The feast of the Immaculate Conception is one of the dogmas/established beliefs on Mother Mary, just like her assumption into heaven, her perpetual virginity, and her divine motherhood. Protestants and other non-Catholic Christians have argued about this subject because they don’t agree with the Catholic Church’s views on it. Unfortunately, a lot of Catholics don’t know much about the subject either, so they hesitate or can’t defend this dogma when asked. As we celebrate the feast of the immaculate conception on December 8, we should try to have a good understanding of what we celebrate.
This article tries to explain this dogma, backed up by Bible verses and the teachings of the Church. This way, you can better understand the church’s position on this issue and be more devoted to the blessed virgin Mary, who is both your mother and representation of the Church.
We will be looking at this topic under the following headings
➢ What is the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary?
➢ Protestant & Non-Catholic Christian views
What is the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary?
In other words, what is the meaning of the Immaculate Conception? This is a Marian dogma which says that although Mary was conceived normally, just like other humans, she was also conceived without the stain of original sin, which takes away sanctifying grace. Thus, the title “Immaculate,” which means pure or without sin. In other words, Mary, the mother of Christ is “The Immaculate Conception.” She is the only creature known to have been born without the disgrace of original sin. (Jesus was conceived without sin too but he was not created but begotten because he was already in existence /he is God). In 1854, Pope Pius IX declared that this dogma was revealed by God and was to be believed by all Catholics.
Due to the role of Mary in the salvific work of God (Luke 1:26-33), she had to be preserved from the corruption of sin. She was kept pure and in the state of God’s sanctifying grace (hence the greeting of the angel Gabriel in Luke 1:28). The angel’s greeting to Mary showed that she carried God’s sanctifying grace from the moment she was born and that it still lives in her today. This is shown by the Greek translation of the greeting “full of grace,” kecharitomene, which also expresses one of the characteristics of Mary. Kecharitomene is the perfect tense of the word “charitoo,”which means “to fill or endow with grace.” Thus, indicating that Mary has been endowed with such grace in the past and continues to enjoy such grace in the present.
In addition, many Catholics think that the Immaculate Conception means that Mary was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, just like Jesus Christ, or that the doctrine refers to the conception of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. But these are not true. The immaculate conception, on the other hand, refers to the fact that Mary was born without the stain of original sin.
Unlike the rest of us, saved by Christ’s redemptive work on the cross, Mary was saved from sin by preservation from the stain of original sin even before she was born (more on this below). She was immaculately conceived by God apart of the plan of redemption to be a good vessel for carrying the Savior of the world in the flesh.
Protestant & Non-Catholic views
As previously stated, this Catholic doctrine has not been well received by non-Catholic Christians. They have argued that Mary was not conceived without sin as we believe, and they have backed their argument with the following points:
First, they have argued that Mary was not born without sin as the Catholic Church claims because Romans 3:23 says that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (emphasis added). They also argue that Mary calls God her savior in Luke 1:47 and that this negates the fact that she was born without sin, as only a sinner would require a savior. Moreover, they argue that being born without sin would make her equal to God, making it an untrue dogma.
However, we know that for anyone to commit actual sin, he or she has to have attained the age of reason. This means that the unborn child and young children below the age of reason (typically the age of 7) cannot actually commit actual sin. So, St. Paul in Romans 3:23 is not be talking about everyone without exception. He might be talking about the vast majority of people, except for Jesus, Mary, and children under the age of reason.
Take for instance, the statement “at the football match, everyone rose up for the national anthem.” In reality, some may not have risen up due to illness or disability. However, these are exceptions and the vast majority did get up. Everyone getting up for the anthem thus means a majority with an implied acceptance of the exceptions that reasonably exist, those who didn’t get up.
On the other hand, Paul could have also been referring to all humanity being subject to original sin, and Mary would be included. But because she was so important to the salvation of all people, God chose to spare her from the effects of original sin. In the case of calling God her savior, Mary was indeed right in calling God her savior because she still needed to be saved from original sin like all descendants of Adam.
But she was saved by anticipation. Rather than allowing her to be stained by original sin, God decided to save her more honorably (CCC 492) meaning even before she was conceived.
A simple analogy would be a man being drawn out of a pit and another man being prevented from falling into the same pit. Both were saved from the pit, but in different ways. Therefore, Mary was saved by God, but in a more exalted way, and thus has more reason to call God her savior.
They also argue that if Mary was conceived without sin, that would make her equal to God. But we know that this objection is not true because Adam and Eve were also created without the stain of original sin, but they were not equal to God. Rather, they showed their inferiority by committing the evil of disobedience.
Other Marian dogmas include her assumption into heaven, her perpetual virginity, and her divine motherhood. We will be looking at these briefly for a better understanding of these Catholic doctrines to enrichen our deeper devotion to Mary.
This Catholic doctrine says that Mary was taken up to heaven, body and soul, after her life on earth – just like other great men of God like Elijah and Enoch. However, contrary to the belief of many Catholics, Mary did not ascend to heaven by her own power as Christ did. Rather, she was taken up (assumed) to heaven by the power of the most-high God.
