Everything had now been done short of an actual and formal decision, and the implicit faith of the Church had everywhere come out into explicit expression; and during the Pontificate of Gregory XVI. the Bishops, the Religious Orders, and the other great institutions of the Church, were petitioning the Holy See from every quarter, and urging for a final definition. This ardent, this vehement desire became yet more widely manifested when the present Pontiff ascended the Chair of Peter. Moved by so many entreaties, and by his own veneration and love towards the Mother of God, says an authentic document, Pius IX, at the commencement of his Pontificate, confided to twenty of the most eminent theologians taken from the secular and regular clergy, the commission of studying the question of the Immaculate Conception with the greatest care, and of stating their opinions in writing. For the same object he also instituted a commission of Cardinals to the number of two-and-twenty of that illustrious body. Forced by well-known events to remove from his See, the Holy Pontiff issued from Gaeta that Encyclical Letter, in which he demanded of the Bishops of the Catholic world, that they would, in the most clear and explicit terms, make known what was the piety of their faithful diocesans towards the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God, and what above all was their own opinion and desire: and invited them to order public prayers to God, that He would deign to shed upon them the light of His Holy Spirit. The theological consultors went on with their labours, and from the development of Holy Scripture, the testimony of Fathers, tradition, the acts of the Church, and of the Sovereign Pontiffs, as also from the well-known declaration of the Council of Trent in its decree relative to original sin, they came to the conclusion that the Immaculate Conception of the Mother of God could be denned, and that the definition was opportune. In the meantime, knowing perfectly the gravity of the question, and ardently desiring to proceed with all the maturity possible, says the document which I am continuing to quote, the Sovereign Pontiff judged that he should spare no pains and omit no counsel that might be taken, in order that the question might be examined under every aspect and in all its bearings, and that with the greatest and most scrupulous care.
After he returned to the city, he therefore appointed a special commission, composed of a select number of the same theologians, under the presidency of the late learned and illustrious Cardinal Fornari. That Special Commission held many sittings in the course of the years 1852 and 1853, in which it weighed anew, and with the utmost exactness and care, the arguments from all the sources above enumerated, calculated to demonstrate the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mother of God, and to resolve all the difficulties that had at any time been raised against it. They finally drew up a summary of their labours which was unanimously approved both by the theologians who formed the Commission, and by the Cardinal who presided over it. They then demanded the opinion of a particular Council of Cardinals, to the number of twenty-one, who having assembled together, after a searching and thorough examination of all things, judged in their wisdom that it was possible and fitting to define the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of the Most Glorious Virgin.' In the meantime, those six hundred and three replies from Bishops were received from time to time, according to the distance of the country from which they were written. And, by order of the Sovereign Pontiff, these replies were printed in nine volumes with an appendix, with which were also included letters from Ecclesiastical bodies, Religious Orders, Sovereigns, municipal corporations, and other associations, humbly petitioning for the declaration of the doctrine. Sundry able treatises, written the same view, were also added in this voluminous collection.
From this summary statement of the facts, every person can easily comprehend what care and mature deliberation the Sovereign Pontiff has employed in the examination of this question; what eagerness the Catholic Episcopate have testified for the definition, and what ardent piety the faithful of the entire world have confessed for the holy mystery which is its object.
After all these preparations, and after sacrifices and prayers had been offered up from every part of the earth, his Holiness invited a certain number of Prelates from each country to Rome, as representatives of the hierarchy, whilst he expressed his readiness to welcome as many other Bishops as could conveniently come. A hundred and fifty Archbishops and Bishops responded to the call, among which number were representatives of many of the most ancient and illustrious Sees and Hierarchies in the world. There were others who represented hierarchies that had been either revived or established in our own day. From Asia and the East to North America and the far West, from the shores of the Baltic to Australia, and the Isles of the Great Pacific, the Church was there in her chief pastors assembled around the supreme Head of the Church, and the Chair of Catholic unity. On four several days this venerable assemblage of Bishops met, under the presidency of three distinguished and learned Cardinals, and the Papal Bull, drawn up and prepared for final revision, was laid before them, and every part of it was freely discussed. After the episcopal deliberations on the form of this momentous document were concluded, the Pope conferred upon it in secret Consistory with his Cardinals, who constitute his own especial Council. All was now ready, and on the eighth of December, the Festival of the Immaculate Conception, in the ever-memorable year 1854, during the celebration of a solemn Mass which the Supreme Pontiff offered up, surrounded by a hundred and fifty-two mitred Bishops, fifty- three Cardinals, more than two hundred prelates of an inferior order, a vast body of clergy from many countries, and some thirty or forty thousand people, who crowded the vast Basilica of St. Peter’s; Cardinal Macchi, the Dean of the Sacred College, advanced to the Pontifical throne, accompanied by an Archbishop of the Greek rite, and an Archbishop of the Armenian rite, and by twelve of the senior Archbishops of the Western Church, as witnesses and sup- porters, and addressed to the Pope these words :
" For a long time, Most Blessed Father, has the Catholic Church most ardently wished and entreated with all her desires, that, in your supreme and infallible judgment, you would define the Immaculate Conception of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, Mother of God, for the increase of her praise, glory, and veneration. In the name of the Sacred College of Cardinals, of the Bishops of the Catholic world, and of all the faithful, we humbly and earnestly entreat you, that, on this solemnity of the Conception of the Most Blessed Virgin, our common vows may be fulfilled. " In the midst, then, of this oblation of the august and unblood Sacrifice, in this temple, sacred to the Prince of the Apostles, surrounded by this solemn assemblage of the Sacred College, the Bishops and the people, deign, Most Blessed Father, to lift up your apostolic voice, and to pronounce the dogmatic decree of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, at which there will be joy in heaven, and great exultation on the earth." To these words the Pontiff answered, that he willingly received the prayers of the Sacred College, the Bishops, and the people, but that they might be heard, it was necessary to invoke the Holy Ghost. Then the Veni Creator Spiritus was entoned, and taken up by the immense assemblage of the people.
And after the sublime supplication, thundered from thirty thousand voices, had died away, there was a breathless silence, and the Pope most deeply moved, and with his face bathed in tears, read to that silent but agitated assembly, the decree of the Immaculate Conception, and solemnly defined, that:
IT IS A DOGMA OP FAITH THAT THE MOST BLESSED VIRGIN MARY, IN THE FIRST INSTANT OF HER CONCEPTION, BY A SINGULAR PRIVILEGE AND GRACE OF GOD, IN VIRTUE OF THE MERITS OP JESUS CHRIST, THE SAVIOUR OF THE HUMAN RACE, WAS PRESERVED EXEMPT FROM ALL STAIN OF ORIGINAL SIN."
Such is the solemn definition for which many prayers and entreaties had been sent to Rome, and for which the whole Catholic Episcopacy had been interrogated. And such is the wisdom, patience, care, diligence, deliberation, attention to the sentiments of the Episcopacy, and even of the people of the Catholic world, the ripeness of council, and the earnestness of prayer, with which the Holy See proceeds before declaring a doctrine.