Why the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin?
Mary is free of sin precisely because she had a Saviour who saved her from contracting original sin before the fact, compared to our situation, where we are saved after the fact (by baptism). Mary has always been redeemed by Jesus Christ. We have not. Her redemption is preservative. Ours is not. Mary is still a member of a fallen race but her redemption consists of her never having been in a state of sin. Mary is, therefore, as St Elizabeth says: 'blessed among women' (Luke 1:42). Even today, we can see that Christ, in a similar way, rescues some sinners by preservation and others by deliverance. For example, some people are saved from ever taking drugs because of their upbringing (preservation), whilst others are saved from drugs after a period of addiction (deliverance). Both are saved from drugs, but only one was ever tainted with them.
But in Romans 3:23 we read that 'ALL have sinned'.
This Scripture passage is often quoted by Protestants in order to question the sinlessness of Mary. However, such a selective interpretation of Scripture is illogical because it fails to take the WHOLE of God's Revelation into account. The WHOLE of God's Revelation to man is found in SCRIPTURE, TRADITION and in the TEACHING AUTHORITY of the CATHOLIC CHURCH. These facts are attested to in Scripture. The pillar and foundation of the truth is not the Bible, it's the CHURCH (1Timothy 3:15). Prior to our Lord's ascension into Heaven he calls his disciples to Go forth and TEACH all nations (Matthew 28:20). In 2 Thessalonians 2:14 St Paul affirmed the following: 'Stand fast; and hold the traditions which you have learned, whether by word of mouth [TRADITION], or by letter [SCRIPTURE].
But what's that got to do with the Immaculate Conception?
If we were to apply the logic of the limited interpretation of Romans 3:23 then all innocent babies, and Jesus Himself, must have sinned! Also, applying the same false logic, Jesus is not greater than John the Baptist because Jesus tells us that there are none greater, born of woman, than John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11). Surely Jesus, being born of a woman, is greater than John? We need God's appointed teacher to instruct us. We need a pope to clear up these difficulties for us. It makes more sense that God would have given us a constant succession of one pope after another, rather than the doctrinal chaos that has ensued in Protestantism since 1517 where thousands of 'popes' interpret Scripture differently. Nowhere in the Bible do we find the teaching that Scripture is the sole rule of faith. In Matthew 18:15-18 Christ tells us to submit to the AUTHORITY of the Church. Scripture itself states that it is insufficient of itself as a teacher (2 Peter 3:16), but rather needs an interpreter (Acts 8:26-40).
Why should Catholicism claim to know the right answer on this point?
The Catholic Church continues to elucidate the scriptural basis of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception because it alone is infallible in matters of faith (Luke 22:32). Pope Pius XII, in Fulgens corona, 1953 wrote: "... the foundation of this doctrine is seen in the very Sacred Scripture itself, in which God ... after the wretched fall of Adam, addressed the serpent in these words... 'I will put enmity....' (Genesis 3:15). The pope goes on to say that if at any moment Mary had been in a state of sin then the enmity spoken of would not have been complete. But we know that God cannot lie and so the enmity between Satan and Mary (the new Eve) was complete. Christ has no concord with Satan (2 Cor 6: 15). Therefore, the 'enmity' is total and Mary is totally sinless â€" from the moment of her conception.
But the Bible does not say Mary was full of grace.
Yes it does. In Luke 1:28 the angel hails Mary as being 'full of grace'. Protestant Bibles do not use 'grace', yet this is the correct translation of the original Greek word: 'kecharitomene'. In fact, this word is a perfect passive participle and properly translated, means 'you having been full of grace' (ie there never was a time when Mary was not full of grace). This is the traditional translation based on the Latin Vulgate of the Greek word 'kecharitomene'. It is not the transliteration of the Greek for 'full of grace' ('pleres charitos')as is used for Christ (Jn 1:14) and St Stephen (Acts 6: 8). Therefore, as Mary is full of grace, even before Jesus institutes the Sacrament of Baptism, it makes sense to conclude that there was never a moment when she was without grace, and hence her immaculate condition. In Luke 11:27-28 there is no person who heard Jesus' Word more or kept It better or more fully than Mary. She was the only one in whom the Lord dwelt. Mary is the living image of the Church which is Christ's Bride, 'without spot or wrinkle - holy and without blemish' (Eph 5: 27). [References: Matatics and Keating.]
So, it is clear that God never at any moment allowed His mother to be under the dominion of Satan. John Duns Scotus (the Catholic theologian famous for his study of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception) reasoned that because it was appropriate for the Son to preserve His mother from sin, He therefore did so. Christ can save in 2 ways: He rescues from sin those already fallen or (in the case of Mary) He preserves her from being touched by sin even for an instant. The Ark of the Covenant is the prefigurement of Mary (Revelation 11:19 and Revelation 12). The Ark had to be 'pure' gold inside and out, with no stain of alloy (Exodus 25:11). It is wholly appropriate therefore that Mary, who carried the Word made Flesh, was conceived without sin. Therefore, Mary calling God her 'Saviour' (Luke 1:47) means that God has always preserved her from sin. She is the Ark of His might (Ps 132: 8).
There is no other Scripture to back up the Immaculate Conception. St Thomas Aquinas denied it. There is no support for it in the Early Church.
There is plenty more Scripture to back it up. Proverbs 8: 22, 'The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His ways.' St Alphonsus says that a man's highest honour is to be born of noble parents: 'The glory of children are their fathers' (Prov 17:6). St Thomas Aquinas, quoting the same passage, says that Mary's shame would have reflected on her Son had she been without grace; he was unclear as to the moment of Mary's sanctification but he was not infallible like the Pope. Aquinas was a loyal son of the Church and was always willing to submit to Her authority. He is also berated for holding that ensoulment occurs after conception but it is quite certain that if he had had access to current medical technology he would have declared that life begins at fertilization. A modern paraphrasing of his Summa Theologiae (III: 27: 4) follows: "Jesus, who is the Divine Wisdom (1 Cor 1: 24), dwelt in Mary. Not only in her soul but in her womb. The Bible says, 'Wisdom will not enter into a malicious soul, nor dwell in a body subject to sins' (Wis 1: 4). Therefore, the Blessed Virgin committed no sin in fulfillment of Song of Songs 4:7: 'Thou art all fair, Oh my love, and there is not a spot in thee.' Hence, it is incompatible with the Revealed Word of God that the DNA Jesus inherited from His mother was at any time corrupted by sin." The fact of the Immaculate Conception is implicit in the Bible. Implicit details are often more important to a narrative because they reveal how much the author takes for granted. The Immaculate Conception was widely held by the Early Church. For example, Sts Ephrem and Gregory Nazianzus testified to it in the 4th century. (See also Ps 46: 4)
But what's the relevance of the Immaculate Conception?
In James 5: 16 we read that the continual prayer of a just man availeth much. So much more availing then, is the unceasing prayer of the sinless Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Mary Immaculate is the most powerful saint, and hence, the best of all saints to pray to. Immaculate Conception, pray for us.
* Please note that this text should be read in the context of the whole work and in recognition of the appropriate paragraphs of the Catechism of the Catholic Church highlighted in the index.