The Immaculata

A man is walking through a park and falls into a deep, dark pit.  Someone reaches down, grabs him and pulls him up and out of the pit.  The man has been saved.  Now imagine that a woman is walking through the same park, towards the same pit.  Just as she is about to fall into it, someone holds her back and stops her fall.  She too then was saved from the pit, but in even a better way than the man.  She wasn’t simply rescued, she was prevented from being stained by the muddy pit in the first place.
 
That’s an illustration that’s been used for more than  thousand years to explain how Mary received her salvation through Christ.  Christians believe that every human being is freed from sin —original sin and personal sin— through the saving grace of Jesus.  Catholics believe that Mary was the first person to be saved by Christ.  This doctrine of our faith is that of the Immaculate Conception and we celebrate it each year on December 8.  Lots of folks, even many Catholics, confuse the Immaculate Conception with Jesus’ Incarnation.  When Mary said “yes” to God, she was overshadowed by the power of the Holy Spirit and Jesus was conceived in her womb.  This is the Virgin Birth.  When Mary was created by her parents in the usual way, her conception was preserved from the stain of original sin.  This is the Immaculate Conception.  Mary was preserved from original sin by the merits of Christ’s sacrifice, even before the Cross.  How can this be possible?  Because with God, all things are possible.  God exists outside of time.  For Him, past and future exist in the ever-present NOW.  So in God’s great plan for the birth of His only Son, He provided Mary with the cleansing grace of baptism so that, in her, Christ would find a perfect sinless vessel.  And when you think about it, how could it be otherwise?  How could God be present in sin?
 
What wondrous love God has for Mary and for us!  The earliest Church Fathers described Mary’s special holiness and God’s distinct protection of that holiness from the moment of her creation.  While Catholics believe that Mary was saved by God before falling into that pit of original sin, we also believe that Mary needed a Savior, just like the rest of us.  It was Christ’s sacrifice that allowed Mary to be “full of grace” as the Angel spoke in his greeting to her (Luke 1:28).  And Mary remarked at that moment that “my spirit rejoices in God, my savior” (Luke 1:47).  Mary knew she needed a Savior and she knew that Savior was the infant she carried in her womb.  While the Church has believed and taught the Immaculate Conception for almost 2000 years, it did not become dogma until 1854.  This doctrine of Mary’s special protection from sin glorifies Christ’s redemptive work by revealing His remarkable power to save and sanctify His people.  Mary is the new Eve, the Ark of the New Covenant, the God-Bearer.  She gave herself completely to the Lord, and in that “yes” brought Light to the world.  This Advent season, as winter’s long nights envelop us, may we all pray to become more like Mary and prepare ourselves for the coming of our Light at Christmas.
 
“The Glorious Virgin did not have a stain in her birth because she was sanctified in her mother’s womb and safeguarded there by angels.”                    —St. Anthony of Padua (1195-1231)

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