God wanted his Son to be virginally born of an immaculate woman. So, like Eve, God created Mary free from original sin. Eve, through her disobedience under the influence of Satan, brought suffering and death to the world. Mary on the other hand conformed to God’s will by agreeing to become the mother of the Redeemer. 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 8 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, viz. Sacred Scripture, Apostolic Tradition, and the 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 right from 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 salvation history.
Angel Gabriel greeted Mary saying: “Hail full of Grace” (Lk 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!” (Lk 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 saviour.” Based on her expression “my saviour,” some Christian denominations argue that Mary too was born with original sin like others, and later God cleansed her from it. The Catholic Church holds that the sovereign God preserved her soul from the stain of original sin right from the very moment of her conception in the womb of her mother Anne.
It was appropriate that Jesus, the Eternal Word, be incarnated in a spiritually sterile environment. God, who designed the wooden Ark of the Covenant which contained His words inscribed on two stone tablets, asked Moses to construct it with pure gold. The same God now designed the new ‘Ark’ made up of a pure soul, to be the giver of His Son’s flesh. Hence, Mary had a reason to rejoice uniquely in God, her saviour. Mary, like Eve, was created free of original sin 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 pronounced the dogma of the Immaculate Conception only in 1854, this belief was prevalent in the Eastern and the Western Churches from the early days. 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 Earth but lost the crown. Mary, the handmaid of the Lord, became the queen of Heaven and Earth.
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 Saviour of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin.”
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 24/25 March 1858 the Blessed Virgin Mary herself appeared in Lourdes to Saint Bernadette and confirmed this doctrine, saying “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
The Canticle of Mary (Lk 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 a resemblance to the Psalms and canticle of Hanna, the mother of Samuel (1 Chr 2:1-10).
(Lk 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, many 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 Saviour!
Mary is not a goddess. She knew that she was human, and God saved her at the very instant of her conception in the womb of her mother Anne. Though Jesus saves us through baptism after our birth, God gave Mary the unique privilege of being spared the contamination of sin right from the first moment of her life. She needed to be pristine pure to contain the most holy God in her womb. Thus, Mary called her yet-to-be-born son as her “God and Saviour.”
Mary’s spirit was filled with joy even during her sufferings. That is what we need to seek: joy in God our Saviour amidst the hardships of 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 reasonable doubt about becoming pregnant without loss of her virginity. Mary said to the angel: “I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me as you have said” (Lk 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 realised the magnitude of God’s blessings on 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” (Mt 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 sign of 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 for us as well.
(50) His mercy is from age to age to those who fear him
We must take the 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 Israel 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 hapless Israelites from the powerful Pharaoh through the mediation of Moses. The ten plagues that God inflicted upon the Egyptians and the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea were God’s show of strength. 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 undivided Israel and later the 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 AD 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 new manna, the Holy Eucharist, to nourish our souls. Those who trust in their wealth and are reluctant to share them with their less fortunate 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, firstborn, or spouse of God. Those comparisons helped to understand how Israel must be faithful and loyal to God in 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 to the people on his behalf and helped them turn back to him.
(55) … even as he promised our fathers, Abraham and his descendants forever
Besides the favours Mary received in her life, she was glorifying God for all He had done throughout the salvation history. She supported her son Jesus in his acts of redemption. 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.
1. We need to praise God both in good times and tough times. Along with the Blessed Virgin Mary, let us thank and praise God for all the favours we have received from Him.
2. Mary rejoiced in God. She expressed her joy in serving Elizabeth and the Holy Family. She continued her service for the early church and even now continues through her apparitions and intercessions. Let us join Mary in sharing our joy by offering a timely service for those in need.
3. We, Like Mary, must be humble so that God can work remarkable things through us. That is what we also see in the apostles and early Fathers of the Church. They offered themselves with humility at the service of the Lord.
4. Though we are born in sin, Jesus has cleaned us through baptism. Let us seek the help of Jesus and his mother Mary to keep up our sanctity through our prayers to God and service to humanity.
5. When someone told Jesus that his mother and brothers were standing outside wanting to speak to him, he said: “ ‘Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?’ Then he pointed to his disciples and said, ‘Look! Here are my mother and my brothers. Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, my sister, and my mother’ ” (Mt 12:48-50). Like Mary, let us also do the will of the Father.