The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception:
It’s All About Mary
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.
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.
- 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)
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:
- the article at the Catholic Encyclopedia
- several articles from This Rock magazine at Catholic.com:
- Dave Armstrong’s in-depth work on Lk 1:28 & the Immaculate Conception
- Scripture Catholic website – evidence about the Blessed Virgin Mary
- the Beginning Apologetics workbooks from San Juan Catholic Seminars
Sacred Heart of Jesus … have mercy on us.
Mary, Conceived Without Sin … pray for us.