This is the first of a series of nine articles about the Immaculate Conception and other related themes that will be published daily from December 1 through 9.
Catholics are so close to Mary of Nazareth that for her Catholic sons and daughters Our Blessed Mother is a dear and special possession. That is most natural of course. Yet Mary of Nazareth is also the Queen of Israel. We know she is actively working for the conversion of every living Jew. Take for example the conversion of Alphonse Ratisbonne. January 6, 1842. Alphonse, a young Jewish banker, had just arrived in Rome. Alphonse was a prominent member of an important Jewish family of bankers. A wealthy man of the world, agnostic, with connections to the great European bankers, he felt completely at ease in the high circles of European nobility. With marriage and a profitable banking partnership in the horizon young Alphonse had everything coming his way. Only one thing annoyed him: his brother Theodor had converted to Catholicism and later became a priest. While visiting Rome he encountered an old friend, Gustave de Bussieres. In time Alphonse learned that Gustave’s older brother had also converted to the Catholic faith and was by then a close friend of his brother Theodor. Later on he met the new convert who predicted — moved perhaps by a supernatural inkling — that Alphonse was going to become a Catholic one day “even if the Lord has to send an angel from Heaven to bring it about.” Alphonse’s response was dry and sarcastic: “A la bonne heure, car autrement la chose serait difficile” meaning “It better be soon, otherwise it would be rather difficult.” That man would die soon after but not without praying devoutly along with other Catholic friends for the conversion of Alphonse.
The day before leaving Rome Alphonse awakened in the middle of the night. He had a vision of a large Cross without the Corpus. He could not avoid seeing this Cross even with his eyes closed. Finally he fell asleep. In the morning all memories of the vision were gone.
After giving his farewell to some friends he stopped by a café to read the newspapers. As he left the café he run into the Baron de Bussieres who took him out for a final sightseeing tour on his own carriage. But first the Baron had to make a quick stop at San Andrea delle Fratte. His friend, the Comte de la Ferronays, had just died and he had to take care of the funeral arrangements. Alphonse went with him to take a look at the Church’s interior, which at first he disliked. He walked around the church alone while the Baron conversed with the monks.
While Alphonse was still alone a large black dog appeared charging out of nowhere only to disappear right in front of him. At that point the whole scene changed before his eyes and a brilliant light coming from the Chapel of the Archangels seemed to fill the whole church. Right at the source of light, Alphonse saw a beautiful Lady “tall, brilliant, full of sweetness and majesty.” He tried in vain to raise his eyes to behold her beautiful face. He was able to look only at her outstretched hands, her fingers also radiated light transmitting to Alphonse “all the tenderness of the Divine Pity.” In that moment while contemplating the miraculous vision, Alphonse received the grace of infused knowledge. He understood his own profound sinfulness, the horror of original sin but also God’s infinite love and mercy, and the majestic beauty of the Faith and Sacraments. Mere seconds after he was left kneeling in front of the chapel.
When the Baron de Bussieres returned he found the young man in the same spot, still kneeling. In tears he exclaimed, “Oh! How that gentleman has prayed for me!” He was referring to the deceased Comte de la Ferronays whom he had never met. He had learned supernaturally of de la Ferronays’ prayers.
A few days after, Alphonse was baptized. His conversion was the talk of Europe. De Bussieres was his baptismal godfather. Later Alphonse Ratisbonne took Holy Orders. After a fruitful number of years he died in the Holy Land near the site of the Visitation.
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Mary’s interest in the salvation of the human family knows no bounds. The following is related in the book Queen of Angels – Mary’s Answers to Universal Questions by Janice T. Connell. The author was travelling through Texas during a promotion tour of her book Encounter with Mary. She arrived to a large bookstore in a shopping mall when she noticed a number of pickup trucks in the parking lot, some were equipped with rifle racks. Upon entering the bookstore she found about fifty rugged lumberjacks, aged between 30 and 50. They were all by themselves, no wives or children were present. She felt uneasy when someone told her that none of those men were Catholics. As soon as she reached the podium, one of the men stood up and explained that they were all Protestants. During that afternoon, Mary the Mother of Jesus had appeared to him. He could not be more sincere when he said “I told the lady to go away in the name of Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior and she responded with a smile.” She said: “ My Son, Who is God has sent me so you can really get to know Him. I am the Queen of Angels and I am gathering the flock of my Son.”
The man continued: “I was very afraid and I told her again to go away, that I could never call her ‘Mother of God.’” The rugged man’s eyes filled with tears while relating how the beautiful Lady from Heaven responded: “It does not matter how you call me. Love my Son, serve my Son, be like my Son.”
Janice Conell, the author, asked him why he had come to the bookstore that evening. He responded: “The beautiful Lady from Heaven told me to come and to bring my men along.”
A number of questions and answers followed. “Madam, can you tell me where the Bible calls Mary the Immaculate Conception?”
“Check Luke 1:28 to 29.”
The man quickly extracted a New Testament from the front pocket of his jeans and read.
“Hail Mary, full of grace.”
The force of those words passed through the room like lightning.
“Full of grace …” he repeated slowly. “Full of grace” not with a little bit of grace like us but filled with grace!” said the man almost whispering.
The conversation continued until a very tired store manager informed the group that he had to close the store.
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In the Constitution Ineffabilis Deus of December, 1854, Pope Pius IX declared 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 Savior of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin.”
The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception affirms that Mary was born free of original sin. The teaching is not explicitly mentioned in the Bible, yet there is enough biblical evidence to show that the belief in the Immaculate Conception is perfectly biblical.
