Today is the feast day of the Immaculate Conception, so I thought a little explanation might be in order...
Mary, Mother of Jesus is honored above all other saints.This is consistent with her foretelling that all generations would call her blessed (Luke 1:48). The reasons Mary is so honored are numerous. First and foremost, as Mother of Christ, she is Mother of God, for Jesus is fully God and fully human -- true God and true man. As the Mother of Christ, Mary is also our Mother, for we are all part of Christ’s Body, the Church.
Catholic Tradition provides us with four Marian Dogmas, or essential beliefs about Mary. In addition to our belief in Mary as Mother of God, we believe in her perpetual virginity, her Immaculate Conception, and her bodily Assumption into Heaven after her death.
Catholics believe that Mary was a virgin before, during, and after the birth of Christ (CCC, 499). Mary’s physical intactness was a sign of her faith, fully intact because of God’s grace. Protestants sometimes attempt to use Scripture to argue against the idea of Mary’s perpetual virginity, claiming that Scripture says Mary had other sons (Matthew 13:55). In actuality, the term used for “brothers” in this verse is an Old Testament expression for close relations. Scripture never classes these “brothers of Jesus” as sons of Mary. In addition, when he was on the Cross, Jesus would not have needed to entrust Mary to John’s care if he had other siblings who could care for her (John 19:25-27).
The Immaculate Conception is a term that many misunderstand. Some Catholics mistakenly believe this term refers to the conception of Jesus, but it actually refers to the belief that Mary was conceived free from OriginalSin. Christians have a long history of belief in the sinlessness of Mary. In fact, before the Protestant Reformation in the 1500s, no one questioned the idea that Mary was sinless. Here’s why: the early Christians understood Mary as the “new Eve.” While the first woman and man brought sin into the world, aspecial woman (Mary) and the God-man (Jesus) brought salvation. This is predicted in the book of Genesis, when Godsays, “I will put enmity between you and the Woman.” The “Woman” referred to in Genesis is not Eve, but Mary. Secondly, Mary is known as the “Ark of the New Covenant.”
In the Old Testament, the “Ark of the Covenant” was a specially designed box made of wood and lined with gold. It carried the Ten Commandments tablets Moses had received from God and also carried the presence of God. For this reason, it had to be made perfectly, with no flaws. In Revelation chapter 12, a “woman” is described, clothed with the sun and with acrown of twelve stars. She is about to give birth to one who will rule all nations. Satan is described as a dragon waiting to hurt the child after he is born. Now, it’s pretty easy to figure out that the child is Jesus, so that makes the “woman” Mary. (Because Scripture describes Mary as having a crown and being in Heaven already, this is one place we get our Catholic understanding of Mary as Queen of Heaven and the idea that she was Assumed, body and soul, into Heaven.) Mary is described in Revelation 12 right after a description of the Ark of the Covenant. It’s obvious that the Holy Spirit wants us to make a connection here. The Ark carried the presence of God under the Old Covenant,and Mary carried the presence of God (Jesus) under the New Covenant. She is the Ark of the New Covenant. But to carry the presence of God, she must be without any flaws.
Finally, in Luke, Chapter One, the angel Gabriel calls Mary “full of grace.” (This is where we get the beginning of the “Hail Mary”prayer.) Grace is the share of God’s own life that grants us the ability to dowhat God asks us to do. We have received grace through our Baptism and continue to receive grace through the Sacraments, such as Eucharist and Reconciliation.But none of us is “full of grace.” In Romans 7, when Paul complains about a problem that keeps coming up for him (we don’t hear exactly what the problem is), God answers, “my grace is sufficient for you.” In other words, Paul has enough grace to be a good Christian, but even he does not have the fullness ofgrace. To have “fullness of grace” would mean always doing what God wants. That would be essential for the Mother of the Son of God.
Mary didn’t earn the grace granted to her by God. He made her sinless for a special purpose. She was human just like we are. In fact,Jesus was her Savior just like he is ours, and he was the Savior of those who came before him (like Moses and Abraham). God gave Mary the special grace that would come through Jesus in advance. He filled her with that grace so she could be a perfect mother for him. Mary’s role as mother gives her a special place in the lives of all Christians. We can always depend on her motherly care, andknow that she remembers us to her Son, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us!