Fr Billy Swan
The dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary was announced by Pope Pius IX in 1854 but was widely believed in the Church long before that.
It states that ‘from the first moment of her conception by a singular grace and privilege of Almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Mary was preserved immune from all stain of original sin’ (Ineffabilis Deus, 1854). But what does all this mean? Before we begin, like all matters of faith, we must keep before us the initiative of God in all of this.
The Immaculate Conception of Mary is based on two things:
(a) Mary’s unique vocation to be the mother of Jesus and
(b) Mary’s unique role in the Church as the first Christian and model of all others.
Firstly, Mary was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to her unique role as mother of Christ. Because she was to be mother to the Son of God and for him to take his human nature from her, it was fitting that at all times, even from her conception, that she would be in perfect relationship with God. It was inconceivable that sin, or separation from God, would be part of her life at any stage because of her relationship to her Son. This is why the Church has referred to her down the ages as ‘full of grace’. As the wording of the dogma suggests, Mary was preserved from the state of original sin by the grace of God and by the saving work of her Son. In this sense, Mary is redeemed and transformed like the rest of humanity.
Secondly, the dogma concerns all of us as Church. Mary, as the first Christian, accepted the word of God so completely that literally, the Word of God, Jesus Christ was born of her. As such, she represents the Church before God. With the Church she contemplates God’s word and His saving love for his people. What happened to her we hope will happen to us. The dogma of the Immaculate Conception shows us the beauty of a person in perfect relationship with God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The life of every Christian is called to show forth Jesus Christ perfectly. Together in community we strive to be ‘true images’ of Jesus, full of grace like Mary.
The life of Mary most accurately reflects that of her divine Son. She loved Jesus, and so her life, from the moment of her conception shows forth perfectly the life of Christ and the life of every Christian. We learn from her attitude. She was utterly at God’s disposal. She was ready to respond to whatever God asked of her. Her life was rooted in him. She responded joyfully to His Word. She emptied herself, realizing her complete dependence on God for all that really matters in life. As Christians who are on a journey of growth through life and who strive to become more Christ like, Mary is the perfect example of one who, by God’s grace, has reached that final goal for which we aim. As we grow older we learn that we will never fully eliminate by our own efforts, the weaknesses we possess. Rather they become like the weeds that grow among the wheat that will remain until life is over and the harvest is ready to be begin (cf. Matthew 13: 18-23). In this life we try to befriend our weaknesses and to see them as a constant reminder that we need God to come and save us. In this struggle, Mary is our mother, our friend and our companion on the journey.
The image of the Virgin is found in the Church. Mary had a faith that your Spirit prepared and a love that never knew sin for you kept her sinless from the first moment of her conception.
Trace in our actions the lines of her love, in our hearts her readiness of faith. Prepare once again a world for your Son who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.’
From Mass of Immaculate Conception; Opening Prayer.