By: Fr. James Gross
We live in a world abounding in sin and sinners. But it is a world that denies the existence of sin. Why is that? Because sin is an offense against God, and many choose not to believe in God. Therefore, if there is no God, there cannot be any sin. But we are surrounded by sin and read about it and see it in the news media every day, in cases too numerous to count. Because of original sin and the inclination to sin known as concupiscence, in various ways we all offend God, some more gravely than others. Today, however, we celebrate the feast of one of us, one woman, who never committed a sin—Mary of Nazareth, the Immaculate Mother of God.
What is the meaning of the term “immaculate conception?” It refers, not to the conception of Jesus, but to the conception of Mary in the normal way through the marital embrace of her parents, Saints Joachim and Ann. Because of the first sin of Adam and Eve, all human beings are conceived without sanctifying grace, the life of the soul. Since the coming of Christ, we can attain grace through baptism, but we are conceived and born without God’s grace. The Church teaches that God endowed Mary’s soul with grace from the first moment of her creation, so she was never under the power of original sin.
“Immaculate” means without stain. Since sin is a stain on the soul, which should be pure in the sight of God, the Church believes that Mary was conceived without the stain or original sin, which means the lack of God’s grace. One proof of this is taken from the greeting of the angel Gabriel to Mary in this Gospel: “Hail Mary, full of grace.” Because she was full of grace, Mary was most pleasing to God in all she was and did.
The prayers of today’s Mass stress that Mary was “preserved” from sin. Jesus died on the cross, rose from the dead, and accomplished our redemption. He is the fountain of supernatural life for us. We partake of that through faith, baptism, and the sacraments. So the Church teaches that Mary was preserved from original sin by the foreseen merits of Jesus, her Son and her redeemer. Mary is, therefore, the first redeemed, the first Christian; she is perfectly redeemed in every way—in soul, body, and emotions.
Mary had a special mission in the redemption of humanity. So God created her as a fitting dwelling place for his Son Jesus, who crushed the head of Satan. Satan never had any power over him. Jesus was to be born of a woman who was totally free from sin, never under the devil’s spell. Just as God prepared a sinless paradise for Adam and Eve, so Mary is a second sinless paradise where the Son of God dwelt nine months before his birth in Bethlehem.
The Church fathers compare Mary with Eve. In their view, based on divine revelation, Eve is the mother of all the living—she gave us both life and death. Mary is the true mother of all the living—those who live spiritually forever through her Son. That is why she is also called “Mother of the Church.”
Children naturally tend to imitate their parents. We see in Mary all the virtues of a perfect Christian. We should strive to imitate her, since she is our mother, as well. We should strive to imitate her faith, her hope, and her love—her love for Jesus and her willing cooperation in his work of redemption, even to offering him to the Father on Calvary. We should strive to imitate her sinlessness by avoiding all mortal sin and all deliberate venial sins. We should ask her to obtain for us the grace we need to be a fitting dwelling place for divine grace.
In the New Testament Mary’s last recorded words at the wedding in Cana are “Do whatever he tells you.” If we love God, we should try to do just that. When we receive God’s son and Mary’s son in Holy Communion today, let us say to him, “Be it done to me as you desire.” O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.