Tuesday, December 8, 2009
Today the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception. It is also a Holy Day of Obligation throughout the Church for Catholics.
The Immaculate Conception was promulgated as a dogma of the Catholic Church on December 8th, 1854 by Pope Pius IX in Ineffabilis Deus. The Immaculate Conception holds that Mary was conceived without the stain of Original Sin. This is not to conclude that Mary did not need a savior. Jesus was His Mother’s Savior. Indeed, one could call Mary the “daughter of her Son”. Through the grace and power of God, Mary was saved from sin by the future sacrifice of her Son on the Cross. This preservative grace was a singular grace and blessing from the Father. As St. Peter writes in his second letter, God’s concept of time is not our concept and he is not limited by it: “But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day” (2 Peter 3:8).
Mary was also the Mother of God (she did not give birth to His divine nature, but she gave birth to Jesus who had two natures). She bore divinity in her womb; she is the New Ark of the Covenant. Mary Theotokos (God-Bearer) was definitively established by the Ecumenical Council of Ephesus in A.D. 431. The Ark of the Covenant was the Holy of Holies. It contained the most important relics of the Old Testament. It was so holy that no hand, no matter how pure or clean, could touch it. The Priest Uzzah reached to steady the Ark as they carried and was struck down (2 Samuel 6:6-7). The Ark was Holy yet made by human hands. Mary bore the Son of God, the God-Man Jesus Christ, how much more important of an Ark was she?
The Fourth Century Church Father St. Ephraim was a Deacon of the Church in Syria. Writing in the late fourth century he wrote about the doctrine that would become the Immaculate Conception in the Nisibene Hymns (Faiths of the Early Fathers, volume 1):
You alone and your Mother
Are more beautiful than any others;
For there is no blemish in you,
Nor any stains upon your Mother.
Who of my children
Can compare in beauty to these?
On the Feast of the Immaculate Conception we focus not on Mary, but on what God did for Mary in order to “Prepare the Way of the Lord”. Mary always will point us toward the Son, toward Jesus Christ. The Feast of the Immaculate Conception points us toward Christmas when Heaven met Earth and the Word became Flesh and dwelt among us.
For more information and Apologetics on Catholic Marian Dogmas let me suggest Catholic Answers here and here.