View of the Immaculate Conception
The Immaculate Conception, here
depicted in art, is honored with a feast day on the 8th of December.
And well it should be, for it is a doctrine and belief to be celebrated. It recalls a
special intervention by God into the life of the maiden of Nazareth, at
its very commencement. It prepared her for a great role in human
history. Because of it and her life to follow, she became a very
special person. While it happened centuries ago, and pertains to
the important work of Salvation, it is also has a relevance to certain problems
of today. And sadly, it is also a doctrine that some
in the world have badly misunderstood.
It may help to place this belief in the context of the history of
the race. God created us to know, love and serve Him
here on earth, and be happy with Him
hereafter. At the dawn of human existence, Adam and Eve had it
made. They had the gifts of happiness in the Garden of Paradise,
great knowledge, freedom from suffering and death, and harmony
within their beings. In addition, beyond their natural human life,
they had the supernatural gift known as sanctifying grace, which
elevates man to beyond the natural order. This grace enabled them to go to heaven.
All they had to do was obey.
The story of the fall of man and the loss of Paradise is a familiar one.
They lost the precious gift of sanctifying grace, and also the other
special gifts enumerated above, that we would've inherited had Adam
not sinned. Here we had a man whose act was decisive for his
descendants, and a woman who was the first to succumb to the devious
deceit of a fallen angel. The devil
instigated the Fall of our first parents, but it was the disobedience of
Adam, that brought the consequences of sin upon us, from our origin in
we are born into the world deprived of sanctifying grace is
essentially what is known as original sin.
In the course of time Christ would
intervene to redeem us. In the narratives of the Fall and the
Redemption, we can see certain parallel of elements: a man and a woman,
and the elements of a garden, a tree and a fruit.
Adam the man, for good or ill, acted on behalf of
the race, and
Christ as God and man also acted for the race, in suffering and
dying to redeem us. Eve
the woman was instrumental in the Fall, and Mary the woman was
instrumental in our Redemption.
The Fall of Man took place in the Garden of
Paradise, where God's will was disobeyed. Eve was approached by an
fallen angel, listened to his temptation, took the forbidden fruit from the tree, ate of it and
gave it to Adam, who ate of it. The intent of the
fallen angel was evil, and as the devil, the word evil comprises most of
The Redemption by Christ began on earth
with the good angel Gabriel being sent to earth by God. Gabriel
approached the Virgin Mary and saluted her, saying "Hail, full of grace."
The Redemption thus began, would end with the sufferings and death of
her Son, in time yet off in the future. The sufferings of
Christ's would begin with his agony in the
Garden of Gethsemane. After His bloody sweat, He would be seized, tried and forced to
carry the wood of the cross to Calvary, where He would be nailed to it and crucified.
While there were parallel elements in both
narratives, there were also the great
reversals that took place in the restoration of sanctifying grace
and the reopening of heaven. And we
may also seem other reversals within the stories. Whereas Eve plucked the forbidden fruit from off the tree, the
fruit of Mary's womb was put upon the tree of the Cross.
In the Fall, we see a bad angel speaking to Eve (Eva in Latin), and
in the Redemption, we see a good angel speaking to Mary, with the salutation,
Hail (Ave in Latin).
Catholic belief that sanctifying grace is imparted to us at Baptism,
when the stain of original sin is washed away. However, we still
have to deal with the punishments that we inherit through this sin:
suffering, ignorance, death and a strong inclination to sin.
In light of the merits of her Son, the Savior of the race, and by a
grace and privilege of God, Mary was
preserved from "all stain of original sin." This extraordinary
intervention by God happened "in the first instant of her conception," the
moment when sanctifying grace was bestowed upon her. This is known
as her Immaculate Conception.
Even though Mary was immaculately conceived, she was still subject to
suffering and in need of a Savior. Mary says this herself in
Luke 1:47: "And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour." I read something along this line which helps us understand
this. Think of a pitfall on a footpath through a woods, concealed by fallen branches and leaves.
We come along and fall into the pit and need to be rescued. Mary
comes along, and is
held back before she can fall. She is saved from falling.
The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception redounds to God's
glory. Never could the devil cackle in hell and say to Christ that He
was born of a woman who was once under the shadow of the sin that he
instigated. Christ is holy and perfect, and within the womb, He was
enwrapped in the holiness and perfection of His mother. She was untouched
by sin. This is fitting for the glory of God. To take away Mary's
Immaculate Conception, is to take away from God.
Her Immaculate Conception has relevance to certain problems of
today. When Mary appeared at Lourdes to Bernadette in 1858, Bernadette
sought to know who she was, and Mary responded by saying, "I am the
Here she was, appearing to 14-year-old Bernadette and said to be
about same age as this visionary, identifying herself as she was at the
first moment of her existence, her conception in the womb of her
mother. Mary did not say "I am a result of an Immaculate
Conception" nor "I was the Immaculate Conception," she said
"I am." She identifies herself as she was at that very
first moment. It is supportive of the unborn being persons at
It is at and from the time of conception that a new life must be
respected, at the union of the reproductive cells
before implantation occurs. Whatever destroys the unborn's life
from conception on, is killing a human being and is wrong, whether by
surgical or chemical abortion, or whether by so-called birth control
pills that interfere with implantation and cause the death of the tiny
one. It is why embryonic stem cell research is so wrong. No
matter how little or undeveloped it is, a human life is destroyed in the
research. These practices
and anything akin to them, cry to heaven.
Scripture tells us our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.
Sadly some destroy that little temple a-building. They sacrifice
one where it should be safe, within the temple of its own mother. To
the sadness of heaven, they desecrate both the temple of the child and
While we are not immaculately
conceived as the Blessed Virgin Mary was, we've been treated as rather
privileged creatures ourselves. In the presence of her cousin
Elizabeth, Mary said of God, "...he that is mighty, hath done great
things to me; and holy is His name." We may join her in saying
this, for God has done great things for us as well. He
does so, by not only creating us in the first place, but also by making
our bodies temples of the Holy Spirit and by sharing His life with us
Road that Jesus would follow to the hill of the Cross, had its beginning
of the Annunciation and the Immaculate Conception that preceded it.
Our road of life is meant to intersect at the Crossroad of Calvary,
where the Redemptive Way will takes us across the earthly terrain to the
hill of heaven.
Above we see a portion of
of the Blessed Virgin in the Cathedral of Immaculate Conception in
Springfield, Illinois, a treasure on the wall surrounded by black and
gold Italian marble and located behind the altar. It
is copied from a painting done in 1678 by the Spanish Baroque painter,
Bartolome Esteban Murillo for the Seville Cathedral. This work is
also called The Immaculate Conception of Soult, because a general
of Napoleon's named Soult, confiscated it in 1813. In 1940, it was
returned to the Prado Museum.
While the doctrine of the Immaculate
Conception occurred at the outset of the Blessed Virgin's life,
the mosaic and the original seem to depict her Assumption into heaven at
the end of her earthly life. The privilege actually
spiritually fitted her for heaven from the very beginning. So
artistically depicted this way, apparently between earth and heaven, it
fits her special circumstances. This special privilige of
hers set the stage for her Motherhood of Jesus , and as such ,of
God. When Jesus was virginally conceived in her, which is separate
from her Immaculate Conception, there was a union of Heaven and earth.
It's interesting to note that Murillo painted her as a person, 180 years
before Mary declared herself as the Immaculate Conception to Bernadette.