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Celebrating the Immaculate Conception
Kathleen M. Carroll
Source: St. Anthony Messenger Press
Published: Thursday, December 8, 2011
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Ask ten Catholics what the Immaculate Conception was and nine will tell you that it means that Jesus was conceived while Mary was a virgin. (The tenth will tell you a long story about football.)

While it is true that Jesus was conceived by, let’s say, extraordinary means, this is not what the Immaculate Conception is all about. Early Christians had a hard time understanding how Mary, a
normal human woman, could conceive and bring forth Jesus, God-made-man. This wasn’t because they lacked respect for women, or even because the whole virgin birth thing troubled them (it didn’t).

Rather, they could not understand how someone sinful—even someone only guilty of original sin, someone who had never committed an actual willful sin in her life—could possibly be worthy to bear the Savior. At the same time, the puzzlement went, if Mary wasn’t guilty of even original sin, then she wouldn’t need a Savior, would she? And we’d need a whole new set of theological principles to describe the special case of this one person.

The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception neatly solves this dilemma. It explains that, indeed, Mary was free from all sin—even the stain of original sin. But, far from meaning that she did not need Jesus, the doctrine explains that her sin was eliminated in anticipation of her cooperation with God in the Incarnation. If you see a bit of time-travel at work here, you’re right. Well, sort of. God exists and works outside of time and so can do anything at anytime or even everything at once. It was only at the Incarnation that God broke into our world, into our understanding of time to live as one human man two thousand years ago.

One last item to clear up: Some are confused by the appearance of the feast of the Immaculate Conception just before Christmas. Wouldn’t its date suggest that the two are related? In fact, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception falls on December 8, exactly nine months before we celebrate the Feast of the Nativity of Mary—her birthday. Rather tidy, yes? And exactly nine months before Christmas, on March 25, we celebrate the Feast of the Annunciation, when the angel appeared to Mary to announce that she had been chosen to be the Mother of Our Lord.

It is helpful to deepen our understanding of Mary and the Church at the same time because, in a very real way, Mary is Mother of the Church and our mother as well. Students of Scripture point to Jesus’ words from the cross, telling the Beloved Disciple, “Behold, your mother,” even as he tells Mary, “Behold, your son.” By these words, Jesus tells all those left behind—and that includes us—that
we still have each other. Mary has a world of children to look after and we have a heavenly mother to turn to.

Excerpted from A Catholic Christmas.

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