Many Catholics believe the Immaculate Conception being that of how Jesus was conceived in Mary, but it actually celebrates the immunity from original sin as Mary was conceived at the moment of the creation of her soul and its infusion into her body in her mother's (St. Anne) womb. From the very instance of her conception in St. Anne’s womb, Mary was in union with God, her soul being flooded with God’s love, she was in the state of sanctifying grace. This unique privilege bestowed upon Mary is the first step in our redemption – we call her the Immaculate Conception.
When we are conceived we inherit original sin because we are descendants of Adam and Eve. In Baptism our souls are cleansed of that sin. But God intervened in Mary’s case and she was cleansed in anticipation of Jesus’ birth. Mary was destined to be the Mother of the Son of God; therefore she had to be void of sin because no matter how indirect it may be, it would not be consistent for God to have contact with sin. Therefore, Mary was preserved from the very first moment of her existence from the spiritual darkness of original sin.
The Immaculate Conception has not always been recognized by the church and there was much controversy over the acceptance of this theory. The first situation that made the acceptance difficult was that there is no actual text anywhere in the Bible that specifically states that Mary was immaculately conceived. Then there were some blocks to the mental path allowing a complete understanding of our Blessed Mother’s conception without sin.
The first question pondered if Mary was in need of redemption if she had been conceived without the stain of original sin? If she was conceived in the womb of her mother (St. Anne) without sin, was she exempted from Christ’s redemption? Did she not need to be redeemed? The second question raised was when in the course of her conception, was Mary preserved from the stain and effect of original sin? How could she be born a human descendant of Adam and Eve and not be conceived with the stain of original sin as we all are?
It was not until a 13th Century Franciscan philosopher and theologian, Blessed John Duns Scotus, set out to clear these mental blocks and prove the theory of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. Scotus argued that instead of being excluded from the redemption of the Savior, Mary obtained the greatest redemption through the mystery of her preservation from all sin. This was the perfect redemption and attributes to Christ a more exalted role as redeemer, because redeeming grace which preserves from original sin is greater than that which purifies from sin already incurred. Christ was Mary’s Redeemer more perfectly by preservative redemption in shielding her from original sin through anticipating and foreseeing the merits of His passion and death. This pre-redemption indicates a much greater grace and more perfect salvation. As for the second mental block, Scotus argued that with Mary, conception and sanctification were simultaneous. Many people could not get over this mental block because they viewed time as it is here on earth. They argued that when Mary was conceived she had to be touched by original sin before she received redemption, and therefore was stained by sin even for a brief moment. Scotus pointed out that God does not work in earthly time and is not bound by it’s constraints. Therefore, he argued that at one and the same time, Mary, as a human descendant of Adam and Eve, contracted the debt of original sin and became the privileged infusion of grace a daughter of God, which preserved her from the consequences of the common lot of fallen nature by a special anticipation of the merits of the Savior. Therefore, she was conceived without sin because of the role that she was to play in the coming of our Savior. Because God is without sin, and cannot come into contact with sin, Mary was indeed immaculately conceived.
In 1453 the Immaculate Conception was defined as a “pious belief.”
Mary, under this title, is also the patroness of the United States. Our country was dedicated to her by the Bishops of the United States in the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1846 (The Immaculate Conception is also the patroness of the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston). The first bishop of Texas, Bishop Jean Marie Odin, C.M., dedicated the then Diocese of Galveston to the protection of the Blessed Mother under the title of the Immaculate Conception in 1847, just after the announcement of the bishops at the Council of Baltimore.
Drawing from Scotus’ work, on December 8, 1854,
Pope Pius IX solemnly promulgated the dogma with these words:
“We pronounce and divine that the doctrine which states that the Most Blessed Virgin Mary was in the first instant of her conception, by the singular grace and privilege of God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God and is therefore to be firmly and unswervingly believed by all the faithful."
Because there is no direct text in the Bible that speak of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, the Church chooses a passage from the Gospel of Luke because it focuses on the greatness of our Lord and Mary’s sharing , as participant and recipient, in His redemption of the world. The Gospel during this day deals with the dialogue between Mary and the angel Gabriel at the time of the conception of Jesus (Luke 1:26-28). This may be one of the reasons that many Catholics are confused about the Immaculate Conception. However, one would be very hard pressed to find another passage that would be better suited.
We invite you to come celebrate with us on December 8th, which has been declared a Holy Day of Obligation for all Catholics, as we celebrate the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary.
Father, you prepared the Virgin Mary to be the worthy mother of your Son. You let her share beforehand in the salvation Christ would bring by his death, and kept her sinless from the first moment of her conception. Help us by her prayers to live in your presence without sin. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.