In 1941, St Maximilian Kolbe’s thoughts were on the Immaculata.
Hours before his arrest and subsequent martyrdom by the Nazis, he wrote down his reflections on Our Lady’s words at Lourdes: ‘I am the Immaculate Conception’.1
What does this mean and why does Mary say she is the Immaculate Conception, rather than saying (the much more logical) statement, “I was immaculately conceived”? Kolbe writes,
Since human words are incapable of expressing divine realities, it follows that these words: “Immaculate” and “Conception” must be understood in a much more profound, much more beautiful and sublime meaning than usual: a meaning beyond that which human reason at its most penetrating, commonly gives to them.
Further, he says that,
Everything which exists, outside of God himself, since it is from God and depends on him in every way, bears within itself some semblance to its Creator; there is nothing in any creature which does not betray this resemblance, because every created thing is an effect of the Primal cause.
When Mary says she is the Immaculate Conception, she isn’t just saying something about who she is but who God is. In order to explain this, Kolbe draws on St Augustine’s analogy of the Trinity as love, where the Father is the Lover, the Son the Beloved and the Holy Spirit the Love that proceeds from the Father and the Son.
And who is the Holy Spirit? The flowering of the love of the Father and the Son. If the fruit of created love is a created conception, then the fruit of divine Love, that prototype of all created love, is necessarily a divine “conception.” The Holy Spirit is, therefore, the “uncreated, eternal conception,” the prototype of all the conceptions that multiply life throughout the whole universe.
The Father begets; the Son is begotten; the Spirit is the “conception” that springs from their love; there we have the intimate life of the three Persons by which they can be distinguished one from another. But they are united in the oneness of their Nature, of their divine existence.
The spirit is, then this thrice holy “conception,” this infinitely holy, Immaculate Conception.
But how do we get from the Holy Spirit as the eternal Conception to Mary who says she is the Immaculate Conception?
Mary is, by grace, immersed in the mystery of the Blessed Trinity. She is the daughter of the Father, the Mother of the Son, and the Spouse of the Holy Spirit.
The creature most completely filled with this love, filled with God himself, was the Immaculata, who never contracted the slightest stain of sin, who never departed in the least from God’s will. United to the Holy Spirit as his spouse, she is one with God in an incomparably more perfect way than can be predicated of any other creature.
There is a profound, interior union between the Spirit and Mary. St Maximilian Kolbe says that “this was true from the first instant of her existence. It was always true; it will always be true.” From the moment of her conception, Mary’s soul was filled with the Holy Spirit. (This is what we mean when we say that she was conceived without original sin.)
In a much more precise, more interior, more essential manner, the Holy Spirit lives in the soul of the Immaculata, in the depths of her very being. He makes her fruitful, from the very first instant of her existence, all during her life, and for all eternity.
The Holy Spirit is “a fruitful Love, a ‘Conception'” and the Spirit makes Mary uniquely fruitful, firstly as the Mother of God but also as the Mediatrix of Grace.
This eternal “Immaculate Conception” (which is the Holy Spirit) produces in an immaculate manner divine life itself in the womb (or depths) of Mary’s soul, making her the Immaculate Conception, the human Immaculate Conception. And the virginal womb of Mary’s body is kept sacred for him; there he conceives in time — because everything that is material occurs in time — the human life of the man-God.
Kolbe argues that the union between the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Virgin was like (but definitely not the same as!) the union between the human and divine natures of Christ. The divine personhood of the Eternal Son is incarnated as Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
In an analogous way, the divine personhood of the Holy Spirit is manifested in Mary because she, more than any other creature, is wholly open and united to the fruitful love of the Holy Spirit.
This union between them is akin to marriage, which is why Mary is called the Spouse of the Holy Spirit. It is also why she calls herself the Immaculate Conception. Just as a wife takes the name of her husband, St Maximilian Kolbe says, Mary takes the name of the Holy Spirit, the divine Immaculate Conception. He is her Spouse and the Spirit lives in her “as uncreated Love, the principle of life in the whole supernatural order of grace.”