In 1854, Pope Pius IX declared the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Using the ex cathedra formulation, His Holiness infallibly stated:
We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which asserts that the Blessed Virgin Mary, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God, and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, was preserved free from every stain of original sin is a doctrine revealed by God and, for this reason, must be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful.
It was a solemn ratification by the Vicar of Christ of what the Church had always believed. And Our Lady, Queen of Heaven, who bore Christ in her womb, would confirm the dogma only four years later.
It was on March 25, 1858 (the feast of the Annunciation, when tradition has it Our Lord was conceived in Mary's womb) that Our Lady appeared to Bernadette Soubirous in the grotto of Lourdes, saying to her "I am the Immaculate Conception."
Bernadette, a poor, unschooled peasant girl, didn't understand a word, and had to repeat the phrase to herself lest she forget it. When she uttered the words to Fr. Dominique Peyramale, her parish priest, he was left thunderstruck.
In St. Bernadette's own words:
I did not understand the words, but I knew the priest would. I knew also the Lady loved the priest. Leaving my candle at the grotto, I went straight to Fr. Peyramale, saying the Lady's name to myself along the way. Father was waiting for me. I bowed and said, "I am the Immaculate Conception."
Seeing his surprise, I explained, "Aquero said, 'I am the Immaculate Conception.'"
The good priest stood there stunned. Suddenly he stammered, "Do you know what that means?"
I shook my head and said, "No."
"Then how can you say the words if you do not understand them?"
"I repeated them all along the way," I replied, then added, "She still wants the chapel."
The priest by now was deathly pale, but he pulled himself together, saying, "Go home now, child. I will see you another day."
Years later I learned that Father wrote to the bishop that night, and as he wrote, his heart filled up with emotion, and his eyes filled up with tears.
A neighbor later explained the dogma to little Bernadette, which only confirmed what she had always known.
It was then I realized I could speak what was unspoken in my soul for seven silent weeks — that Aquero was the Immaculate Virgin Mary. She was the Mother of God, and she had been stepping out of Heaven to share her soul with me. She had taught me prayers no soul on earth had prayed. She had promised me happiness, not in this world, but in the next.
The Supreme Pontiff, safeguarded from error by the Holy Spirit in his ex cathedra pronouncements, declared as dogma to the whole world that Our Lady had been sinlessly conceived through the anticipated merits of Our Lord — and in an act of humility and maternal love, the Queen of Heaven came down from above only four years later, conveying her message through a little peasant girl, giving her stamp of confirmation on the Pope's pronouncement and his authority to speak in the Name of Her Son.
Watch the full show "The Download—Mary and Lourdes."