We live in a world abounding in sin and sinners. Yet, it is a world that denies the existence of sin. Why is that? Because sin is an offense against God, and many do not believe in God. Therefore, if there is no God, there cannot be any sin. But we are surrounded by sin and we read about it and see it in the news media every day—murder, adultery, abortion, fraud, sodomy, theft, lies and so forth. Because of original sin and concupiscence, in various ways we all offend God, some mortally and some venially. Today, however, as in every 8th Day of December, we celebrate the feast of one of us, one woman, who never committed a sin—Mary of Nazareth, the Immaculate Mother of God.
What is the meaning of the term, “Immaculate Conception”? It does not mean the virginal conception of Jesus. It refers to the conception of Mary in the normal way through the marital embrace of her parents, St. Anne and St. Joachim. Because of the first sin of Adam and Eve, all human beings are conceived without sanctifying grace, the life of the soul. Since the coming of Christ, we can attain grace through baptism, but we are conceived and born without God’s grace. The Church teaches that God endowed Mary’s soul with grace from the first moment of her creation, so she was never under the power of original sin.
“Immaculate” means without stain. Since sin is a “stain” on the soul, which should be pure in the sight of God, the Church believes that Mary was conceived without the “stain” of original sin, which means the lack of God’s grace. Biblically, we get one hint of Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception in the Gospel today, the account of the Archangel Gabriel’s visit to Mary announcing the birth of Jesus. The angel said to Mary, “Hail, full of grace!” (Luke 1:28) Sometimes this is translated as “Rejoice, highly favoured one” but that is not really a good translation of the Greek in which Luke wrote his Gospel. The particular word Luke used to describe Mary as “full of grace” (κεχαριτωμένη kecharitōmenē) means that Mary was full of grace all her life. (This is signified by κεχαριτωμένη kecharitōmenē being a perfect passive particle). It means that Mary is full of grace not just at the moment the angel comes to her but that she is full of grace since the beginning of her life. Luke could have used a different word to show that Mary was full of grace only at that particular moment as when he described Stephen “full of grace” (πλήρης χάριτος plēres charitos) only for a moment in Acts 6:8 before he was stoned to death. But Luke insists that Mary was full of grace all her life. So indirectly we get a hint of Mary’s Immaculate Conception in the account of the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary in the Gospel today. Because she was full of grace, Mary was most pleasing to God in all she was and did.
The prayers of today’s Mass stress that Mary was “preserved” from sin. Jesus died on the Cross, rose from the dead and accomplished our redemption. He is the fountain of supernatural life for us. We partake of that through faith, baptism and the sacraments. So, the Church teaches that Mary was preserved from original sin by the foreseen merits of Jesus, her son and her redeemer. Mary is, therefore, the first redeemed, the first Christian; she is perfectly redeemed in every way—in soul and body and emotions. Mary had a special mission in the redemption of mankind. So, God created her as a “fitting dwelling place” for His Son Jesus, who crushed the head of Satan (Gen. 3:15); Satan never had any power over Him. He was to be born of a woman who was totally free from sin, never under the power of the devil. Just as God prepared a sinless paradise for Adam and Eve, so Mary is a “second” sinless paradise where the Son of God will dwell nine months before His birth in Bethlehem.
The Fathers of the Church compare Mary with Eve. In their view, which is based on Divine Revelation in the Bible, Eve is the mother of all the living—she gave us both life and death. Mary is the true mother of all the living—those who live spiritually forever through her son. That is why she is also called “Mother of the Church.” We were all conceived by our parents with original sin. Only Mary was immaculately conceived. In a sense, this phrase sums up the total reality of Mary and implies our whole Catholic faith in Jesus—Son of God and Saviour.
Although it was only on Dec 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. Our Lady appeared in Lourdes-France four years later in 1858 to little Bernadette, and when the little girl asked the beautiful lady her name, she said, “I am the Immaculate Conception.” And thus, confirming the Pope’s decision to declare the dogma of the Immaculate Conception four years earlier. The poet got it right when he summed up the reality of Mary in five words: “Our tainted nature’s solitary boast.”
Because she gave birth to the Saviour, Mary is our mother in the order of grace. In every way she cooperated with God in the redemption: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be done to me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38). Thus, she was totally open to God, available, humble and obedient.
Children naturally tend to imitate their parents. We see in Mary all the virtues of a perfect Christian. We should strive to imitate her, since she is our mother. We should strive to imitate her faith, her hope and her love—her love for Jesus and her willing cooperation in his work of redemption, even to offering him to the Father on Calvary. We should strive to imitate her sinlessness by avoiding all mortal sin and all deliberate venial sins. We should ask her to obtain for us the grace to avoid all deliberate sins—so we can be a “fitting dwelling place” for divine grace.
In the New Testament Mary’s last recorded words at Cana in Galilee are, “Do whatever he tells you” (John 2:5). If we love God, we should try to do that. When we receive God’s Son and Mary’s son in Holy Communion today, let us say to him: “Be it done to me as you desire.” “O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”
For further knowledge read: Catechism of the Catholic Church, nn. 411, 490-493.
Oremos: “Virgen Santa, en tus días gloriosos, no olvides las tristezas de la tierra. Echa una mirada de bondad a los que están sufriendo, luchando contra las dificultades y no dejan de mojarse los labios en las amarguras de la vida. Ten piedad de los que se amaban y quedaron separados. Ten piedad del aislamiento del corazón. Ten piedad de la debilidad de nuestra fe. Ten piedad de los objetos de nuestro cariño. Ten piedad de los que lloran, de los que rezan, de los que tiemblan, da a todos esperanza y paz.” Amen.
Valentine Umoh First published: 7/12/2017 Revised Edition: 7/12/2018