Today, our blessed mother Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, one of the greatest Marian feasts of the year, but also one of the most widely misunderstood.
In the gospel today, we read about the angel Gabriel coming to Mary to deliver the blessed news that she will be the mother of God. Because of this, there may be confusion as to whose conception we are talking about, Jesus or Mary.
The Immaculate Conception refers to Mary’s conception in her mother’s womb. Nine months from today, we will celebrate her birthday. But, if we are celebrating Mary’s conception, why are we reading about the Annunciation today?
The church in her wisdom assigns these readings to the mass in part because of the way that St. Gabriel greets Mary, “Hail, full of Grace, the Lord is with you!” This, of course, is the first part of the Hail Mary, which we pray often as Catholics.
But what does that mean?
The Greek translation for “full of grace” that Luke writes in his gospel is kecharitomene and it is the only time that this word is used in the New Testament. The full translation refers to an action that was completed in the past that has relevance to the present. The angel is literally saying in his greeting, “Hail you who have been perfected in grace (or transformed in grace) as an action completed in the past but with relevance to now.”
Understandably, we can’t fit that whole translation into the Hail Mary. But what action is the angel referring to?
Obviously, the immaculate conception; Mary’s total and complete immunity from sin from the moment of her creation. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that in order for Mary to accept her vocation as the Mother of God, “it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God’s grace” (CCC 490). Mary was saved by the merits of Jesus Christ on the cross. She was given a preventative medicine of sorts which saved her from sin, unlike the rest of us who are forgiven from our sins by virtue of the crucifixion and our baptism.
We have to understand what sin is and the Lord’s declaration in our first reading in order to understand why it was necessary for Mary to be immaculately conceived.
“Immaculate” means without stain and sin stains, especially original sin, which we read about in our first reading. Sin separates us from God and is a failure on our part to love God. It sets us against him. Therefore, it would make no sense for his mother to be separated from God, especially because there is nothing more intimate and united than a mother and her child in utero. In order for God to come and rescue us from ourselves, it is fitting for him to be born of a woman removed from all sin, including that original stain. She is the new Eve in Christ’s new creation.
We see this in our first readings. In Genesis 3:15, God is speaking to Satan following Adam and Eve’s disobedience. He says, “I will put enmity between you and the woman and your seed and her seed. He will crust your head and you shall lie in wait for his heel.”
Satan’s seed is sin. The woman (although initially Eve) must be Mary. Mary alone gives birth to the seed who is Jesus, no one else does that. Biologically speaking, a woman doesn’t carry a seed, only a man does, which he gives to a woman in the marital embrace. So, when the Lord says a woman’s seed, we can assume that he’s referring to the miraculous conception that is Christ in Mary’s womb.
The Lord also declares a radical, absolute, and complete separation (enmity) between Satan and Mary. Pope Pius IX said that if Mary had any sin, her enmity with Satan would not be absolute.
On this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, remember the Lord’s saving power and enduring love. Give thanks for the miracle of Mary’s conception, which reminds us that with God, nothing is impossible.
O Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee. Amen.
Hannah Crites is a native to Denver Colorado and graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville. She has written for numerous publications and blogs including the Chastity Project, Washington Times, Faith & Culture: The Journal of the Augustine Institute, and Franciscan Magazine. She is currently working in content and digital marketing for a small web development and digital marketing agency. Connect with her through Twitter (@hannah_crites) and Facebook. Check out more of what she has written at https://hannahcrites.wordpress.com/