God wanted a virgin free from original sin to give birth to His Son. So, Like Eve, God created Mary free from original sin. Eve, through her disobedience under the influence of Satan, brought sufferings and death to the world. Mary obeyed God by agreeing to Angel Gabriel to become the second Eve and cooperated with her son Jesus to redeem the world. Let us join Mary and Jesus to continue their mission through our obedience to God and humble service to humanity.
(Luke 1:46) And Mary said: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, (47) my spirit exults in God my Savior! (48) He has looked upon his servant in her lowliness, and from now on all generations will call me blessed. (49) The Mighty One has done great things for me, Holy is his Name! (50) From age to age his mercy extends to those who live in his presence. (51) He has acted with power and done wonders, and scattered the proud with all their plans. (52) He has put down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly. (53) He has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty. (54) He has come to the help of Israel, his servant, for he has remembered his mercy, (55) even as he promised our fathers, Abraham and his descendants forever.”
The church celebrates the feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8th based on the traditional belief and Catholic teaching that Blessed Virgin Mary was born without original sin. All the three pillars of the Catholic Church, Sacred Scripture, Apostolic Tradition, and Church Magisterium support the faith in the Blessed Virgin’s Immaculate Conception.
The Sacred Scripture
The Blessed Virgin Mary was in existence in God’s mind immediately after the fall of Adam and Eve. God told Satan: “I will make you enemies, you and the woman, your offspring and her offspring. He will crush your head and you will strike at his heel.” (Gen. 3:15). The woman here was not Eve but Mary and her offspring, Jesus the redeemer. Both Jesus and Mary would strike the head of Satan, and Satan would hurt both Jesus and Mary, the new Adam and new Eve. That happened in the salvation history.
Angel Gabriel greeted Mary saying: “Hail full of Grace.” (Luke 1:28). Mary’s fullness of grace is a sign that unlike other human beings, she is perfectly holy and free from any kind of guilt. That leads us to the conclusion that she was free from sin even before her birth.
When Elizabeth greeted Mary, she proclaimed: “You are most blessed among women and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” (Luke 1:42). Elizabeth saw two people whom God blessed: Mary, and her to be born son, Jesus.
In Luke 1:47, Mary sings, “my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” Based on her expression “my savior,” some Christian denominations argue that Mary was also born with original sin like others, and later God saved her from it. The Catholic church holds that God, who can have an exception in everything, saved her soul from original sin before she was born in the womb of her mother Anne.
Jesus, the Word of God was coming to a Holy Ark that should be free from contamination of any sin. God, who designed the Holy Ark of the Covenant, which contained the words of God in two stone tablets, asked Moses to construct it with pure gold. The same God designed the new Ark made of a pure soul to become the dwelling place of His Son. Hence, Mary had a reason to rejoice uniquely in God, her savior. Mary is God’s creation, made free from the original sin like Eve and selected to reverse Eve’s disobedience by her obedience to God. The Bible mentions Mary’s holiness in its various parts.
Though Pope Pius XI decreed the Immaculate Conception only in 1854, this belief was prevalent throughout the history in the Eastern and the Western Churches. The Early Church Fathers like Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Origen, Hippolytus, Ambrose of Milan, Gregory Nazianzen, Augustine, and others taught about the immaculate conception and compared Eve and Mary.
God created Eve as the mother of all humanity. He created Mary as the spiritual mother of all the faithful. Both were born free from original sin. Eve obeyed Satan and brought death to all. Mary obeyed Angel Gabriel, the messenger of God, and regained life by supporting her son. Eve, along with her husband, lost paradise. Mary backed her son to regain the lost paradise. Eve was the queen of the universe but lost it. Mary, the handmaid of the Lord, became the queen of heaven.
The Council of Trent taught that all people are born in original sin. However, the council excluded the Blessed Virgin Mary from it.
Pope Pius XI defined in his encyclical “Ineffabilis Deus,” on December 8, 1854 that “the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin.” (http://www.papalencyclicals.net/pius09/p9ineff.htm).
This papal proclamation of the Immaculate Conception was confirming the teachings of the Church fathers and the traditional belief. However, in less than four years on March 24/25, 1858 the Blessed Virgin Mary confirmed this doctrine by revealing herself in Lourdes to St. Bernadette: “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
The Canticle of Mary (Luke 1: 46-55)
Luke’s gospel presents three Canticles: that of Mary (1:46-55), Zechariah (1:68-79), and Simeon (2:29-32). Mary’s canticle has resemblance to the psalms and canticle of Hanna, the mother of Samuel (1 Chronicles 2:1-10).
(Luke 1:46) And Mary said: My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord.
