La Inmaculada Concepción. 1628 – 1629. Óleo sobre lienzo, 198 x 135 cm. Sala 028. Rubens. Museo del Prado. La Virgen, coronada de estrellas, pisa la serpiente con la manzana, símbolo del pecado

Anne Lastman

On December 8, the Catholic Church celebrates a very important and beautiful feast day, that is, the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.  The dogma which was proclaimed with a Papal Encyclical Ineffabilis Deus, by Pope Pius IX on December 8, 1854 and later beautifully confirmed by our Theotokos herself, Mary, to the young girl Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes, when she told the girl that she is “I am the Immaculate Conception”

Most often the feast of the Immaculate Conception is thought to refer to the conception of Jesus but indeed it is related to the conception of Mary, His own mother.  This means that we believe that Mary by special grace from God was preserved from Original Sin through the future merits of her son Jesus.

It’s not that Mary was not and is not of the line of Adam and did not need redemption, “my spirit rejoices in God my saviour” (Lk.1:47) but it means that she was preserved from the curse of sin of the first parents by the Grace and graciousness of the Father and His Son Jesus and His future sacrifice (by pre-empting) and the Holy Spirit of both Father and Son. 

Perhaps this could be explained in a manner we can understand today during this time of pandemic by saying that we can be infected by the virus (Covid19) and cured of it or we can pre-empt the virus by being vaccinated. For us humanity we need the “vaccine” (because we are infected and need to be cured of sin) but for His own mother she was protected from the virus of sin by her son’s future sacrifice so that sin was not to be found in her soul.  Not a stain to be found.   

Whilst non-Catholics reject this belief and understanding it seems this is due to a non-understanding and intransigent refusal to see and understand the ramification of Mary being with original sin when Jesus was conceived within her by the power of the Holy Spirit.  

The All Holy second person of the most Holy Trinity would have been conceived in a vessel tainted.  This could not be because we can remember a precedence in Old Testament when Uzzah who was driving the Ark of the Covenant towards Jerusalem and the cart became unstable due to oxen stumble Uzzah put his hand up to stabilise the Ark and he was immediately killed by the Lord.  This sounds like a cruel act since Uzzah was simply trying to prevent the Ark from falling but it shows that the unholy may never and cannot ever touch the holy. 

Mary, the mother of the All Holy could not have a stain touch her being, her body, for within this holy body would reside the all-Holy Son of God, Jesus.

Perhaps we could also look at Eve before sin and know that she too was sinless, without sin, holy and with the breath of God within her.  Then sin entered therein and has since continued throughout all the generations. Unlike Uzzah Eve did not bodily die after the unholy touched and breathed upon her and her husband, but the words “you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17) came to pass for them and all generations.  

Eve caused all generations to be called sinful and unholy whilst Mary her Magnificat in the future would say “all generations will call me blessed” (Lk 1:46-49)

When it was time for redemption and the coming of His son Jesus amongst men a mother was to be his entry into the humanity and in her own way assist him to defeat the enemy.  In her state of Immaculate conception, she not only gave a nurturing human home to her creator but she worked on an equal playing field as the virgin Eve.  Only this time the Virgin Mary would not fall prey to the wiles of the enemy.  She would begin her task of putting her foot and crushing the head of the one who had led one like her (woman) to sin.  To do this, sin could not have touched her. The playing field of the two women Eve and Mary had to be equal.

We know that she was immaculate because the Angel Gabriel announced “Hail thou who has been graced” (Kecharitommene) she was full of grace and recognised and addressed as such by the heavenly messenger.  

The Angel’s announcement and salutation began the fulfilment of the promises made at the beginning of time in the garden that between the seed of the woman (not man-no earthly engender of life) and the seed of the enemy there would always be enmity (Gen.3:15) and it would be her seed (Jesus) which would demolish and destroy his seed of sin. 

In her role as daughter of God, mother of her Son, Jesus, and spouse of the Holy Spirit, Mary’s honour was befitting her and as the new Eve and mother of the New Adam she could not be less than the first creation of the Father, the first Eve.  Indeed, because she was to bear in her body the incarnated body of the Son of God, she had to be at a level greater than the one lesser than the angels but who sinned (Ps8). 

“The splendour 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.’  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.’  CCC 492.

And from Pius IX Ineffabilis Deus (1854) we have

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, Saviour of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.   CCC 491.

For the Catholic Church the pronouncement of this dogma and later confirmed by her most honourable majesty’s own words “I am the Immaculate Conception” at the grotto in Lourdes opened for humanity a flow of magnificent graces.  Her presence on earth always brings with her messages, love and understandings which help us, her children, to understand not only her own beloved son Jesus to whom she gave bodily hospitality but her own role as second Eve, mother of the New Adam. 

In her presence with us we learn more about what God the Father had intended for His creation before sin was found in the ones he had created.  Mary, the mother of her son Jesus, and our mother who has never really left the children alone comes with messages of love and hope and a sublime pointing to our ultimate place where she and her “divine family” live and call us to live with them too.