What is the Immaculate Conception?

What is the Immaculate Conception?

Written by Rachel Kell, a Catholic wife, mother of four, and blogger at www.rachelkell.com

I cannot be the only one who was confused about the Immaculate Conception in childhood or early faith life. In the heart of Advent, we celebrate a sinless conception, and despite the singing of traditional Marian hymns at the Mass of Holy Obligation, it stood to reason that we would be celebrating the impending birth of Jesus. While the Immaculate Conception does point us back to Christ and God’s plan for our salvation, it is in fact about Our Lady, who was conceived free from Original Sin (“Immaculate” referring to her unstained state at conception, not to be confused with a virgin birth).

In the Beginning

It is also about a time long, long ago in a garden far, far away…

Adam and Eve lived intimately with God in the Garden of Eden. He walked in their midst. He spoke to them. He gave them dominion over His creation with one explicit order: Not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, lest they be doomed to die. (Gen 2:16-17)

Ignorance, in this case, was bliss.

God knew that both good and evil existed - and He knew that in their state of free will, humans would forever struggle between the two if faced with temptation.

Ignorance, in this case, was love.

Satan manipulated that love, and in doing so original sin was brought into the world through Adam and Eve. They turned away from God in their disobedience. They were banished from the garden, as were their descendants, who would inherit that state of Original Sin. (Romans 5:12)

Original Sin

If we are to understand the significance of Mary’s Immaculate Conception, we must understand the implications of Original Sin. Sin is what separates humans from God. God dwelled with His creation until their distrust of His promise caused them to disobey, and the punishment was distance. First, they hid from Him, naturally distancing themselves in their sinfulness before being banished from the Garden, physically severed from God’s presence.

God did something else when sin entered the world: He saved Mary from it. He told Satan: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.” (Gen 3:15) It is Mary’s offspring that strikes Satan, and therefore it is Mary who is granted enmity from the devil.

Apart from this reference in Genesis to the Mother of the Redeemer, we are first introduced to her in Luke 1:28. The angel Gabriel addresses her as “Mary, full of grace” in our English translation. However, the Greek for “full of grace” is “kecharitomene”, which means “having been graced”. While Mary would have been full of grace after having been graced, the distinction is important. The form of the verb “graced” indicates that it was done completely in the past. Mary was graced fully. If something is full, there is no more room within. If Mary is full of grace, there is no room for sin.

And how could there be? Sin is distance from God, and there was no distance between God and Mary. He dwelled within her, both as Spirit and as Son. The Lord was with her. (Luke 1:28)

Solemnity Origination

On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX formally dogmatized the long-held belief of the Immaculate Conception of Mary in his Encyclical Ineffabilis Deus. The document outlines both the biblical and traditional foundations for the dogma as well as clearly stating the definition:

“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.”

Being conceived free from Original Sin does not exempt Mary from free will or personal sin, and therefore does nothing to diminish the significance of her acceptance of God’s call to bear His Son. It should instead serve as a reminder that when God calls us, He equips us. God did not put the salvation of the world on hold until a girl from Jerusalem lived a pure enough life to be worthy of His Son. He chose her from the beginning of time and equipped her from conception to be in full union with Him. It was only through the fullness of His grace that there was no room for sin in her life, and He still asked for her cooperation and awaited her willingness.

In the Immaculate Conception, we witness the truth of God’s love for us: He has a plan, and we have a part. We are created with a purpose and designed specifically for it. He will not ask what we cannot give, but His request will never be so meek that we can accomplish it on our own. May we trust His plan and mold our will to fully offer Mary’s perfect answer when we are called: “Let it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38)


  • Eve

    So beautifully written! You are amazing!
    Stella & Tide replied:
    We’re so grateful for your kind words, Eve. May God bless you and yours!

  • Joyce Payne

    I agree God created us all with specific gifts for a destiny only we can complete.
    As we do accept our destiny we will feel fulfilled as we are equipped by the body of Christ so we can be mature and fulfill it…
    And that destiny is always affiliated with sharing the gospel of His love with the lost the bound the sick and miraculous life of Jesus transforms and brings freedom and healing from His miraculous love and grace
    Stella & Tide replied:
    Well said—we completely agree. Thank you for sharing, Joyce! We sincerely appreciate your insights.

  • Marian Lewis

    Stunningly beautiful
    Stella & Tide replied:
    We’re glad you enjoyed this post, Marian. Thank you for your comment!

  • Deborah Fackett

    This was the most beautiful and enlightening explanation of Mother Mary’s Immaculate Conception
    Stella & Tide replied:
    Thank you so much for your kind words, Deborah. God bless!

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