The Immaculate Conception is a major feast in the Catholic Church, celebrated on December 8. However, in the Novus Ordo, because the feast fell on a Sunday it was moved to today, while in the Traditional rite it was celebrated yesterday on the 8th.*
The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is a dogma of the One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic Church. You cannot deny the Immaculate Conception without ceasing to be in communion with the Church, the Body of Christ. On December 8th, 1854 Pope Pius IX declared ex Cathedra* that “We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which holds that the Blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace of the Omnipotent God, in virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of mankind, was preserved immaculate from all stain of original sin, has been revealed by God, and therefore should firmly and constantly be believed by all the faithful….”
There are many who deny this. There are many who say that the Blessed Mother of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Who is God Himself, was not without sin but was, like us, stained by sin. Not only does this not make sense in light of Who Christ is, but it is a degradation and a blasphemy against Almighty God Himself. We will explore three points:
- How Mary was immaculately conceived
- Why it does not make sense to say she is not without sin
- Why we honor her the way that we do
How was Mary Conceived Without Sin?
As we know, Original Sin is inherited from our parents, going all the way back to our first parents: Adam and Eve. Because we all share in the same nature, human nature, all of the defects and perversions that entered into it when Adam and Eve sinned are passed on to us. However, Mary is the one exception. Mary, as we are taught by Holy Mother Church, was sinless. All Catholics know this, and if some do not, they must learn it. However, what many do not know is how she was able to be conceived without sin in the first place. The answer is simple, and it was stated by Pius IX when he declared infallibly that Mary was conceived without sin. Just as we are redeemed by the Blood of Christ, it was the Blood of Christ on the cross that preserved Mary from sin, only the merits of Christ on the cross were applied to her from the first moment of her conception. Many will ask, “how can Mary be preserved by Christ on the cross if Christ had not been born yet?” The answer is simple: God is eternal. God exists outside of time, and since the Sacrifice of Calvary was also pulled into eternity, the merits of the Cross can be applied to anyone at any point in time prior to and after the Crucifixion. It is the same way that the merits of Christ can be applied to us today even though we were not alive during the time of Christ. It is also how the Old Testament Prophets and Patriarchs were able to be admitted into Heaven after Christ suffered, died, and rose even though they died prior to Christ’s coming. The only difference between us, the Old Testament figures and Mary is that Mary was protected from ever contracting the disease of original sin. So, while we are conceived and born into sin, Mary was not. This did not happen by her own merit, but by that of Christ the Redeemer. So, in short, it is because of Christ and His sacrifice that Mary was preserved. All that Mary is and all that she did always points back to Christ.
Why It Does Not Make Sense to Say That She is Not Without Sin
Many who claim that Mary was not without sin try and argue from Scripture, they will quote St. Paul in Romans, who says: “As it is written, There is not any man just” (Rom. 3:10). Of course, St. Paul is quoting Psalm 14 (13 in the Douay-Rheims translation, which is the one that I am using)*. They also quote Romans 3:23, which says that “all have sinned and do need (fall short of) the glory of God.” With these verses, they attempt to establish a case that Mary, since she is part of the human race, is included with those being referenced by St. Paul. But, what they fail to do is to read forward some more, where St. Paul says in verse 24 that we are “justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” This goes back to what Pope Pius IX said and what I just said up above, it is Christ’s sacrifice that keeps Mary clean from sin, even in her conception. So, while the verses do go to show that it is only through Christ that sinful humanity is to be redeemed, these passages do not necessarily exclude the fact that Christ could apply His merits to His mother in the first instant of her conception.
Further, the claim that Mary was not conceived without sin does not make sense because if she were not, then the Sacred Humanity of Jesus Christ would have inherited the stain of original sin from Mary, but then it would have to be admitted that Jesus Christ was not free from sin in His humanity, which is utterly absurd. Of course, they could rebut by saying that if Christ could preserve Mary from Sin, why not just preserve His own humanity from sin? This, too, is utterly ridiculous because you would have to admit that Christ died to redeem Himself as well. This would mean that Christ Himself was in need of redemption, which is absurd to say. If Christ is to be truly without sin and without the need of redemption, it is necessary that Mary is first without sin. If Mary is without sin, then Jesus is without sin. Since Mary is a mere creature, albeit the most perfect and masterful work of God’s hands, she would require the merits of Christ on the Cross to be completely preserved from sin even from conception; but since Christ is God and Man, it is necessary for the work of Salvation that He be free from sin naturally in His human nature as He is in His Divine Nature, which can only be the case if His mother, from whom He inherits His Sacred Humanity, is free from sin in her conception all through her life.
But, there are also many who claim that even if she was Immaculately conceived and was without the stain of Original Sin that she might have still sinned in her earthly life, just as Adam and Eve, who were also created without Original Sin, sinned. While it is true that Adam and Eve sinned, this does not necessarily mean that Mary sinned. In fact, it is an insult to Christ to assume that He would not have ordained that His mother, Whom He loved and still loves more than any human person who has lived, who is living, and who will ever live, would have all the necessary grace to resist any temptation and abstain from falling into even the slightest sin. Further, if she is to be part of the fulfillment of the promise in Genesis 3:15 (“I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel”), if she is to be everything Eve was supposed to be but was not, then it makes sense that she would not have ever sinned. For, if it was by sin that Eve lost everything, then how could the New Eve (Mary is the New Eve as Christ is the New Adam; see 1 Cor. 15:45) expect to have kept all that Eve lost if she herself sinned? It is not possible.
