The dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary was defined by Pope Pius IX in 1854. It affirms the belief that the Blessed Virgin Mary was free from sin right from the very beginning of her life. That means that by the grace of God, she was shielded from original sin which all humankind inherit at the very moment they begin to live, i.e. at the moment they are conceived in their mother's womb. That means that Mary was not burdened with a defective human nature with which you and I come into the world. She came into the world with a perfect human nature like that of Eve and Adam before they sinned and fell from grace. God gave her this perfect human nature not as a reward for anything she did, not on account of any merit on her part, but in view of the singular role she was to play in life, namely, that of being the mother of God's Son. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception tells us something about who Mary is. But maybe it tells us more about who God is and who we are in light of God's providential love.
Belief in the Immaculate Conception of Mary is belief in a provident God, i.e., a God who provides for the future, who prepares His children for their assigned task in life even before they are born, a God who foresees and equips us with all the natural and supernatural qualities we need to play our assigned role in the drama of human salvation. God anoints them already in the womb those men and women whom He created to be His prophets. As He told Jeremiah, "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations" (Jeremiah 1:5). God does not just throw us into this world wide wilderness and then leave us to fight it out among ourselves. The theory of evolution with its doctrine of the survival of the fittest may describe human nature in its fallen state, in the state of original sin, it does not describe life for the people of God redeemed by grace from the unbridled effects of the Fall.
As we rejoice with Mary, God's most favoured one ("full of grace") on the feast of her conception, let us thank God for His love and mercy which embraces us right from the moment of our own conception. As Scripture says, "For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?" (1Corinthians 4:7). Everything is gift, everything good in us is God's grace. For we all, children of God, are also favoured ones and heirs of God's grace. Yet Mary remains the most favoured one, the mother of all favoured ones, the one that enjoys the fullness of grace. (Fr. Munachi)
From Fr. Tony Kadavil:(Genesis 3:9-15, 20; Ephesians 1: 3-6, 11-12; Luke 1: 26-38)
Anecdote: # 1: The favorite name of explorers: In 1492, 519 years ago, Columbus discovered America. He sailed in a ship called Santa Maria de Conception (St. Mary, the Immaculate Conception). He named the first Island he landed San Salvador, in honor of our Savior. Columbus named the second island Conceptio in honor of Mary’s Immaculate Conception. The fearless French explorer Fr. Marquette who explored the 2300 miles long Mississippi River, flowing through ten states, called it River of Mary Immaculate. In fact, all the early American Catholics were so proud of the great truth we celebrate today that the American bishops in 1829 (25 years before the promulgation of the dogma) chose Mary Conceived Without Sin as the patroness of the United States. Hence, this feast is the feast of the country’s heavenly patroness in the U.S.
# 2: "Hold it, mother?” The Pharisees brought the woman, caught red-handed, before Jesus for judgment, and Jesus said, "Let the person who is without sin cast the first stone." They fell silent, and then, all of a sudden, a stone came flying from the crowd. Jesus looked up, surprised and amused, and then said, "Hold it, mother? I was trying to make a point, here." This is a humorous slant to the Catholic belief that Mary was born immaculate to lead an immaculate life.
# 3: Bishop Sheen on Immaculate Conception: “Just suppose that you could have pre-existed your own mother, in much the same way that an artist pre-exists his painting. Furthermore, suppose that you had the infinite power to make your mother anything that you pleased, just as a great artist like Raphael has the power of realizing his artistic ideas. Suppose you had this double power, what kind of mother would you have made for yourself? Would you not have made her, so far as human beauty goes; the most beautiful woman in the world; and so far as beauty of the soul goes, one who would radiate every virtue, every manner of kindness and charity and loveliness; one who by the purity of her life and her mind and her heart would be an inspiration not only to you but even to your fellow men, so that all would look up to her as the very incarnation of what is best in motherhood? Do you think that our Blessed Lord, who not only pre-existed His own mother but who had an infinite power to make her just what He chose, would in virtue of all the infinite delicacy of His spirit make her any less pure and loving and beautiful than you would have made your own mother?