“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Hail, full of grace, the LORD is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. Luke 1, 26-29.
We must pay attention to the expression “full of grace” from the Greek κεχαριτωμένη, kecharitomene. From that expression we learn that Mary received from God all the necessary grace for her salvation. The source of this truth recorded in the Gospel of Luke, is an angel who is delivering a message directly from God. What does it mean to be full of grace? When measuring any other thing, such as a fluid, we say that a vessel is full of water because it cannot take any more water in, or because it has all the water needed to attain a certain level of completeness. In the same way, Our Blessed Mother was informed of her unique standing before God by the angel: she was given all of the divine grace necessary to achieve her mission as the New Eve. These graces were received by Mary in advance of the redemptory sacrifice of Christ firstly because, to fulfill her role as the New Eve she had to be of the seed of the original Eve, (Genesis 3, 1-20) and secondly, because that particular condition tied her to the chain of original sin (1 Corinthians 15, 22). In order to be the Bride of God the Holy Spirit and the Mother of God the Son, Mary had to be made a perfect daughter of God the Father. These graces are then given to Mary by God out of His desire to redeem mankind. In Mary we see fulfilled in advance, the perfection that obedient mankind will receive as a result of Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross.
The expression κεχαριτωμένη complements and fulfill many prophetic utterances registered in Scripture. We find her in the Wisdom of Proverbs 8, Ecclesiasticus 24, and the mysterious canticle of the Song of Songs chapter 4, which says in verse 7: “You are all fair, my love; there is no flaw in you.” These texts have been used for centuries in liturgy and prayer, to praise the Mother of God but they alone do not constitute proof of her Immaculate Conception.
Here are some comments on the use of the term kecharitomene and the Immaculate Conception:
“…Luke 1:28 uses the perfect passive participle kecharitomene. The perfect stem of a Greek verb denotes ‘continuance of a completed action’; ‘completed action with permanent result is denoted by the perfect stem.’ On morphological grounds, therefore, it is correct to paraphrase kecharitomene as ‘completely, perfectly, enduringly endowed with grace.’”
“Since Mary would not have been a worthy mother of God if she had ever sinned, we assert without qualification that Mary never committed a sinful act, fatal or non-fatal: ; ‘You are wholly beautiful, my love, and without blemish.’ Christ is the source of grace, author of it as God and instrument of it as man, and, since Mary was closest to Christ in giving him his human nature, she rightly received from Him fullness of grace: grace in such abundance as to bring her closest in grace to its Author, receiving into herself the One who was full of every grace, and, by giving birth to Him, bringing grace to all.” 
When Mary accepted to be the Bride of the Holy Spirit, she became the Ark of the New Covenant. Thus the ancient ark was a prophetic model, prefiguring Mary. The ark had a place in the Holy of Holies in the innermost sanctuary of the Tabernacle. This was a Most Holy Place, so sacred that no ordinary person could enter in it. The Holy of Holies was God’s special dwelling place in the midst of His people. A thick curtain, made of fine linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn, embroidered with the figures of Cherubim, separated the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place. The Cherubim, are spirits who serve and praise God constantly, guarding the throne of Most High. That veil was the last limit, hiding the Holiness of God from the view of sinful men. Entering the Holy of Holies meant to enter into God’s very presence. Only the high priest could past through the veil. The High Priest, a type of Christ Himself, God’s chosen mediator with His people, could only enter this sacred space on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The Holy of Holies was there to teach Israelites the holiness of God. Something they could not fail to take very seriously (Habakkuk 1, 13). The veil was there to insure that no man could enter into God’s holy presence. Even when the high priest accessed the Holy of Holies, he had to clean himself ceremonially. He had to dress with special clothing, bring the incensory to let the smoke fill the room, thus covering his eyes from a direct view of God. Most importantly he had to bring the blood of sacrifices with him, to make atonement for his sins and for those of his people. The liturgy of the Day of Atonement was there to point at the necessity of a perfect priest, the one we now have in Christ, and to show the Israelites the awesome sanctity of God (Hebrews 9, 7; 9, 24-26; 6, 19-20; 10,19-22).
How much more sanctity, purity and innocence would be required from the woman in whom the very life of God was going to dwell for nine months! God could not have required that kind of holiness from the model and later, fail to require it from the very fulfillment! Such model could not be more holy than the reality it represented!
Indeed, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception explains how God prepared a perfect vessel to receive the Son of God in the mystery of the Incarnation.
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On December 8 we are going to celebrate the day of the Immaculate Conception. These days the world seems to be fraught with danger and unspeakable acts of violence and hate. Yet we present to the world the banner of Mary. Awful events will soon come charging against us like the vicious dog in Alphonse Ratisbonne’s vision at San Andrea delle Fratte, and just like that frightful sight they will vanish when Mary makes herself visible to all before her Son turns His attention to the affairs of this world.
A tiny part of my mission was to write this article so you are aware of Our Blessed Mother’s interest in you and every human being alive today. Let us join in praying the Novena of the Immaculate Conception, asking Our Mother for peace in the world, and the prompt return of Her Son, Jesus.
 A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature: A revision of F. Blass and A. Debrunner “Grammatik des neutestamentlichen Griechisch”. The University of Chicago Press, 1961.
 Refuting the Attack on Mary: A Defense of Marian Doctrine by Father Mateo, publ. Catholic Answers, El Cajon, California, 1993, 1999.
 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica IIIa:27.4-5
 See the chapter Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant in Ark of Grace. Our Blessed Mother in Holy Scripture.