Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Sorting out the Immaculate Conception
First off, I'm going to admit that we did not observe the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary here on Monday. My own default entrenchment in TLH has me at a disadvantage when it comes to any observances and feasts whatsoever that are not found there. It's not that TLH is inerrant, certainly; it's just that it's become the indelible way my own synapses work.
We did celebrate St. Nicholas Mass on Saturday, though, and we will celebrate St. Lucy's next Saturday, so it's not that I can't bring myself to make changes; it's just that each one comes with some difficulty.
In my brain (the one I, the Frankengottesdienst monster, got when Marty Feldman dropped the normal brain and took the one from Abby . . .), there are a number of committees. Each change proposed must go through lots of red tape. During the process it often will sit unattended on a messy desk for extended periods of time. Sometimes there's a veto, or a subcommittee hearing, and the process takes even longer. Let the reader understand: I am a true conservative, in the most rudimentary sense of that term.
So anyhow, the Feasts for the BVM are all at various stages in this mental process of mine. The most recent one to be enacted (which actually means that I got around to celebrating it, really) is the dormition of the Blessed Virgin Mary, August 15th. That one underwent several alterations before becoming, er, law, in Kewanee. It is not called the Assumption, a la Rome, nor is it simply called St. Mary, Mother of our Lord, a la SBH. I must say, the former, notwithstanding its questionable historicity, is truly preferable to the latter, an abominable reversion to Nestorius. (Oh where is St. Leo when you need him?)
So here I am, still sorting out what I ought to think about the Conception BVM. It's certainly historical (I mean, she was conceived), and it certainly has the effect of helping us count her blessed among women.
And yet somehow I admit that I'm dragging my heels a bit on this. I have learned to trust my instincts (which drives my loved ones nuts, particularly when their instincts are at variance).
Maybe it's the whole Immaculate Conception thing that has me troubled. To those of us who are both interested in good tradition and in historical validity--which are usually not at odds with each other--sometimes there is a problem, and when it must be resolved on the side of what's true, we find ourselves troubled that we must set tradition aside.
So it is for me in the case of the Immaculate Conception. One might wryly say that the immaculate conception didn't take place until 1854, when Rome dogmatized it, though it was a popular view for a long time prior to that.
My own take on it is that it is the understandable result of a misunderstanding of Doubting Joseph, on whom a number of medieval hymns have been written. That is to say, it's most likely that that term "immaculate conception" arose in poetry from the angel's words to Joseph in St. Matthew 1: "Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost."
In other words, the immaculate conception does indeed pertain to Mary, but not to her own conception. Rather, it is a reference to her virginal purity: Joseph, do not think ill of your betrothed; that which is conceived in her was conceived immaculately, without sin in her.
So, to return to my original musing, though I haven't researched this, I'm going to guess that the feast observed on December 8th, which is generally called the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, is reserved for the observance of Mary's own conception in the womb of her mother St. Anne. Hence (if this is correct) it is a faulty observance.
I may be quite wrong about this, particularly as I know it is observed also in the East. But even so, there are those tedious committee meetings going on in my brain even as I write, and there doesn't seem to be a resolution in view any time soon.
That said, I really do hate coming down on the side of Nestorians, Calvinists, and clowns who refuse to call Mary blessed, to say nothing of her being the Mother of God.
Perhaps somebody could enlighten me on this, but without even checking I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that the propers for December 8th are not what they should be. If there is going to be a Feast of the Immaculate Conception, it should be the Feast of Doubting Joseph, and the Gospel appointed should be the one from St. Matthew 1; though honestly, the notion of altogether new propers would never see the light of day in those cranial committee meetings of mine.
But if it had been so, then everyone would know, as I suspect it was widely known in Christendom around 900 years ago, when those medieval hymns were written, that the Immaculate Conception is an important thing to emphasize: Joseph, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost.