December 8th, Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
Today the Church celebrates the conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in which she was preserved from every stain of original sin. Not the moment after, but in the very moment itself of her animation (the moment when her soul was created), Mary was safeguarded and kept free from original sin.
We may well state that the moment of her creation was likewise the moment of her redemption. Perhaps we may go so far as to state that, in our Lady, creation and redemption are one single act.
However, many Protestants will claim that Catholics make Mary equal to Jesus by claiming that she was without sin. What must a Catholic respond to this absurd accusation?
The dogma itself
The dogma of the Immaculate Conception states that Mary was preserved from original sin not by any good thing found within herself (i.e. not by any merit of hers), but wholly by the foreseen merits of her divine Son.
God, looking upon the redemption which was to be accomplished in Christ Jesus through his suffering and death, applied the merits of the Cross to the soul of our Lady in the very first instant of her conception so that she should be free from original sin.
The definition of Blessed Pope Pius IX: “We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds 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, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.” (Ineffabiliis Deus, 1854)
Mary would have been subject to original sin, but not Jesus
Excepting for this singular grace, Mary would have been subject to original sin. However, even if our Lady had been stained with sin (both original and even actual sin), Jesus would nevertheless have been totally free from all sin.
This is the great difference between our Savior and our Lady – Mary’s Immaculate Conception depends upon Jesus being sinless, but Jesus’ sinlessness does not in any way depend upon the Immaculate Conception. Our Savior is not sinless because Mary is without sin, but he is sinless and free from original sin precisely because he was conceived not by the power of man but by the power of the Almighty and the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. Because the soul of our Savior was created and formed wholly by the power of the Holy Spirit and in no way by the active power of any human being, our Lord did not (and could not) contract original sin from Adam.
Furthermore, by virtue of the fact that he is a divine Person, it is wholly impossible and utterly contradictory that our Savior could have contracted original sin from Mary or have ever committed an actual sin.
Mary was free from original sin only by virtue of a singular grace. But Jesus did not need any grace beyond that of the hypostatic union itself to be free from original sin.
Mary, free from sin, was redeemed
Mary is not equal to Jesus because she was redeemed. Though this redemption occurred in the very same act which was her creation, God did indeed need to redeem our Lady.
However, Jesus was not redeemed, and he had no need of savior. He is free from sin because he is God, and because his human soul was formed by the Holy Spirit. He received his human nature not from man, but from God (as did Adam himself) – though, of course, he received his body from our Lady, and in this sense we say that our Lord took our nature from her.
All have sinned
Sometimes, Protestants will quote Romans 3:23 – All have sinned and do need the glory of God – as proof that Mary was a sinner. In this, they blaspheme twice: once against our Lady, and once against the Holy Spirit who inspired the Scriptures.
First, we state that, if St. Paul means to state that “all” have contracted original sin, then we would be forced to believe that Christ too was stained by original sin. But we know that Jesus was without sin, therefore, we know that St. Paul does not mean to state that all are burdened with original sin. At the very least, Jesus is an exception to the statement All have sinned.
In fact, St. Paul is not speaking about original sin at all. Rather, he is clearly speaking of actual sins – since original sin is not included in the active verb “have sinned”. We cannot state that a child, conceived in original sin “has sinned”.
Therefore, we know that there are literally billions of exceptions to St. Paul’s statement that all have sinned, since every child conceived in the womb who died before birth or who died before the age of reason, though conceived in original sin, has not sinned. Any who have died before acquiring the use of reason cannot truly be said to “have sinned” – thus, there are billions of children who are exempted from St. Paul’s all.
Thus, given that this passage is not even referring to original sin (but rather to actual sin) and given that there are already billions of exceptions to this verse, this one verse can in no way be used as a counter-proof against the Catholic dogma of the Immaculate Conception.
Immaculate Virgin and our Mother Mary, Pray for us!