Fr. Scott A. Haynes
A Meditation for the Feast of Mary's Immaculate Conception
Allegory of the Immaculate Conception, c. 1769, National Gallery of Ireland
The Immaculate Conception is God’s response to original sin. It paves the way for the Incarnation and Birth of the Messiah. Consider that when Adam and Eve stripped themselves of God's grace, they subjected the human race to sin and death. So, God clothed the Virgin Mother Mary in the most glorious garments of grace and made her the New Eve, who would the perfect Tabernacle of God’s own Son. Mary Immaculate is the jewel case that receives the humanity of the Redeemer. And how lovely she is!
The point of Mary’s Immaculate Conception is not so much about Mary as it is about Jesus the Son of God. It has to do with the Holiness of God. God cannot tolerate sin. Mary as the God-bearer in Jesus had to be sinless in order to be in such close proximity to God Himself. The whole Bible teaches that God's presence demands and imparts holiness. (Ex 3:5; Deut 23:14; 1 Cor 3:17; 1 Jn 3:5-6; Rev 21:27).
The Jewish High Priest entered the Holy of Holies only once a year, under threat of death if God's instructions were violated (Lev 16:2-4,13). The Ark itself was so holy that only a few were allowed to touch it (Num 4:15; 2 Sam 6:2-7). Thus, Mary, due to her physical and spiritual relationship with God, necessarily had to be granted the grace of sinlessness. In other words, at the Incarnation, since Jesus took flesh in and from Mary's body, and also obtained His Human Nature from Her, she had to be perfectly sinless. The only question that then arises is when and how Mary was made sinless.
As Mary was the only person in human history to be chosen as the Mother of Jesus Christ, Son of God, the Immaculate Conception applies only to her. It is a singular grace. Thus, Mary’s sinlessness had to come in a special and unique manner. To be pure and free from all sin as God required, she had not only to be free of sin at one point in time, but to remain sinless throughout her life. Mary needed Jesus as her Savior too. Luke 1.46-47 states that Mary said:
"My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour."
Mary was not sinless by her own power. No. She was redeemed by her Son - as was all the rest of humanity. She needed God's Grace. And in order to be, and remain, sinless she needed that grace in her very conception.
If we look at one of the Old Testament passages that Mary bases her words upon, we see this more clearly. Isaiah 51.10 states:
“I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”
A first Century Jew would have recognized, in echoing this passage, Mary clearly considered that God had already clothed her with the garments of salvation, and covered her with the robe of righteousness. She was given a special grace to never be touched by original sin. This is supported by the angel's greeting to Mary. If we read Luke 1:28 we see that the angel went to her and said,
“Hail, you who are full of grace (Literally: you who have been and remain filled with Grace). The Lord is with you.”
Grace in the New Testament is seen as the antidote to sin. (Rom 3:24, 5:15-17, 6:14 11:6) Being filled with Grace implies sinlessness. Since Mary required the grace of redemption before her own birth, it is quite fitting that this happened at her conception. Sometimes modern Bible translations say record the Archangel Gabriel’s greeting to our Lady by saying,
“And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.”
This watered-down translation seems to want to wiggle out of the dogma of the Immaculate conception, but that was a teaching all Christians have traditionally accepted. Even Martin Luther believed in the Immaculate Conception. Luther said:
“It is a sweet and pious belief that the infusion of Mary's soul was effected without original sin; so that in the very infusion of her soul she was also purified from original sin and adorned with God's gifts, receiving a pure soul infused by God; thus from the first moment she began to live she was free from all sin.” (Sermon, 1527)
As you know, St. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate records Gabriel’s message as,
“Ave gratia plena. Hail full of grace.”
I guess modernist scripture scholars seem to think they know better than St. Jerome and even better than Martin Luther who accepted this translation and its full meaning. The inaccuracy of the modern scholars stands in marked contrast with the splendid genius of St. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate and with the Greek New Testament.
Pope John Paul II, in an audience on May 8, 1996, settled this point once and for all – and confirmed the traditional theological view. He turned to the documents of Vatican II, stating:
“The Virgin of Nazareth is hailed by the heralding angel, by divine command, as Ave gratia plena, ‘Hail full of grace.’” (Lumen gentium, n. 56).”
On this feast of the Immaculate Conception, let us endeavor to consider the matter from God’s perspective. Thus, the Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen pointed to the fact that if one could make his own mother, wouldn't he make her perfect, wouldn't he love her so much that he would protect her from any harm, from any fall, from any blemish? Well, the Son of God did create His own mother. Wouldn’t he make her stainless, immaculate and without sin?
Blessed John Duns Scotus — a son of St. Francis — who was the greatest defenders of our Lady's singular privilege, stated — Potuit, decuit, ergo fecit. Roughly translated, it means, “God could do it — He should do it — and, by golly, God did do it.” God preserved Mary from all stain of sin. Whereas we are picked up after the fall and cleansed, Mary was prevented from falling and thus was stainless.
As we celebrate this Feast of the Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception, let us keep the motto of that great friend of Mary, St Louis de Montfort, on our lips: Totus Tuus, O Maria, “I am all yours, O Mary”. In his book True Devotion to Mary St Louis de Montfort tells us,
“When the Holy Spirit finds his Spouse in a soul, he flies to that soul, to communicate himself to it, to fill it with his presence... When Mary has implanted her roots in a soul, she produces…wonders of grace which she alone can produce, because she alone is the fruitful Virgin who never has had, nor ever shall have, her equal in purity…”