It’s About Mary – The Immaculate Conception

The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception:

It’s All About Mary

The Immaculate Conception, by Bartolome Murillo; taken from Wikipedia.  Click the image for more about the great Spanish baroque artist.

The Immaculate Conception, by Bartolome Murillo; taken from Wikipedia. Click the image for more about the great Spanish baroque artist.

Okay, so it’s not really all about Mary.  Today’s Solemnity is really about the how it was fitting for Mary to be free from sin in view of the fact that she is the mother of Jesus.  It is also about the saving grace of Jesus applied to Mary in a special way.

Today is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  It is a Holy Day of Obligation; you must attend Mass.  The USCCB has the readings and Gospel for today’s Mass at their website.

Just so we’re all sure what this great feast is all about, let me be clear:  This Solemnity celebrates the fact that when Mary was conceived, a singular grace of God, merited by Jesus Christ, kept her soul free from the condition and stain of original sin.  Consequently, without the defect of original sin, Mary was able remain sinless all of her life.

The Blessed Virgin Mary was immaculate (im, without + maculatrus, spot or blemish).  The Immaculate Conception makes up one of the Four Marian Dogmas, and it is often one of the hardest for people (including some Catholics) to accept.  These four dogmas are:

  • The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary
  • The Perpetual Virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary
  • The Blessed Virgin Mary is the Mother of God (Theotokos)
  • The Bodily Assumption of Mary into Heaven

If you want to understand all four dogmas much, much better, then tune in to Catholic Answers Radio.  Catholic Answers will be re-broadcasting an hour-long program with Cajun Catholic Apologist Karlo Broussard about the four Marian dogmas between 6-7 pm today.  To listen, click on the “Listen Live via EWTN” icon in the upper left corner.

For those of you who don’t know (or remember) who Karlo is, please check out this post about Karlo Broussard.

The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was infallibly defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854 in his bull, Ineffabilis Deus. It is a short statement:

The Blessed Virgin Mary in the first instance of her conception was preserved exempt of all stain of original sin by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race.

I will give a brief apologetic for the Immaculate Conception.  This apologetic will be brief, but I will provide resources for you to dig deeper for a full understanding of the Truth of this dogma.

Biblical Basis for the Immaculate Conception – 

  • Lk 1:28 – At the Annunciation, the Archangel Gabriel says to Mary, “Hail, Full of Grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou amongst women.”  Gabriel gives Mary a title, “Full of Grace”.  The word written in the inspired Greek is kecharitomene, which signifies that Mary is without sin.  Here’s how to think about it:
    • God’s grace is saving grace, enabling us to live without sin.
    • People are born with the stain of original sin.
    • Even if someone does not have any personal sin, that person will still have the stain of original sin.
    • When something is “full”, there is no room for anything else.
    • If Mary is “full of grace”, then she is cannot have any room for sin, personal or original sin.
    • If Mary does not have any sin, personal or original, then she was born without sin.
Fresco of the Annunciation at the Pantheon, Rome, 15th century; taken from Wikipedia

Fresco of the Annunciation at the Pantheon, Rome, 15th century; taken from Wikipedia

Explaining Romans 3:23 – Sometimes people have a hard time reconciling the idea that Mary was born without sin because it seems that this is in direct contradiction to what St. Paul writes: “For all have sinned, and do need the glory of God.”

  • There is no contradiction.  Instead, one must ask himself whether St. Paul allowed for exceptions to “all”.  The answer is: Yes, there are exceptions to all.  The most glaring example to “all have sinned” is Jesus Christ.  Obviously, Jesus did not sin (Heb 4:15).  Therefore He is an exception.
  • Another obvious exception is an infant or young child, or even the mentally disabled.  In order to sin, a person must have attained the age of reason and the intention to do evil.
  • Yet, these exceptions are unstated.  Once we admit that there are unstated exceptions, then it become biblically possible to admit the exceptional status of the Blessed Virgin.

Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant – When we read the Old Testament, we need to look for the forshadowing of the New Covenant in Jesus Christ.  The people and events of the Old Testament that foreshadow the people and events of the New Testament is called typology.  For example, Adam was a “figure” or a type “of him who was to come”, that is Jesus (Rom 5:14).  There were plenty of types in the Old Testament, and Jesus himself gave what must have been the greatest of all Bible Studies on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:25-32), explaining to the two disciples how the Scriptures pointed directly to him.

