made Flesh"

One of the most cherished memories of my life has been (and will always be) that solemn moment in the beautiful Midnight Mass of Christmas when the celebrant, deacon, and subdeacon knelt reverently before the main altar while the choir sang softly, "Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sancto, ex Maria Virgine et homo factus est." Count this as one of the priceless treasures that has been stolen from our Catholic people by would be reformers and updaters.

The present day attack on the Virgin Birth is not only an attack on the inviolate dignity of the Blessed Mother, but it is also an attack on the Catholic Faith. The existentialist understanding of the Annunciation and the Resurrection is not only an attack on the historical accuracy of the Gospels, but it is basically an attack on the Catholic Faith.

Our Faith may well be compared to a beautiful tapestry that is held together by component parts. Remove any of these parts and you destroy the tapestry. For example, we recently celebrated the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. The Immaculate Conception is a de fide Catholic doctrine. But how can the avantgarde intelligently explain the Immaculate Conception when they reject the traditional Catholic doctrine of Original Sin? If, as they say, Original Sin is now to be considered the "escalation of evil in the world, " and even if, as they say, there is within our natures a proclivity toward evil, nevertheless we are not born with the stain of sin. Obviously, therefore, if this be true, we must all have been conceived without stain of sin.

It is not surprising therefore that the modern catechisms do not teach the Immaculate Conception. How could they? They do not even properly teach the Redemption. Christ, they say, came into the world to show His love for us and to give us an example that we should love others. They do not teach what they should teach, that Christ came into this world to atone for Adam's sin, to restore to us the supernatural life and to open to us the gates of Heaven.

The angel at Bethlehem announced, "This day is born to you a Savior Who is Christ the Lord." Of course this is omitted from many of the Nativity accounts today since the avantgarde are not convinced that such creatures as angels really do exist.

The Only Begotten Son of God became Man because the fallen human race, all children of Adam, needed a Savior. It did not require the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity to teach the virtue of loving one's neighbor. Many virtuous men have attempted to do this and with some degree of success. Surely salvation history concerns something more than brotherly love - it has to do with restoring a completely severed relationship with Almighty God.

And what of our modern secularists who insist that all Christian symbols, pageants, music, etc., must be removed from the celebrations of Christmas, lest we incur the ire of the all-powerful Supreme Court? If there is any reference to Bethlehem in these celebrations, it must be made clear that it is Bethlehem, Pa., that is referred to, not "The Little Town of Bethlehem" of which Philip Brooks wrote.

Well, Americans love celebrations and I suppose it takes very little excuse or perhaps none at all to justify a celebration. Yet we are all familiar with the expression, "This calls for a celebration," presuming there is always some reason, however skimpy, for celebrating. What reason do these secularists have for celebrating Christmas? Christmas without Bethlehem makes as much sense as the Fourth of July without the Declaration of Independence.

I think Gilbert K. Chesterton gave us as good a reason as any for celebrating Christmas when he replied to a cynic who had scoffed at the importance of Bethlehem: "You are right indeed, nothing of importance happened at Bethlehem excepting that the whole world was turned upside down."

Indeed at Bethlehem, the world was turned upside down. At Bethlehem, those hands that had fashioned the stars, the moon, and the sun in the universe became so feeble that they could not reach to the heads of the oxen. At Bethlehem the eyes of the mighty Creator looked up into the faces of His own creatures. He Who by nature and by right might have been born in a stately mansion, adorned with regal splendor, chose to be born in a rude stable, the poorest of the poor, the most abandoned, the most rejected of men, in order to teach a proud and selfish world the lessons of poverty, humility, and obedience.

Because of Bethlehem, man has a new dignity; because of Bethlehem, man has an eternal destiny; because of Bethlehem, all men, even the poorest, have cause for rejoicing; for Bethlehem means that "God so loved the world that He gave His Only Begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him may not perish, but may have life everlasting" (John 3:16).

The secularists who in their celebrations have removed Bethlehem from Christmas have reduced Christmas to an empty shell. The avantgarde who have removed the supernatural from Bethlehem have reduced Christmas to an empty shell, for if Christ came into this world simply to teach us to live a complete life and build an earthly paradise, then the world didn't really need a savior and the redemption is completely misinterpreted. And what of the Incarnation?

The word Christmas, as we all know it, is derived from the Mass of the feast commemorating the Birth of Christ, Our Savior. The moderns who see in the Mass (and teach children) only the importance of celebration, communal gathering, and meal, are distorting the true meaning of Christmas, because they are neglecting the central fact of all history, the Redemption of the human race by Christ's Death on the Cross, and this is continued on our altars in the "perfect sacrifice of the new law."

Malachias, the last of the Old Testament prophets, foretold that "from the rising of the sun, even to the going down, My name is great among the Gentiles, and in every place there is sacrifice and there is offered to My name a clean oblation: for My name is great among the Gentiles, saith the Lord God of hosts" (Mal. 1:11).

Need we be reminded that the word "oblation" means sacrifice and this prophecy refers to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass!

These are some sober thoughts for us to ponder at this sacred time of the year. We are living in an age when the Catholic Faith is being undermined by secularists and modernists both within and without the Church, when so-called fundamentalists are being derided by so-called modern scholars because the former are determined to cling to the ancient faith.

I was born and raised in Massachusetts where 150 years ago the celebration of Christmas was outlawed as a "popish superstition." Thank God those days have passed, but the attack on this cherished feast and our Holy Faith has not passed. It is simply more sophisticated and surreptitious today. We must resist the insidious enemy and renew our dedication to the ancient truths of our Faith.

The sudden and unpleasant turn of events in our economic world will deprive many of us this Christmas of the material comforts we had become accustomed to enjoy. I have heard many people say, "Perhaps it will be a good thing; we have become too accustomed to the affluent society, two cars, three televisions, motor boats, snowmobiles, etc., etc."

But there was a greater danger. Constant striving after more and more material pleasures and comforts and a life of ease is hardly conducive to spiritual growth. The spirit of sacrifice, self-denial, and mortification can easily be lost sight of when one is seeking after material pleasures. More than that, there is the danger of relying more on the ingenuity of man and less on the providence of God.

Perhaps the lesson of Bethlehem will be more meaningful to many of us this year. No affluence there, only poverty; no wealth, but spiritual wealth; no selfish striving, only humility of spirit. With less time for material pleasures, perhaps we will spend more' time meditating upon the great truths of our eternal salvation. Perhaps it all depends - Our Lord said unless you become like a little child you shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Is there any better place than Bethlehem to acquire the spirit and the simplicity of a little child?