On 8 December, 1854, Pope Pius IX announced 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 Saviour of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin.”
I don’t know exactly what Pope Pius meant by this, but for me it means that Mary was whole and integral unto herself from the moment she was a twinkle in her parents’ eyes and that through this she reminds the Church that all women are capable of serving in all ministries in the church through the merits of Jesus and the example of his mother Mary.
When Pope John Paul II visited the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, in 1979, he was welcomed by LCWR president Sr. Theresa Kane (see video) in which she called the church to recognize women as “fully participating members.”
The most relevant part of her speech was:
“As I share this privileged moment with you, Your Holiness, I urge you to be mindful of the intense suffering and pain which is part of the life of many women in these United States. I call upon you to listen with compassion and to hear the call of women who comprise half of humankind.
As women we have heard the powerful messages of our Church addressing the dignity and reverence for all persons. As women we have pondered upon these words. Our contemplation leads us to state that the Church in its struggle to be faithful to its call for reverence and dignity for all persons must respond by providing the possibility of women as persons being included in all ministries of our Church.
I urge you, Your Holiness, to be open to and respond to the voices coming from the women of this country who are desirous of serving in and through the Church as fully participating members.”
It is worth noting that Sr. Kane’s speech received thunderous applause. And “when she finished speaking,” newspapers report, “the gray-haired nun moved to the altar of the magnificent National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception and knelt before the pope. He gently touched her head.” Such is the agonizing and beautiful paradox and mystery of Catholicism.