  • Likewise, there are types of Mary to be found in the Old Testament – and in the New.  The best type of Mary is the Ark of the Covenant.  Moses commanded that the Ark be created to transport the tables containing the Ten Commandments; however, the Ark also eventually housed the manna that fell from heaven and the rod of Aaron (Heb 9:4).
    • The Ten Commandments = The Law of God — written down — in words
    • The Manna = The Bread of Life
    • The Rod of Aaron = a priestly staff
  • The Ark of the Covenant had to be made of the purest gold  (Exodus 25:11-21) to transport such holy objects.
  • Ark of the Covenant, as imagined in Raiders of the Lost Ark; taken from Wikipedia

    Ark of the Covenant, as imagined in Raiders of the Lost Ark; taken from Wikipedia

  • So, who is the Word of God; and the Bread of Life; and our High Priest?  That’s right — Jesus Christ.
  • If the Ark of the Covenant had to be pure, then surely the “container” of the Word Made Flesh deserved no less, right?  Right.  Mary had to be pure; she could not have the blemish, the stain, of sin.
  • It’s not that Mary conformed to the Ark; it’s that the Ark foreshadowed, stood as a type, of Mary.

Mary didn’t sin; but she needed a savior. –  We do all need a savior.  And, though she may be the Mother of God, Mary, too, depended upon the redemptive sacrifice of her son, Jesus Christ.  His blood on the cross saved her, too.

  • However, God granted her a singular grace.  The graces merited through Christ’s redemptive action on the cross were applied to Mary at the moment of her conception.  She was saved before she fell into sin.
  • Here’s an analogy I love:  There’s a mudhole on the path.  A man sits nearby, and when people fall in, he grabs their hands to pull them out and clean them off.  However, that man could grab a person before she falls in; he would have saved her AND kept her clean at the same time.
  • So it was with Mary.  Thanks be to God.

Do you deny that it is possible?  “With men this is impossible:  but with God all things are possible.” (Matt 19:26)

Do you deny it because you do not understand it?  “O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are his judgments, and how unsearchable his ways!” (Rom 11:33)

The Virgin with Angels, by Bouguereau; taken from Wikipedia

The Virgin with Angels, by Bouguereau; taken from Wikipedia

There is so much more to say.  Thank goodness, there is a wealth of information on this topic on the internet.  Let me recommend to you a few resources – the very ones from which I did my research for this post:

Sacred Heart of Jesus … have mercy on us.

Mary, Conceived Without Sin … pray for us.

This entry was posted in Elements of Faith, Feasts and Solemnities, Great Art. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to It’s About Mary – The Immaculate Conception

  1. Yuri Worobkevich says:

    I am a Catholic, and I firmly believe in the Dogmas pertaining to the Blessed Virgin. However, I am having difficulty regarding the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin. If you read Matthew 1:25, he states that Mary did not have “union” with Joseph until the birth of Jesus. This would imply to me that they lived normally after the birth of Jesus as husband and wife. Is there any other interpretation for this verse? Please respond. Thank you.

    • Nicholas Jagneaux says:

      Yuri,

      Thanks for stopping by the blog, and for your very good questions. For centuries, people have used the very same passage to assert that Mary and Joseph must have had normal marital relations after the birth of Jesus.

      First, let me cite the passage for those who do not know it: “24 When Joseph woke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took his wife, 25 but knew her not until she had borne a son; and he called his name Jesus.” (Matt 1:24-25)

      Let me offer you two responses to your difficulties regarding this verse.

      A. The best web-based explanation I can give is from ScriptureCatholic.com. It provides a great explanation, along with Bible verses to support it.

      Even after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph remained chaste in their marriage. Their chastity remained unchanged. The word “until” here DOES NOT signify that afterwards there was a change of condition. The phrase is used elsewhere in the Bible in the same way that Matthew uses it, i.e., to indicate an unchaged condition.

      For example, in 1 Cor 15:24-25, we read, “24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. 25* For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.”

      Are we to understand that after Jesus Christ has put His enemies under his feet, he will cease to reign? Obviously, even after He has conquered his enemies, Christ will continue to reign.

      The Greek word for “until” that is used is “heos” (source). This word does not HAVE TO MEAN that something changed afterward. For example, in 2 Sam 6:23, we read that Saul’s daughter, Michal, did not have children until (heos) the day of her death. Surely, we’re not expected to believe that after her death, she bore children.

      St. Paul writes to Timothy (1 Tim 4:13), “Till I come, attend to the public reading of scripture, to preaching, to teaching.” Surely, Timothy and the others will still attend to the public reading even after St. Paul arrives. He does not want a change in condition; rather, the condition of reading scripture will continue.

      B. What the Holy Spirit and St. Mark were instead highlighting was the miraculous birth of Jesus. Instead of trying to draw attention to what happened AFTER the birth, the focus is on what DIDN’T HAPPEN BEFORE the birth of Jesus.

      C. This was the firm belief of the earliest Church Fathers. It is a belief supported not only by Sacred Scripture, but also by the Sacred Tradition passed down from the Apostolic Fathers and their disciples. For example, Tertullian, Origen, St. Athanasius, St. John Chrysostom, and many others, all call Mary “Ever-Virgin”, or something like that.

      I truly hope that I’ve been able to somewhat help you understand this dogma of the Faith. If you have any more questions, please let me know, and I will do my best to answer them — or to direct you to someone much more learned than I.

      God bless you.

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