Q. My pastor told our parish that we will be celebrating the Immaculate Conception Dec. 8, and that it is a holy day of obligation. What is this?
A. The Immaculate Conception is the teaching that the Blessed Virgin Mary was free from Original Sin from the moment of her conception and retained a right relationship with God from that moment forward. In 1854, Pius IX pronounced and defined that the Blessed Virgin Mary “in the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved exempt from all stain of original sin.”
Our first parents, Adam and Eve, were created in a right relationship with God, which was a state of justice and sanctity. However, due to their sin, the Original Sin, man lost grace, holiness, and the gifts that God had originally bestowed upon him. Now, man suffers from concupiscence, the inclination to sin, and the effects of Adam’s sin are transferred to all those who are born into the human race.
Despite this primordial catastrophe, God comes to our rescue through His Divine love. This sinful state is eliminated by the Paschal Mystery of Christ whose merits are applied at Baptism. Baptism is the starting point of the Christian life, where we receive sanctifying grace and our union with God begins. It is sustained and nourished during our lives through the sacraments.
In Mary’s Magnificat, found in St. Luke’s Gospel, she says, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior” (Lk 1:46). Someone might ask, “If Mary was conceived without Original Sin, why does she speak of a savior”? While the Blessed Virgin Mary was never baptized, she still received the merits of Jesus, the Savior of the human race.
Today, when a baby is baptized, or when a person receives the forgiveness of sins in the sacrament of Confession, or when Jesus is made present in the Eucharist, it is made possible due to the merits of the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ. This Paschal Mystery occurred in time about 2,000 years ago, but is made present to us today through the sacraments. In a similar way, the Blessed Virgin Mary received the merits won by her Son, but she received them in anticipation.
It is fitting that Mary received this singular privilege and grace of her Immaculate Conception because she is the Mother of the Redeemer, and God gave her appropriate gifts for her exalted vocation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “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).
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