Yesterday I started a novena in honor of Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal asking Mary to intercede for my family for the special intention of "conceiving a healthy baby that we can raise here on earth for God's glory." I always use this specific phrase as my special intention, because after my ectopic pregnancy, I used to pray to conceive "a baby in the right place" (ie., not an ectopic pregnancy) and my prayer was answered...I have not since had an ectopic pregnancy, yet I have gone on to have 3 other babies not make it for us to "raise here on earth". After Mary Grace, I know now to be even more specific in this prayer request.
But let's get back to an explanation of my novena. What is a novena?? It is 9 consecutive days of prayer, usually asking for a special grace, imploring a special favor, or to make a special petition. To whom are we praying?? God, of course! Always God! Sometimes people get confused and think that Catholics pray to Mary, or pray to other saints....Catholics do ask for the intercession of Mary and the saints; that is we ask that they pray to obtain our request for us, knowing that God can use whomever He wants to distribute His grace...but the grace, the answered prayer, the glory, are all God's!
The practice of saying a novena comes from Sacred Scripture! After Jesus' Ascension into heaven, He commanded His disciples to come together in the upper room to devote themselves to constant prayer (Acts 1:14). They prayed for nine days before receiving the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Novena comes from the Latin "novem" meaning nine.
What is the miraculous medal? Well it is originally called the Medal of the Immaculate Conception, although later, due to the great graces and miracles God performed through it, people began to refer to it as the Miraculous Medal.
Designed by Mary, the mother of God, she instructed (now Saint) Catherine Laboure (in 1830) to strike a medal upon the design she gave her, and to distribute the medals that "those who wear it will receive great graces, especially if they wear it around the neck." Again, these graces do not come from Mary, they come from God, from whom all blessings flow.
Go here to read more about the Miraculous Medal and it's meaning. The link is especially helpful in understanding what is on the front and back of the medal, and why.
Today, St. Catherine Laboure's body remains incorrupt beneath an altar at 140 Rue de Bac, Paris, where Mary appeared to her. Even though she died in 1876! How do we know this? Because her body was exhumed nearly 57 years later, as fresh as if she was sleeping....she was then transferred to a glass case beneath the altar on Rue de Bac. Aren't the graces God has bestowed upon the saints amazing??
I have worn a miraculous medal alongside a cross on my necklace for many years, in fact it has been so long that I don't quite remember when I started...perhaps in high school.
Why, you ask? Certainly not because it is an amulet for my protection or some magic superstitious good-luck charm, by no means! A blessed medal is simply an object that reminds me of my calling, of God's love for me, and it helps in this way, as a reminder of the graces God bestows when the wearer has faith and tries to live a life of virtue.
And "Catherine" is my confirmation name :)
Around the medal are the words, "O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee."
Wait a minute, you say...."For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). What is this business about Mary "being conceived without sin"?
Catholics believe that Mary needed a savior just like the rest of us! But we also believe that God applied Jesus' redemptive work to His own mother, before He was even born....that is, that Mary was preserved from the stain of original sin from the very moment of her conception (that is in fact, what the term "Immaculate Conception" means). She was most definitely redeemed by the precious Blood of her Son!
Here's an example I've heard before...it's two scenarios.
Scenario one: A man falls into a hole and someone comes along and pulls him from the hole. The second man saves the first, as he rescues him from the hole. (Kinda like how Jesus saves us from our sins; we're already in the sin, so to speak!).
Second scenario: A man is walking toward, and about to fall into a hole when a second man pushes him out of the way at the last second. The first man never falls into the hole, but regardless, we would say that the second man saved him from falling into it. (This is like how God preserved Mary from falling into sin...yet He still was the one to save her.)
Pope Pius IX proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854:
The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin (Ineffabilis Deus 1854, cited in C 491).
Though proclaimed as official church teaching in 1854, this had been taught by theologians as early as the 4th century!
So Mary being without sin is not exactly stated explicitly in the Bible. True! And for some Christians the Truth is only in the Bible and nowhere else. For Catholics the Truth is most definitely in the Bible, and we also have Tradition (with a capital "T", that is the teachings handed down from Jesus through the apostles by word of mouth "So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us" 2 Thessalonians 2:15 ). None of Tradition can be in contradiction to the Bible, otherwise it would be false. (So let this suffice for the moment for reasons of space and time- I'd love to come back to the Bible and Tradition another time though)!
The Bible gives us some really interesting things to consider though, about Mary being and remaining without sin. And I discovered the following in Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic by David Currie. The Greek meaning of the angel Gabriel addressing Mary as "full of grace" in Luke 1:28, is translated "The One Most Full of God's Gracious Gift of His Life in All Time"....woah....that is heavy! And as Currie writes, "being full of God's grace, means an absence of sin." Just an interesting thought to ponder.
Whew! There's more I could say, but I know ya'll don't read my blog to learn about Catholic theology ;) So I'll end here! But I'd love if you could lift up my special intention request (for a healthy baby we can raise here on earth for God's glory) over the next 8 days (I started yesterday, remember) with me as I continue my novena!
Thanks friends and have a blessed week!
***Edited to add the link to the novena I am making. ***