This past Saturday, December 8, we celebrated the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin is one of the most sublime of the doctrines of our Catholic Faith. It is also one of the most hope-inspiring doctrines of our Catholic Faith. You may be wondering: what exactly is this teaching? This is a good time to review this wonderful and exceedingly important doctrine. Here is what our Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches:
“What the Catholic Faith believes about Mary is based on what it believes about Christ, and what it teaches about Mary illumines in turn its Faith in Christ.
"God sent forth His Son", but to prepare a body for Him (Galatians 4:4; Hebrews 10:5), He wanted the free co-operation of a creature. For this, from all eternity God chose for the mother of His Son a daughter of Israel, a young Jewish woman of Nazareth in Galilee, "a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary" (Luke 1:26-27): The Father of mercies willed that the Incarnation should be preceded by assent on the part of the predestined mother, so that just as a woman had a share in the coming of death, so also should a woman contribute to the coming of life. (Lumen Gentium 56; 61)
Throughout the Old Covenant the mission of many holy women prepared for that of Mary. At the very beginning there was Eve; despite her disobedience, she receives the promise of a posterity that will be victorious over the evil one, as well as the promise that she will be the mother of all the living. (Cf. Genesis 3:15, 20) By virtue of this promise, Sarah conceives a son in spite of her old age. (Cf. Genesis 18:10-14; 21:1-2) Against all human expectation God chooses those who were considered powerless and weak to show forth His faithfulness to His promises: Hannah, the mother of Samuel; Deborah; Ruth; Judith and Esther; and many other women. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 1:17; 1 Samuel 1) Mary "stands out among the poor and humble of the Lord, who confidently hope for and receive salvation from Him. After a long period of waiting the times are fulfilled in her, the exalted Daughter of Sion, and the new plan of salvation is established." (Lumen Gentium 55)
To become the Mother of our Savior, Mary "was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role." (Lumen Gentium 56) The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as "full of grace". (Luke 1:28) In fact, in order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God's grace.
Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, "full of grace" through God, (Luke 1:28) was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854: The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin. (Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus (1854): DS 2803)
The "splendor of an entirely unique holiness" by which Mary is "enriched from the first instant of her conception" comes wholly from Christ: she is "redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son". (Lumen Gentium 53, 56) The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person "in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places" and chose her "in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before Him in love". (Cf. Ephesians 1:3-4)
The Fathers of the Eastern tradition call the Mother of God "the All-Holy" (Panagia), and celebrate her as "free from any stain of sin, as though fashioned by the Holy Spirit and formed as a new creature". (Lumen Gentium 56) By the grace of God, Mary remained free of every personal sin her whole life long.
At the announcement that she would give birth to "the Son of the Most High" without knowing man, by the power of the Holy Spirit, Mary responded with the Obedience of Faith, certain that "with God nothing will be impossible": "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be [done] to me according to your word." (Luke 1:28-38; cf. Rom 1:5) Thus, giving her consent to God's Word, Mary becomes the Mother of Jesus. Espousing the Divine Will for salvation wholeheartedly, without a single sin to restrain her, she gave herself entirely to the person and to the work of her Son; she did so in order to serve the mystery of redemption with Him and dependent on Him, by God's grace: (Cf. Lumen Gentium 56)
As St. Irenaeus says, "Being obedient she became the cause of salvation for herself and for the whole human race." (St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 3, 22, 4: PG 7/1, 959A) Hence not a few of the early Fathers gladly assert. . .: "The knot of Eve's disobedience was untied by Mary's obedience: what the virgin Eve bound through her disbelief, Mary loosened by her Faith." (St. Irenaeus, Adv. haeres. 3, 22, 4: PG 7/1, 959A) Comparing her with Eve, they call Mary "the Mother of the living" and frequently claim: "Death through Eve, life through Mary."( 56; Epiphanius, Haer. 78, 18: PG 42, 728CD-729AB; St. Jerome, Ep. 22, 21: PL 22, 408)
Called in the Gospels "the Mother of Jesus", Mary is acclaimed by Elizabeth, at the prompting of the Spirit and even before the birth of her Son, as "the Mother of my Lord". (Luke 1:43; John 2:1; 19:25; cf. Matthew 13:55; et al) In fact, the One whom she conceived as man by the Holy Spirit, who truly became her Son according to the flesh, was none other than the Father's eternal Son, the Second Person of the Holy Trinity. Hence the Church confesses that Mary is truly "Mother of God" (Theotokos). (Council of Ephesus (431): DS 251)” (CCC 487-495)
Through the intercession of the Mary, the Immaculate Conception, St. Joseph, and St. Columbkill, may God bless our parishes, families and the whole Church! In Christ through Mary,