December 8: Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

December 8: The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

Mary being conceived by St Anne, Jean Bellegambe

The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was officially defined on 8 December, 1854. In the Constitution Ineffabilis Deus, Pope Pius IX pronounced that the Blessed Virgin Mary “in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin…” [29]. How can we understand this doctrine?

By our human nature, we are all subject to the necessity of contracting original sin. This means that from the first instance of our existence, we are not in a state of sanctifying grace. Through the sacrament of Baptism, we are brought into sanctifying grace, thus making our souls spiritually alive and capable of enjoying heaven.

Like any other human being, Mary was subject to the necessity of contracting original sin, and she needed a Savior. But by a special intervention of God, undertaken the moment she was conceived, the Blessed Virgin was preserved from contracting the stain of original sin. She was therefore redeemed by the grace of Christ, but in a special way, by anticipation (i.e., before His sacrifice on the Cross). We might understand this as a unique kind of “baptism” that Mary received at her conception, but, because she never contracted original sin, she enjoyed certain privileges that we can never enjoy, such as the entire avoidance of sin.

The readings from the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception give us the biblical back- ground to this doctrine. In Genesis 3:15, God says to the serpent who tempted Eve: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers….” The “woman” prophesied in this passage is Mary; her “offspring” is Jesus. There is perpetual “enmity” between Mary and the evil one. In other words, she can never at any point in her existence be under the influence of the evil one, but will always and in every way be opposed to him.

In the Gospel for the Solemnity we read the greeting of the angel Gabriel to Mary, “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee” (Lk 1:28). The Greek word which is translated (via Latin) “full of grace” – kecharitomene – has the sense of grace that is permanent, completely full (there is no “room” for sin), intensive and also extensive: the grace Gabriel speaks of must have extended over the whole of Mary’s life, from conception.

However one does not need to be a theologian to understand that Jesus, who is God and cannot have any part of sin, took His flesh from His mother: if she had the stain of original sin, how could the Sinless One have dwelt in her womb and been born of her body? Or in an even simpler way, “If you were God, and could create your own Mother, would you not have made her perfect?” To the faithful, Mary’s Immaculate Conception makes intuitive sense.

Christ Jesus, who never sinned, obeyed all of the commandments, including the commandment to “honor your father and your mother.” As His disciples, we imitate Him when we honor His mother, praying, “Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”

Additional resources

You may also be interested in this film about St Maximilian Kolbe’s teaching on the Holy Spirit and the Immaculate Conception.

Read more about the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin into Heaven.

Just before he was arrested for the final time before being sent to a concentration camp, St Maximilian wrote his last reflection on the Blessed Virgin, asking, ‘Who are you, O Immaculate Conception?

Fr James McCurry, OFM Conv., illustrates how the Immaculate Conception demonstrates the goodness of God.