Advent is now in full swing. In a few short weeks we will be celebrating Christmas with family and friends. So why in the middle of this season of preparation does the Catholic Church throw in another holy day?
Why are we called to press pause on Advent and observe the Immaculate Conception? What is the Immaculate Conception and its significance?
The Immaculate Conception
First, a clarification.
The Immaculate Conception is not about the conception of Jesus in Mary’s womb. Many mistakenly believe this is the case and the fact that we observe this feast day during Advent lends to the confusion.
The Immaculate Conception is about the conception of Mary in her mother Anne’s womb.
Unlike Jesus, Mary was conceived in the usual fashion that humans are through the marital act of her parents Joachim and Anne. The Immaculate Conception speaks to the fact that Mary was conceived without the stain of original sin. Why is this so important?
Why protect Mary from Original Sin?
If you think bout it, this is quite easy to understand. Mary, the Mother of God, was without original sin so that she would be the perfect vessel to bring God’s only begotten son to the world. This is a hard concept for non-Catholics to grasp and is often a stumbling block for those who are on the journey to converting to the Catholic faith.
Some point to Romans 3:23 to refute the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception:
“…all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus…”
That is understandable but what is left out is the power of God. God chose to make this happen and here is a good example as to why.
This year as you are wrapping your gifts for family and friends what do you grab? Wrinkled, imperfect wrapping paper? Of course not! You grab the fresh roll of wrapping paper that is as unblemished as the day it came off the printing press.
God wanted the same for the gift he was giving to the world, his son Jesus Christ. Mary was the perfect, unblemished “package” he was delivering his gift to the world in.
We on the other hand are conceived with original sin as a result of our ancestors, Adam and Eve, turning away from God. To remove that stain, we need the sacrament of Baptism. Mary did not.
The path to a church doctrine
The Catholic Church moves slowly. Such was the case with the proclamation of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It took many centuries of discussion and debate until the Church finally declared the Immaculate Conception as an official doctrine (something all Christians must believe) of the Catholic faith. On 6 December 1708, Pope Clement XI made the feast of the Conception of Mary a Holy Day of Obligation. THAT was just the first step!
Pope Pius IX, on December 8, 1854, would declare the Immaculate Conception of Mary a dogma—that is, a doctrine that the Church teaches was revealed by God Himself. In doing so he also moved the celebration of the feast day to December 8. In his Apostolic Constitution, Ineffabilis Deus, Pope Pius IX wrote that, “We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most 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, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.”
The tough questions
Doesn’t it seem logical that God in His infinite wisdom, would want the person that would carry his Son to be a perfect dwelling place?
Doesn’t it make sense that God would want this specifically chosen woman from all of time to be set apart in a special way?
Wouldn’t God, the creator of the universe, be willing and able to do this?
Wouldn’t God want Mary, to be stainless and a perfect model to undertake the task of raising Jesus Christ as a child to become the man that would redeem the world?
Wouldn’t God, in His infinite wisdom, want the body and womb that carried Christ to be a perfect and pure dwelling place?
Why wouldn’t God want to set apart the woman who would give birth to His only Son?
The Church has the answers as we have discussed. Now it’s up to us to believe and celebrate Mary. Have a Blessed Feast of the Immaculate Conception!