Today we celebrate the great Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. She was immaculately conceived, and as the Catechism of the Catholic Church
states in paragraph 493, free from sin throughout all her life. We find scriptural basis for this in Gabriel’s greeting “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!" (Luke 1:29) If sin was present, even venial, she could not be full of grace!
The begs the question: why is it important that Mary did not have original sin? We believe as Catholics that original sin is transmitted from generation to generation, so to speak. Not in the sense that I take on the sins of my parents, but in the sense that I carry this mark in my human nature. We are still good
as humans, but because of the fall of our first parents Adam and Eve we have sinful tendencies; we struggle in ways we weren’t originally intended to (see the Catechism 402+ for more information on all this). Of course, the Church teaches that we should not look at the sin of Adam while ignoring our redemption by Christ (Pope Benedict spoke about this in the Wednesday General Audience on December 3rd
) -- and it's hard to consider the first coming of Christ without Mary!
Her fullness of grace is necessary to carry out the duty as Mother of God. Her womb was to be the tabernacle of God. A dwelling place that had to be pure so as to not transmit original sin to the Son of God. Jesus, after all, was to break the chains of death that enslaved us from the fall of our first parents -- it's no coincidence that many early Church fathers called her the "new Eve"! She was also to be the teacher and guide of Jesus, the Son of God, as he grew from a helpless baby to a faithful Jewish man. She would have to be the perfect model for him.
This does not mean that Our Mother did not need Christ's redemption -- some Church thinkers, like Blessed Duns Scotus, and as is outlined in Ineffabilis Deus,
maintain that by special privilege she was spared from original sin… a kind of pre-redemption… where Christ was still her redeemer.
She was still human -- very special, very privileged -- but still like you and I.
I was read something where a woman complained about Mary being "full of grace." How could this woman ever try and emulate Our Mother -- she was such a lofty example! If you use that line of reasoning, then how can we ever try and grow to be perfect like Christ... a goal that is part of our goal to universal holiness?
Mary's sinlessness hardly means we can not relate to her. In fact we look to her not only for her humility when she spoke the words "Be it done to me according to your word!" (Luke 1:38) but also to her trust and courage to say yes when she may not have entirely understood the situation. She can relate to us in our pains and difficulties as she too did suffer -- imagine being told by Simeon that her tiny baby would be the rise and fall of many in Israel and that her heart would be pierced? (Luke 2:22-38) ...And the pain she did in fact experience in her Son's Passion? Or even her example to turn to Jesus for help that we read about at the Wedding at Cana? (John 2:1-12) There are many subtle instances that teach us the way
of the Virgin Mary!
Perhaps in today's world we have lost the sense of what or who a parent is, but as Mother she offers us guidance, she offers us an example, she wants what is best for us -- this is why she is constantly drawing us to her Son!
As is custom on this Solemnity, Pope Benedict will be offering prayers to the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Piazza di Spagna in Rome, you can watch that live on Salt + Light Monday, December 8th at 3:30pm ET, in its original Italian language. Last year, the Holy Father reflected on Our Mother as someone drawing us to Jesus, as a sign of hope:
May the people of every nation and culture welcome this message of light and hope: may they accept it as a gift from the hands of Mary, Mother of all humanity. If life is a journey and this journey is often dark, difficult and exhausting, what star can illuminate it? In my Encyclical Spe Salvi, published at the beginning of Advent, I wrote that the Church looks to Mary and calls on her as a "star of hope" (n. 49). During our common voyage on the sea of history, we stand in need of "lights of hope", that is, of people who shine with Christ's light and "so guide us along our way" (ibid.). And who could be a better "Star of Hope" for us than Mary? With her "yes", with the generous offering of freedom received from the Creator, she enabled the hope of the millennia to become reality, to enter this world and its history. Through her God took flesh, became one of us and pitched his tent among us.
Thus, inspired by filial trust, we say to her: "Teach us, Mary, to believe, to hope, to love with you; show us the way that leads to peace, the way to the Kingdom of Jesus. You, Star of Hope, who wait for us anxiously in the everlasting light of the eternal Homeland, shine upon us and guide us through daily events, now and at the hour of our death. Amen!".
O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!