No, Blessed Pope John Paul II did not promulgate a special sixth mystery in honor of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God. No, this doesn’t belong to any of the sets of five mysteries in particular. No, it’s not officially mandated by the Church.
However, to whatever set of five mysteries one is saying, it has been a custom in very many countries by very many peoples, including religious congregations and orders, to recite an additional mystery, that of the Immaculate Conception. Some rosaries reflect this reality with six decades instead of five. This is an additional devotion, if you will, which is, I think especially in today’s pro-abort mentality, appropriate to include. But what is it about the Immaculate Conception that’s so important? Let me count just a few of the ways:
- It is entirely appropriate in all justice for Jesus, the Son of God, conceived of the Holy Spirit in the womb of His virgin Mother (with no intervention of man), so that He might not contract original sin (which comes about through propagation, not imitation). However, it was also necessary to this end that His mother be free of original sin, and this she was, as we read in Luke 1,28 (in context) and Genesis 3,15 (in context). In Luke, Mary is said by the angel to be perfectly continuing to be perfectly transformed in grace, and, in context, to when this began, from the first moment she would have begun to live her vocation to be the virgin Mother of God, which was, of course, from the first instant of her conception, therefore, an immaculate conception, free from Adam’s sin, original sin. This is all about Jesus, but it redounds on His mother. In Genesis, it is clear that the woman in Genesis 3,15 is not the wife of Adam, but rather a woman future to the one who is writing the account, a woman who would be Mother of the Redeemer, a woman free from the sin of Adam (which I’ll be writing about, please God, in times to come: My Books page). Non-Catholics claim that the Immaculate Conception is not in Scripture. How wrong they are.
- It is, again, entirely appropriate, in all justice, that Mary’s consequent purity of vision and agility of soul, would enable her to take note of all that we need by way of redemption, so that she, a “mere” human being, might complement the redemption of the Sole Mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ, her Son. She perfectly saw what we needed in seeing her Son hanging in bleeding shreds of flesh on the Cross, saw what we needed from the first man, Adam, to the last to be conceived. She had merely to intercede for us, to have her Immaculate Heart in solidarity with the Sacred Heart of her Son, to be the mediatrix of all graces. This is what it means for her to be “co-Remptrix”. She perfectly intercedes for all the grace which is perfectly and only provided our her Son, our Savior.
- As with her Son, Mary did not have to suffer the weaknesses due to original sin. No weakness of mind, weakness of will, feelings and emotions all over the place, sickness, nor even death. However, that doesn’t mean that she had an easy time of it. Quite the opposite. The clearer the vision, the agile of soul, the more one sees the goodness and kindness of God, but, with that standard of comparision, with that bond of love, one all the more incisively sees the evil and cruelty of those who sin. And when she saw her Son on the Cross, her own heart was pierced with a sword of sorrow, as prophesied by Simeon during Jesus’ presentation in the Temple. Outside of her Son, no one suffered more than Mary in this life. She has suffered more than all of us put together. These are her birth pangs for the members of the Mystical Body of her Son. This is how she becomes our mother. Her intercession for us was not easy. She felt every bit of it and persevered to the end.
- In Lourdes, she called herself the Immaculate Conception, with utter humility. She was perfectly doing the will of God when she was conceived, just as much as she would when she would become the Virgin Mother of God, Queen of heaven and earth, of angels and men. This title, Immaculate Conception, points directly to the goodness and kindness of God for us all.
- Because of her Immaculate Conception, Mary would not die because of weakness contracted with original sin. She would, instead, be like her Son, who laid down His life for us, that, in taking on what we deserve because of sin (the worst we have to give: death), He might then have the right in justice to have mercy on us. She freely chose to the the mother of such a One, whom she loved, to whom her heart was united. His Heart was pierced through, and so was hers. Jesus’ broken Heart, beginning with what seems to be a massive heart-attack during the agony in the garden of Gethsemane (as we learn about His pericardium from the Doctor on Calvary), would have caused His death even if there was no scourging, no crowning with thorns, no crucifixion). It was His will to follow the will of the Father. Mary’s unity with her Son brought her the same end. She survived for some time with John, but not for all that long. Her death is not about her having original sin; it is about her not having original sin.
- It’s common to say that we pray to saints, or pray to Mary, but, to be more exact, we ask for their good intercession as we would of anyone else we might know who knows anything at all about prayer. Non-Catholic bigots condemn Catholics for worshiping Mary. Um… no. At least they are condemning what we also condemn! Whenever I explain this to non-Catholics, it’s an eye-opener for them. Then I ask why they aren’t Catholic. They are dumbfounded that Catholics would want to evangelize. People are very hungry. Let’s feed them.
- When I was a chaplain in Lourdes, I noted how all and sundry ran to the grotto. There is a sense that Mary is the Mulier Fortis, the Strong Woman, who knew suffering and wants to introduce us further to her dear Son, who also knew suffering. The pilgrims looked to Mary in hope of her intercession, that they might come to know the goodness and kindness of her Son all the more. Typical mother, she would send them trundling off to confession, where they would meet her Son in the most intimate way, heart to Heart, heart with Heart. Reciting this special sixth mystery of the rosary is a good way to pray for those who have been away from the sacrament of Confession for a very long time, that they might have the fortitude to know the friendship of our Lord Jesus, her Son, so good and so kind.