Why do We Honor Her the Way that We Do?
The reason that we honor Mary is that she is the Mother of Jesus Christ. The most Marian book you can find is True Devotion to Mary, a work by St. Louis de Montfort that praises and exalts Mary as Queen of Heaven and Earth and as the Mother of God and all men; yet even this Saint acknowledges that “Mary, being a mere creature that has come from the hands of the Most High, is in comparison with His Infinite Majesty less than an atom; or rather, she is nothing at all, because only He is ‘He Who Is’ (Ex. 3:14).” But, that being said, we honor Mary so Highly because Christ Himself honors her so highly. Do we dare honor the King without also honoring His mother? What man alive would feel honored if we completely rejected and considered his mother as no better than ourselves? Any man loves and values his own mother over any other human being, and Christ is the perfect man. So, Christ has the perfect love of a son for His mother, and if we sinful and fallen men, who love so weakly, love our own mothers so much, just imagine the immense love that our Blessed Lord has for His own mother. It is inconceivable.
But, there are many who deny even this obvious truth. How can we say that Mary is so highly exalted in Heaven? We need not look any further than Solomon, who any biblical scholar will admit, whether they be Catholic or Protestant, is an Old Testament type of Christ. We can look at how he treats his own mother, Bathsheba. In 1 Kings 2, Adonias came to Bathsheba to ask her to intercede for him to the king, which she agrees to do:
“Then Bathsheeba came to king Solomon, to speak to him for Adonias: and the king arose to meet her, and bowed to her, and sat down upon his throne. And a throne was set for the king’s mother: and she sat on his right hand” (1 Kgs. 2:19).
So, we see in the bible the position of the Queen Mother, the authority that she holds, and the role she plays between the King and his subjects. If Christ is indeed the Davidic King, who sits on the throne of David, and Mary is indeed His mother, then Mary is the Queen Mother who reigns with Him. And, if King Solomon, who was given the wisdom of God, loved and esteemed his own mother so righteously, then how could Christ, who is the perfect God-Man, the very Wisdom of God incarnate, free from any stain of sin, not also treat His own Mother with the proper reverence and respect?
Lastly, we can look towards Moses and the Ark of the Covenant. When Moses was up on Mount Sinai, no one was permitted to even touch the mountain because God’s presence was there. Further, even the ordained Priests, whose job it was to carry the Ark of the Covenant, were they to touch the Ark itself and not the poles on which it was borne, would die immediately. Why was this the case? It was not because the Ark was overlayed with precious gold, nor was it because Moses or the people of Israel said it was holy; but it was because of what was contained within it: the mana from Heaven, the Law of God, and the Staff of Aaron. It was the Ark that God overshadowed with His presence in the tent of meeting (Ex. 40: 34-36) and it was Mary who the Holy Spirit overshadowed (Lk. 9:34) at the annunciation of the birth of Christ. It was not by her own right that she was pure and holy, but by what she contained within her womb: The Bread come down from Heaven, the great Law-Giver and the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, and the Great High-Priest Himself. If, then, the Ark of the Covenant, which possessed only signs of what was to come, was so holy that sinful men could not touch it without suffering death, then how much more so would the Mother of God Incarnate be required to be undefiled by man and sin? It was God for His own sake who made her holy and immaculate, and it was God who preserved her her entire life long.
Like the Ark of the Covenant, Mary is holy, exalted, and praiseworthy because of Who it was that she bore within herself, God Himself. The Ark of the Covenant was not pure and holy because it was overlayed with God or because the people thought it was holy, but because of what was within it: The Mana, the Law, and the Staff of Aaron. Mary is holy and pure because of Who was borne in her womb: The Bread come down from Heaven, the Great Law-giver and the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, and the Great High-Priest.
* In the Traditional rite the Immaculate Conception is the only feast that would be celebrated on Sundays, but in the New rite, any feast day that lands on a Sunday are moved to the next day, the rationale being that, since Sunday is the celebration of the Lord’s Resurrection, they take precedence over other feasts.
*Ex Cathedra, Latin for “From the Chair”, referring to the Chair of St. Peter, is a term used to refer to a Pope, the successor of St. Peter, speaking with the Apostolic Authority of Christ, given to St. Peter by Christ, to declare something dogmatically and infallibly (without error) on matters of Faith and morals. Whatever the Pope declares ex Cathedra is binding to a faithful Catholic and must be believed. The Pope, however, can never declare a new doctrine that is contrary or other than what the Church has already believed. Rather, whatever the Pope declares is just an official affirmation of a point of doctrine already contained in the deposit of Faith. For instance, the Church has always believed that Mary was conceived without sin; however, it was not necessary to declare it officially until people started to claim that she was not immaculately conceived.
*The difference in numbering between the Douay-Rheims and other translations, such as the RSVCE, is that the Douay-Rheims is translated from the Vulgate, St. Jerome’s translation of the Greek Septuagint into Latin, which has Psalm 9 as one single Psalm, whereas other translations use the Hebrew which has Psalm 9 split into two Pslams.
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