December 8th marks the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, the joyous celebration of the pure and sinless conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. While the feast was originally called the Conception of Mary and began in the Eastern Church in the 7th century, the Western Church started celebrating it shortly afterward.
In the 18th century, it became a universal feast day and in the 19th century, Pope Pius IX issued the papal bull Ineffabilis Deus. In that bull, the Church declared that the Immaculate Conception was revealed by God and was, therefore, a part of dogmatic teaching. “The most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instant of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin.” (Pope Pius IX, 1854)
The reason it was only made dogma in the last 200 years is that Mary was widely regarded as the greatest of all the saints, and nothing more than that. However, it was eventually deemed that because Mary played such an integral role in the redemptive work of Jesus, she must have been preserved from the blemishes of original sin at her conception. The Immaculate Conception is not to be confused with the Incarnation of Jesus in the Virgin Mary. It is also not to be confused with the idea that Mary was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, as Jesus was.
Original sin restricts our soul from receiving sanctifying grace. While original sin can be wiped away through the power of Baptism, the permanent stain of a faulted nature remains. We are still vulnerable to temptation and the inclination to commit sins. However, God granted a special exception for the case of Mary. She was granted freedom from original sin and therefore a spotless and perfect human nature. Her personal holiness and purity were so great that they precluded her from the corruption of sin, original, venial, and mortal.
“‘Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.’” (Luke 1:28) The angel Gabriel greets Our Lady at the Annunciation with a title of respect and indication that Mary is blessed and full of grace. But this visit from an angel is not the cause of Our Lady’s sanctity, therefore she must have maintained this form of purity her entire life, from her conception onward.
In other words, because of Mary’s integral role in salvation history, it was necessary that Our Lady was accompanied by Our Lord from her conception. She had to be God’s most perfect creature, the New Eve, in order to enhance Jesus’s redemption the way that she did. For that reason, we take this day to honor her as the perfect complement to God’s work on earth. Her personal holiness highlights the everlasting presence of Jesus Christ.
Queen conceived without original sin, pray for us.