Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception

Today is a holy day of obligation for all Catholics as it is the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. I have always found it interesting that despite its significance in the faith life of the Church, so many Catholics and non-Catholics alike completely misunderstand the feast.

It has to do with the conception of Mary, not Jesus. The Immaculate Conception was the conception of Mary in the womb of her mother Anna.

Throughout the history of the Church, Christians (until the time of the Protestant Reformation) believed that Mary was conceived without the stain of original sin. In 1854, Pope Pius IX simply officially defined as dogma what we had believed for centuries.

Why, you may ask, was Mary’s conception without original sin so important? Wasn’t Mary a creature just like all of us, a human being through and through? Does the Immaculate Conception mean that Mary had no need of redemption and salvation?

Mary was entirely a creature of God, like all of us. She was thoroughly human, and subjected to the influence of sin, although she never sinned herself. How could she remain so sinless, both at the time of her conception and then throughout her entire life?

By a single extraordinary grace from God – because of an intervention initiated by God himself and by the merits of the death and resurrection of Jesus His Son at the earliest moments of her existence – God spared her “the Fall.” Mary needed a savior, just like us (she herself said so in the Scriptures when in the Magnificat she declared God to be her “savior”) and her salvation came from her son Jesus, yet the grace of his death entered her life differently than ours.

Think of it this way: There are two ways of being saved from some terrible event. One way is to be rescued after having experienced the tragedy, for example being healed of devastating disease. We often will say the medicine or the doctor “saved me.” The second way of being saved is by being prevented from experiencing the tragedy itself, for example the people who were scheduled to have been on one of the airline flights that crashed into the Twin Towers or the field of Shanksville, Pennsylvania on 9-11. They were saved by being removed from the danger.

Mary was saved with the latter method.

Was this absolutely necessary? Was there no other way?

St. Thomas Aquinas and others say that Mary’s Immaculate Conception was not necessary for our redemption, but it was part of God’s overall plan, and again a grace freely given in light of the merits of the death of His Son Jesus, a grace for Mary alone. Althought not necessary, it was very fitting.

Let us pray this day that through the intercession of the Immaculate Mary we may grow in our understanding and appreciation of the grace of redemption won for us by our Lord Jesus and the cooperation of his mother the Immaculate Mary.

About Deacon Bob

Moderator: Deacon Bob Yerhot of the Diocese of Winona-Rochester, Minnesota.
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