Introduction: Mary’s prophecy, given in her Magnificat, “Behold all generations will call me blessed,” was fulfilled when the Catholic Church declared four dogmas of faith about her: 1-Immaculate Conception, 2-Perpetual Virginity, 3-Divine Maternity, and 4-Assumption. The Immaculate Conception is a dogma based mainly on Christian tradition and theological reasoning. It was defined in 1854 by Pope Pius IX through Ineffabilis Deus: “From the first moment of her conception, Mary was preserved immune from original sin by the singular grace of God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, savior of the human race.” (CCC). This declaration means that original sanctity, innocence and justice were conferred upon her, and that she was exempted from the evil effects of original sin, excluding sorrow, pain, disease and death, the temporal penalties given to Adam.(Catholic Encyclopedia). “God freely chose Mary from all eternity to be the Mother of his Son. In order to carry out her mission she herself was conceived immaculate. This means that, thanks to the grace of God and in anticipation of the merits of Jesus Christ, Mary was preserved from original sin from the first instant of her conception.” – Compendium of the CCC. The Fathers of the Church from the fourth century believed and taught that the Blessed Virgin Mary had been kept free of all traces of sin by the grace of God because she was to become the Mother of the Lord Jesus. This belief kept company with the other beliefs about Mary: the perpetual virginity of Mary, her sinlessness, and her Divine motherhood. Church history makes known to us that, as early as the seventh century, there was a liturgical observance that proclaimed the Blessed Virgin Mary to be free from sin.
Proofs: (A) From tradition: The Immaculate Conception is a dogma originating from sound Christian tradition. Monks in Palestinian monasteries started celebrating the “Feast of Conception of Our Lady” by the end of 7th century. The feast spread as the Feast of Immaculate Conception in Italy (9th century), England (11th century), and France (12th century). Pope Leo VI propagated the celebration and Pope Sixtus IV approved it as a feast. Finally in 1854 Pope Pius IX declared the Immaculate Conception to be a dogma of faith. Mary herself approved it four years later by declaring to Bernadette at Lourdes: “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
(B) Proofs from Holy Scripture: 1- God purified the prophet Jeremiah in the womb of his mother and anointed John the Baptist with His Holy Spirit before John’s birth. (Jer. 1/5: “Before I formed you in the womb of your mother I knew you and before you were born, I consecrated you”). Hence, it is reasonable that God kept the mother of His Son free from all sin from the first moment of her origin.
2- The angel saluted Mary as “full of grace”. This greeting means that she was never, even for a moment, a slave of sin and the devil.
3- Gen. 3/15: “I will put enmity between you and the woman and her seed shall crush your head.” The woman stands for Mary, and the promise would not be true if Mary had original sin.
(C)-Argument from reason: 1-If we were allowed to select our mother, we would select the most beautiful, healthy and saintly lady. So did God.
2- The All-holy God cannot be born from a woman who was a slave of the devil, even for a moment in her life.
Life messages: 1) We need to be pure and holy like our heavenly mother. Every mother wants her children to inherit or acquire all her good qualities. Hence, our immaculate and holy mother wants us to be holy and pure children. The original sin from which Mary was preserved is the original sin from which we, too, have been freed. The grace of Christ that was hers is the same grace of Christ that is ours. Mary is significant for us because the central factors in her life are the central factors in our own. Perhaps the lesson is that, no matter in which direction we may be facing, we need Mary Immaculate in our lives in order to remember who Christ is and who we ourselves are.
2) We need to be thankful and humble. Mary’s sinlessness was a gift from God, given to her right from the very moment of her conception. Equally, it is by the grace of God that we have received a new heart, a new spirit and the indwelling Holy Spirit to raise us to the level of holiness that the Blessed Virgin Mary enjoyed during her earthly life. Through faith in Jesus and through the Sacrament of Baptism, having been born again of water and Spirit, we have been adopted into the Body of Christ in the living hope of receiving our salvation. Through our living faith, including the reception of the Sacrament of Confession, we receive the righteousness of our souls. Through the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist, we abide in Jesus and Jesus in us, this leading towards our salvation. [Jn. 6:56]. Hence those of us who happen to be holy, who sin less than the average sinner, should regard our holiness as basically a gift of God and not our own achievement. Our attitude should then be characterized by two basic attitudes, thankfulness to God, and humility before those who are naturally and spiritually less-gifted than we are.
3) Like Mary, we need to say “’Yes” to God: God invites each one of us to continue Mary’s “Yes” by welcoming Jesus and making room for him in our lives. Let us ask her to obtain for us the grace to respond as generously to God's call as she did, and to be as faithful in discipleship to her Son as she was. On this feast day, let us ask her to be with us, to guide us, to protect us through her prayers of intercession with her Son, and to share her privilege with us, making our bodies worthy resting places for her son.