You were in the mind of God before you were in the womb of your mother. If you are convinced of this Truth, you have already understood what the Immaculate Conception means.
The feast of the Immaculate Conception falls during the season of Advent, a time when millions of Christians across the world are already engaged in budgeting, in holiday and celebration planning, purchase and decoration planning. But The Lord’s planning for our salvation began much before the clocks began to tick. He decided that a little baby named Jesus should be gift-wrapped in the person of a virgin named Mary.
The gift-wrap is the stainless, sinless, pure Virgin Mother Mary. From the very first instant of her existence Mary was in the state of sanctifying grace and was free from the corrupt nature that original sin brings. With this special, sanctifying grace, Mary was preserved, protected and shielded from getting corrupted.
The word Immaculate Conception is not found anywhere in The Bible. Words like trinity, assumption, are also not found anywhere in the bible, yet they form the essence of our Faith. All that we believe is in both Sacred Scripture (the Bible) and in Sacred Tradition (the teaching of the apostles handed on by the Church). The Immaculate Conception of Our Lady is a dogma of our faith which is in Sacred Tradition although not explicit in the Bible but implicit.
It is very important to understand what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception is not. Many Catholics tend to think the term ‘Immaculate Conception’ refers to Christ’s conception in Mary’s womb without the intervention of a human father; but that is simply called Virgin Birth. Others think the Immaculate Conception means Mary was conceived “by the power of the Holy Spirit,” in the same way Jesus was born to Mary, but that, is also not correct.
The Immaculate Conception means that Mary, whose conception was brought about the normal way, was conceived without original sin or its stain—that’s what “immaculate” means: it simply means born without stain. We all understand that original sin implies the absence or denying of Sanctifying grace. So the Immaculate Conception means Mary had no stain of sin and its corrupt nature.
While understanding the Immaculate Conception, an implicit or implied meaning is found in the angel’s greeting to Mary. The angel Gabriel said, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you” (Luke 1:28). The phrase “full of grace” is a translation of the Greek word ‘kecharitomene’. Thus, ‘full of grace’ implies a ‘special privilege that no one else has’.
The Grace Mary enjoyed was not a result of the angel’s visit. It extended over the whole life of Mary, that is, her life from conception itself. Mary was in a state of sanctifying grace from the first moment of her existence. It has to be so because only a sinless, spotless immaculately conceived woman can be worthy of conceiving a sinless spotless, immaculate Jesus. Good fruit can come only from a good tree.
In her childhood could Mary have sinned? No. If God preserved her from the stain of original sin from her very conception, He had to continue to keep her pure because the vessel (the whole person of Mary) had to carry the ‘Savior of the World’.
Consider this example to understand the Immaculate Conception: A man falls into a deep pit of dirt… Someone reaches down and pulls him out. The man has been “saved” from the pit of dirt. Now imagine a woman walking along, and she too is just about to fall into the pit of dirt….. But even before she could fall someone holds her back and prevents her from falling. She too has been saved from the pit, but in a much better way. She was prevented from falling itself and saved from getting stained. This should explain how Mary is saved by Grace and made Immaculate, which is, prevented from the stain of sin itself.
Although it was only on December 8th 1854 that Pope Pius IX solemnly declared that Our Lady was conceived free from original sin and that this was then a dogma of faith to be believed by all the faithful, it had been the belief of the faithful for centuries before that. When Our Lady appeared in Lourdes four years later in 1858 she said to St. Bernadette, “I am the Immaculate Conception” confirming the Pope’s decision to declare the dogma of the Immaculate Conception four years earlier. Our Lady herself confirmed the Pope’s declaration that she was indeed immaculate.
It is humorously said, a huge statue of Our Blessed Mother trampling a snake was erected in a town Church. As devotees passed by, one lady, unable to garland the neck of Mother Mary because of the height, garlanded the snake instead. There may be times we look up to Mother Mary but have garlanded and embraced sin. Our devotion to Our Blessed Mother finds meaning only when we make efforts to live a life of purity in thoughts, in words and in action. Though we do not enjoy the singular privilege of Mary being born free from the very stain of sin, we have every opportunity to diminish the stain of sin by imitating the virtues of Mary in our day to day life.
How much do you reflect Mary in your life?
Fr. Adolf Washington