Q. I read that the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception wasn’t proclaimed until 1854. Why was there such a delay?
A. The Blessed Virgin Mary has been esteemed from the very beginning, as indicated in the Gospels. She is referred to as being “full of grace” by the Angel Gabriel (Luke 1:28).
Jesus himself, as he hung upon the cross, entrusted the beloved disciple to his mother. He said, “‘Woman, behold, your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home” (John 19:26-27). The Blessed Mother received the Holy Spirit along with all of the Apostles at Pentecost.
The Fathers of the Church revered Mary for her holiness. She was referred to as the “New Eve.” Eve, the first woman, was conceived without Original Sin, but fell out of union with God through sin, along with Adam. While the Church always praised Mary for her holiness, it took time for the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception to be developed.
Pope Sixtus in 1477 praised the liturgical celebration of the Immaculate Conception. The Council of Trent in 1546 decreed that the Blessed Virgin Mary did not suffer from Original Sin. In 1708, Pope Clement XI made December 8 the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, a holy day of obligation.
So the reality is that before the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was promulgated in 1854, the Catholic Church firmly believed in the Immaculate Conception. It can be described as follows: Our first parents, Adam and Eve, were created in a right relationship with God, which was a state of justice and sanctity. However, due the sin of our first parents, 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, our 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.
Mary is the “New Eve” because her fidelity to the will of God assists in our salvation and paves the path of holiness for us. 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” (Luke 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).
Write to Ask the Register using our online form, or write to 3700 Sheridan Blvd., Suite 10, Lincoln NE 68506-6100. All questions are subject to editing. Editors decide which questions to publish. Personal questions cannot be answered. People with such questions are urged to take them to their nearest Catholic priest.