Today is a very special Feast Day in the Church, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary! Not only is today a Feast Day, it is a Holy Day and all the faithful are called to go to Mass to celebrate the most holy conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
To honor our Blessed Mother, here are a few facts about her Immaculate Conception:
Though conceived without sin, Mary’s conception was a human one. Unlike her Son Jesus (who was conceived by the Holy Spirit), Mary was conceived by two human parents, St. Anne and St. Joachim.
Mary was conceived in a special way, without the stain of original sin, making her Immaculate. Original Sin is the state all of humanity is born into, a result of the great Fall of Adam and Eve. It is a deprivation of sanctifying grace (a habitual gift given to us by God, that perfects our souls and enables us to live with God and act by his love), and as such leaves the human nature corrupt.(This is why Baptism is so essential—especially for infants—because through it we receive sanctifying grace). Mary, however, received God’s sanctifying grace the moment she was conceived in the womb, and was preserved from the defects of original sin by the grace of Christ.
Scripture gives us a window into the very special disposition of Mary’s soul. In Luke 1:28, the Angel Gabriel greets Mary with a particularly special greeting, “Hail, full of grace (or, “favored one”), The Lord is with you!” This greeting was a unique one, which hardly translates well in our English language. However, the Greek expression for “Hail, full of grace” more aptly expresses the quality of Mary’s state of being. In Greek the greeting is “chaire kecharitomene,” (a passive participle expressing an action completed in the past with an application in the present) which reads in English as “Hail, you who have been perfected in grace!” This indicates that Mary was graced by God in the past, but continues to live in a state of sanctifying grace in the present. Thus, Mary’s Immaculate state was not a result of the angel’s visit, but she was endowed with sanctifying grace from the moment she was conceived.
As a human, Mary was still in need of Redemption, but she was saved in a special and unique way. Mary, too, was a descendant of Adam and thus subject to the necessity of contracting original sin. However, God intervened, preserving her from the stain and corruption of Original Sin from the moment she was brought into existence. She was thus redeemed by the grace of Christ, but in a special way—through anticipation (or in other words, preemptively).
The following analogy might help you understand this a little more:
Aren’t we all sinners? A quick thought if Romans 3:23 is popping into your head right now: Children before the age of reason are incapable of sinning (because sin requires the ability to reason and intend sin), and both the angels and souls in heaven are without sin. Mary’s blessedness doesn’t take away from the glory of God, but rather, it demonstrates his great glory by showing us the work he has done in sanctifying creation. Sinning doesn’t qualify us to be human—it is just what we are working with when we are brought into the world in our fallen condition. It is in fact when man is without sin that he is living most fully the life that God created him to be. Mary, chosen as the one to carry the Christ child, was preserved from sin and created exactly the way that God wanted her to be.
Why was the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception defined so late? The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854, which is a long time after the birth of Mary. Why did the Church wait so long to publicly declare her Immaculate Conception? Though this delay signifies that the doctrine was merely invented, we must remember that the Church never issues definitive proclamations on teachings of the faith until a.) they either have to (to confront and avoid false teaching on the matter), or b.) to expand and clarify the teaching so that the faithful may better understand it. The reason this particular doctrine wasn’t issued until 1854 is because the faithful at that time were desiring that this doctrine (taught, maintained, and believed to be true since the beginning) be officially proclaimed. They did this in hopes that it would inspire a deeper devotion to Jesus through her, and help the faithful have a better understanding of her.
Mary is the New Ark of the Covenant. When Gabriel appeared to Mary, he announced to her that the birth of her Son will happen by the power of the Holy Spirit: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” (Luke 1:35) This “overshadowing” of the power of God is a reference to the Shekinah of the Old Testament—the Hebrew term for God’s presence among his people. This presence overcame the company of the people in the form of a great cloud, and overtime ended up overshadowing the Ark of the Covenant. The Ark was the way in which God’s presence was always visible to the people, so that they could know with certainty that God was indeed with them. The Ark contained the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments (on which were written the Word of God), the manna God gave the people for sustenance, and the budding staff of Aaron, who was the high priest of the people. The Ark which held all of these three things foreshadowed the New Ark, Mary, who (overshadowed by the Shekinah of God) carried within her womb the Child of the Promise: the very Law and Word of God itself, the true Bread of Life, and the great High Priest sent to redeem all of humanity. Thus, it makes perfect sense that the New Ark be preserved from sin and sanctified from the beginning of her creation.
All of these facts point not just to the awesomeness of Mary, but more importantly to the awesomeness of God who created her, so blessed and full of grace.
*The featured image at the top of the post can be found and bought by the artist on her etsy account here.