The greatness of the Lord is manifest in the universe. Humans, even after centuries of research and studies, have not yet explored the boundaries of the universe or details of the secrets of this world. However, there are many who ignore God. Many Christians have abandoned their faith under the misconception that they are the masters of their lives with the support of modern science and prosperity. Like the contemporaries of Noah before the deluge, they disregard God and refuse to acknowledge the Lord’s greatness. Mary, when raised to a higher call, continued proclaiming the greatness of the Lord. Let us join Mary in praising God.
(47) My spirit exults in God my Savior!
Mary is not a goddess. She knew that she was human, and God saved her before her conception in the womb of her mother Anne. Though Jesus saved us through baptism after our birth, God saved Mary from the original sin’s contamination before her birth. She must be clean to contain the most holy God in her womb. So, Mary called her to be born son as God and Savior.
Mary’s spirit was filled with joy even during her sufferings. That is what we need to seek: joy in God our Savior amid hardships of our life. Mary found this joy in offering her service to her cousin Elizabeth in her tough times.
(48a) He has looked upon his servant in her lowliness.
Mary considered herself as the handmaid of the Lord. The same was her response to Angel Gabriel when the angel clarified her doubt on keeping up her virginity and motherhood together. Mary said to the angel: “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me as you have said.” (Luke 1: 38). She acknowledged her call with humility.
(48b) And from now on all generations will call me blessed.
When Mary surrendered to God and offered her service to Elizabeth, she realized that God blessed her. This also applies to the saints of the Church. They also did the same as Mary did, and so the church calls them blessed. Our call is to remain blessed and Mary is our model for that.
(49) The Mighty One has done great things for me, Holy is his Name!
Mary glorified God’s name because He who is Mighty had done remarkable things for her. At a later stage, Jesus taught us to start the Lord’s Prayer by saying, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” (Matthew 6:9). When we say, “Holy be Your Name,” we give glory to God. The first way to identify or to understand a person is knowing that person’s name.
The Israelites did not call God by name. In many cultures, people do not call those in authority or older than them by name as a respect for them. According to God’s 10 commandments, the name of God is sacred, and we cannot use that in vain. When we recite the Lord’s prayer, we also glorify the sacred name or the existence of God. What we are, is by the grace of God. Along with Mary, let us also glorify God’s name because He does remarkable things also for us.
(50) His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him.
We must take fear of God in the Bible in a positive sense. It means reverential obedience to God’s commandments. Fear becomes negative when one disobeys God. God withdraws his protection on us when we break our relationship or covenant with Him. That results in the victory of the enemies over us as it happened to the Israelites. When we lose immunity, our body is in threat of illness. God is our immunity when we keep up our covenantal relationship with him. The enemies were victorious over Israel when they disobeyed God or ignored the warnings He gave them through the prophets.
Those who love God will respect God and his directives given through his representatives. Mary’s fear of God was not a fear of punishment, but love and respect towards Him from her childhood. Those who are like Mary will benefit from God’s mercy. Israel always experienced God’s mercy whenever they feared God. Those who do not fear God will have to face the consequence of their actions at the last judgement.
(51) He has acted with power and done wonders, and scattered the proud with all their plans.
God liberated the helpless Israelites from the powerful Pharaoh through the mediation of Moses. The ten plagues God performed against Egyptians and the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea were signs of how God showed the might of His arm. Later, the glorious victory of Israelites at Jericho under the leadership of Joshua also exhibited God’s power. When the kings of Israel had an arrogant mind and heart, they faced failures. It is clear in the history of many kings of the United Israel and later divided Israel and Judea. Mary remembered the salvation history and acknowledged God’s providence in the past.
(52) He has put down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly.
We see this in the Old Testament and New Testament times. The lowly apostles and other disciples of Jesus came up high in the history while the Roman army destroyed the Jewish leaders in 70 A.D. at the fall of Jerusalem.
(53) He has filled the hungry with good things, but has sent the rich away empty.
When Israelites were wandering for 40 years in the desert, God fed them by sending manna from heaven. Jesus gives us a new manna, the Holy Eucharist, to nourish our souls. Those who trust in their wealth and reluctant to share them with their fellow human beings, go spiritually empty, especially at the last judgement.
(54) He has come to the help of Israel, his servant, for he has remembered his mercy.
The Bible presents Israel as a servant, first born, or spouse of God. Those comparisons helped to understand how Israel must be faithful and loyal to God in the human terms. God had made a covenant with the people through Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, and Jesus. Even when the humans failed to keep the covenant, God remained faithful to the covenant and showed mercy to his people when they turned towards him seeking His forgiveness. God even sent prophets in time to speak on behalf of Him and helped them turn back to God.
(55) … even as he promised our fathers, Abraham and his descendants forever
Besides the favors Mary received in her life, she was glorifying God for all He had done throughout the salvation history. She became the co-redeemer with her son Jesus. She reflected God’s promise to Abraham, the father of all the faithful, and continued and renewed through his selected descendants. While Abraham is the father of faith and promise of salvation, Mary is the mother of all the faithful and the mother of salvation.