Even though the church does not have a formal stance on whether she died or not, the Church believes that Mary was taken to heaven after her earthly life – this latter part is dogma /established belief. This is stated in Pope Pius XII’s document Munificentissimus Deus. It said that Mary’s body and soul were taken to heaven after her life on earth.
Furthermore, we see from the account of Matthew in Matthew 27:52–53 that saints who died before the coming of Christ were raised from the grave and went into the holy city. The church holds that these saints were assumed into heaven, or a temporary place of rest called “paradise” (Luke 16:22, 23:43, Hebrews 11:1–40, 1 Peter 4:6).
Another proof of Mary’s assumption is that her body was not claimed by a city after her earthly life, as it was with all the other saints. This is very likely because there were no body remains to be claimed. Also, because she shared in Christ’s sufferings in a very unique way ( Luke 2: 34-35) and went through a unique kind of interior martyrdom, she deserves to be honored with a unique kind of glory, as promised to all who share in Christ’s sufferings (Romans 8:17).
Given Mary’s privileges, it’s only fitting that her God gave her the honor of being taken up to heaven, body and soul, to prevent her body from suffering corruption in the grave as a result of sin (Genesis 3:17, 19). This is even more splendid when we consider that Mary is the new Ark of the Covenant (Revelations 11:19- 12:1-3). We see repeatedly in the Old Testament how the Ark, which was made to heavenly specifications, was a powerful part of Israel’s: identity, success in battle and worship (Psalm 132:8, Exodus 25:10-22).
Mary as Mother of God is also known as “Theotokos” in Greek translated as the “God-bearer” or “birth-giver to God.” The title, Theotokos, was formed and affirmed at the Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D. to emphasize the motherhood of Mary to Jesus (John 1:1).
This pronouncement was made by the early church to preserve the teaching of the church on the divinity of Jesus, who was both God and man united in one body. Some people (followers of Nestorius) believed that Mary should only be called “the mother of Christ” and not “the mother of God,” as she is now. However, this proposal was rejected and the title “Theotokos” was affirmed to underscore the truth of the divinity of Jesus Christ.
Furthermore, many people today argue that this title given to Mary does not appear in the Bible. However, going by that argument, other fundamentals of the Christian faith, such as the mystery of the Holy Trinity, would also be rejected for not appearing by name in the Bible, yet no true Christian would do so. Even though the exact words “mother of God” were not used in that order in the Bible about Mary, we find Bible passages that show or explain Mary as the New Testament Ark of the Lord and the mother of God.
In Luke 1:43, we see Elizabeth, Mary’s cousin, proclaim Mary as the mother of her Lord and see how this is a strong parallel of David’s proclamation in 2 Samuel 6:9 when the Ark of the Lord was brought to him. Also, in Luke 1:44, John the Baptist leaped for joy in his mother’s womb when Mary came to visit. This can also be related to David dancing before the Lord in 2 Samuel 6:14.
In addition, Mary stayed with Elizabeth for 3 months (Luke 1:56), just like the Ark of the Lord stayed in the house of Obededom’s for 3 months (2 Samuel 6:11). In addition to these, the CCC 495 also attests to the fact that Mary was indeed the new covenant fulfillment of the Old Testament Ark of the Lord. Just as the Ark in the Old Testament was the bearer of the bread from heaven in form of manna, Mary was and is the Ark in the flesh; the bearer of the bread that came down from heaven in flesh, in the form of Christ (John 6: 48-51).
This dogma has been taught by the church for a long time. In 553 A.D., the fifth ecumenical council in Constantinople said that Mary is “ever-virgin,” which means that she was a virgin before, during, and after the birth of Jesus. Of the three aspects of her virginity, the first is easily accepted as it is clearly backed by scriptures (Mt 1:18; Lk 1:34–35; 3:23). Mary’s virginity during and after the birth of Christ is less obvious to many.
To understand why Mary was a virgin in the first place, you have to know what her other qualities were and are. Mary’s perpetual virginity is essential to who she is. It is her identity, not just physiologically but also inwardly and spiritually.
Since Adam and Eve, no other individual has had the living honesty that Mary had throughout her life. That honesty allowed her body to flawlessly convey her soul. No hostility or battle existed between the two unlike the rest of us, creatures (Romans 7: 21-25). Mary’s body was thus totally given up to God because her Spirit was already given to him in the first place. Her bodily virginity served/serves as a permanent reminder of that dedication. Just like the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament, nothing could touch the Ark and live (2 Samuel 6:6-7), the same could be said of Mary. Thus, her perpetual virginity.
Therefore, Mary’s virginity was a physical sign of this inner purity, dedication and integration of her body and Soul. One would wonder how this was possible. However, it is a mystery and the same question could be raised about how Jesus entered a locked room where the disciples were hiding after His resurrection. Both were miracles for nothing is impossible with God (Mathew 19:26).
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