Week of September 20, 1999
Please explain the Immaculate Conception
By SR. LOUISE ZDUNICH, NDC
What is the Immaculate Conception?
Earlier this month, on Sept. 8, we celebrated the feast of the Nativity (birth) of Mary. It would be helpful for us to reflect on the connection between this feast and the feast of the Immaculate Conception on Dec. 8.
They are nine months apart because the latter feast refers to the conception of Mary in the womb of her mother, Anna. (The names, Anna and Joachim, are not in the Gospels but are known through writings which were not accepted as part of the canon of the New Testament called the apocrypha.)
Although there is no specific reference to Mary's Immaculate Conception in the New Testament, it is the belief of the Church that since her body was to be the first tabernacle to house the Son of God, it was fitting that she never be under the power of sin, not even from the first moment of her existence.
And the Gospel of Luke 1:28 tells us that the angel, announcing to Mary that she is to be the mother of Jesus, greets her with the words "full of grace."
Sometimes, there are questions about her need for redemption by Christ since, unlike the rest of humanity, she was free from sin. But the Church believes that the effects of Christ's redemption, "by a singular grace and privilege of God" were applied to her from the moment of her conception.
That is what Pius IX declared on Dec. 8, 1854 when he proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Four years later, Mary appeared to St. Bernadette in Lourdes under the title of the Immaculate Conception, seemingly a confirmation of this dogma.
Everything else about Mary stems from her status as a unique human being, gifted by God in this special way. Since she was free from sin, then she was also free from the corruption of death. Hence, the dogma of the Assumption of Mary into heaven.
Without subjection to sin, she may not have even been able to consent to God's choice of her to bear his Son. This moment of Jesus' conception in her womb through the action of the Holy Spirit, we call the Incarnation.
Mary remains a virgin since Jesus is conceived without a male participant. We sometimes confuse the two ideas because they both involve conception: the virginal conception of Jesus and the Immaculate Conception of Mary.