The Catholic Church teaches that the Blessed Virgin Mary was immaculately conceived, that is, from the time of her conception in her mother’s womb, she was free from the stain of the original sin of our first parents, Adam and Eve. This is a singular privilege of Mary Most Holy, applicable to no other human being.
By disobeying God’s command to refrain from eating of the tree of knowledge, Adam and Eve forfeited their original holiness, their innocence and integrity (Genesis 2-3).
They lost sanctifying grace, and human nature became “wounded”. Whereas before original sin our nature’s lower powers, passions and instincts were easily ruled by reason and the spirit, after original sin these same powers, passions and instincts became weakened and rebellious (CCC 396-309). Because Adam and Eve were the “seed” of the great human tree, every human being’s nature is tainted in that seed, although without personal guilt.
But it was only right that one human creature, the one chosen to be the New Ark of the Covenant, the tabernacle of the living God, should be sinless from the start.
Two passages in Scriptures support this claim: Genesis 3:15 and Luke 1:28.
Genesis 3:15 mentions that “enmity” would be placed between the serpent and “the Woman”. Sin of any kind is subjection to Satan, and if “the Woman”, interpreted by the Church as Mary, was to have nothing in common with him, she had to be sinless.
In Luke 1:28, the angel calls Mary “full of Grace” pointing to the fact that she had never lacked grace.
Throughout the centuries, several were the antagonists and protagonists of this doctrine. There were saints and sages on both sides of the debate. In the thirteenth century, Venerable Duns Scotus was one of the most brilliant advocates of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. His is the beautiful argument that if Our Lord Jesus, as God, was capable of exempting his Mother from the original stain, He would certainly, as a loving Son, have done it.
In 1598 Pope St. Pius V included the feast of the Immaculate Conception in the Roman breviary.
But it was only in 1854 that Blessed Pope Pius IX solemnly proclaimed, as Church Dogma, the doctrine that Mary was, indeed, exempt from original sin and immaculately conceived.
In 1858 in Lourdes, in the final apparition to young Bernadette Soubirous, Our Lady electrified the world when she said, “I am the Immaculate Conception”, thus echoing Blessed Pius IX’s infallible declaration as can be read below:
“Wherefore, in humility and fasting, we unceasingly offered our private prayers as well as the public prayers of the Church to God the Father through his Son, that he would deign to direct and strengthen our mind by the power of the Holy Spirit. In like manner did we implore the help of the entire heavenly host as we ardently invoked the Paraclete. Accordingly, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for the honour of the Holy and undivided Trinity, for the glory and adornment of the Virgin Mother of God, for the exaltation of the Catholic Faith, and for the furtherance of the Catholic religion, by the authority of Jesus Christ our Lord, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own:
‘We declare, we pronounce, and we define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular privilege and grace granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour 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.’ ”
“Hence, if anyone shall dare — which God forbid! — to think otherwise than as has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he has separated from the unity of the Church; and that, furthermore, by his own action he incurs the penalties established by law if he should dare to express in words or writing or by any other outward means the errors he think in his heart.”
“Our soul overflows with joy and our tongue with exultation. We give, and we shall continue to give, the humblest and deepest thanks to Jesus Christ, our Lord, because through his singular grace he has granted to us, unworthy though we be, to decree and offer this honour and glory and praise to his most holy Mother. All our hope do we repose in the most Blessed Virgin — in the all fair and immaculate one who has crushed the poisonous head of the most cruel serpent and brought salvation to the world: in her who is the glory of the prophets and apostles, the honour of the martyrs, the crown and joy of all the saints; in her who is the safest refuge and the most trustworthy helper of all who are in danger; in her who, with her only-begotten Son, is the most powerful Mediatrix and Conciliatrix in the whole world; in her who is the most excellent glory, ornament, and impregnable stronghold of the holy Church; in her who has destroyed all heresies and snatched the faithful people and nations from all kinds of direst calamities; in her do we hope who has delivered us from so many threatening dangers. We have, therefore, a very certain hope and complete confidence that the most Blessed Virgin will ensure by her most powerful patronage that all difficulties be removed and all errors dissipated, so that our Holy Mother the Catholic Church may flourish daily more and more throughout all the nations and countries, and may reign “from sea to sea and from the river to the ends of the earth,” and may enjoy genuine peace, tranquility and liberty. We are firm in our confidence that she will obtain pardon for the sinner, health for the sick, strength of heart for the weak, consolation for the afflicted, help for those in danger; that she will remove spiritual blindness from all who are in error, so that they may return to the path of truth and justice, and that here may be one flock and one shepherd.”
“Let all the children of the Catholic Church, who are so very dear to us, hear these words of ours. With a still more ardent zeal for piety, religion and love, let them continue to venerate, invoke and pray to the most Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, conceived without original sin. Let them fly with utter confidence to this most sweet Mother of mercy and grace in all dangers, difficulties, needs, doubts and fears. Under her guidance, under her patronage, under her kindness and protection, nothing is to be feared; nothing is hopeless. Because, while bearing toward us a truly motherly affection and having in her care the work of our salvation, she is solicitous about the whole human race. And since she has been appointed by God to be the Queen of heaven and earth, and is exalted above all the choirs of angels and saints, and even stands at the right hand of her only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, she presents our petitions in a most efficacious manner. What she asks, she obtains. Her pleas can never be unheard.”
Given at St. Peter’s in Rome, the eighth day of December, 1854, in the eighth year of our pontificate.
The feast of the Immaculate Conception is an excellent opportunity to ask her special intercession for our country. May she protect us against the evils that are destroying the family. Let us pray for all families struggling to be faithful to the Church and to raise their children in the love and reverent fear of God.