Tomorrow is the feast of the Immaculate Conception. I know that the manner in which Catholics view and treat Mary can be an issue, by many Christians it is viewed as blasphemous, not just error. I sympathise with that viewpoint; when I returned to the faith I walked alongside many of my Protestant brothers and sisters and I had concerns about this too. However through prayer I began to view Mary with new eyes.
Mary Is A Mother Devoted To Her Son
I love her. She is my mother in law and as such she wants to share with me her love of her Son. Any woman who is married knows the manner in which a good mother does this in regard to her son; after all, when our children are fully grown you wish to continually refer to their special moments growing up. This becomes more and more of an inconsequence to others, of little interest. Yet mothers get to share this love and knowledge in a new and special way with a wife, the Church, in love with her husband – in Mary’s case through the rosary.
Immaculate Because of The Miraculous
So what is this feast about? Is it not a way to elevate Mary to the standing of Jesus? The language is confusing. Jesus was conceived through the Holy Spirit, His was a Miraculous Conception. Mary was conceived without sin, hers is an immaculate conception, meaning that the stain of original sin was kept from her.
Catholics often refer to Mary as the New Eve. Eve was tempted, fell and as a result her and Adam’s subsequent sin led to the fall of mankind. Eve was the one to take the fruit, disobeying God. Yet Adam, who was meant to protect and was stood with her at the time, took the same fruit and ate also. Adam didn’t protect and failed in his duty of leadership.
However Mary, the New Eve, is protected from sin by the New Adam, her Son Jesus. For many Protestants this is a difficult teaching, they often state the scriptural passage which states that “all have sinned”. However Catholics point to the Angel Gabriel’s greeting to Mary;
“Hail Mary, full of Grace”.
THE KING CONFERS HIS STATUS ON HIS QUEEN
You see Catholics believe that Mary’s immaculate state draws from the work of redemption Jesus completed here on Earth. Although Jesus walked on Earth in a specific time in history, He is God, and God is not constrained by time. Mary – who is not only Jesus’ mother, but the spouse of the Holy Spirit – was blessed as God planned His deliverance of humanity to be executed in this manner and therefore Mary’s immaculate state was required.
We can certainly see this being mirrored in the world. When Prince William and Catherine Middleton announced their engagement we saw how the benefits of her marriage vow’s “Yes” to him was drawn into her treatment not only prior to the marriage, but prior to the engagement as well; both negative and positive.
The press focused on her, giving her horrible nicknames such as ‘waity Katie’, following her around, disparaging her relationship and her family.
In no other engagement is there such public scrutiny; it happens in these cases because of who the groom is and his relationship to the kingdom and that’s the same for Mary. Her Immaculate Conception happens because of who He is.
There is a difference in Jesus and Mary’s situation than William and Catherine’s. In ancient Israel there weren’t Queen’s through marriage, but Queen’s through motherhood. Remember, early kings had many wives, so a mother alone held a special place.
Because of the way God chose to redeem the world it was necessary she should be without sin
God willed his Son to take on human flesh, hence the need for the immaculate state of Mary to avoid the heresies that were discussed in the early Church.
She needed to be physically pure because of the physical nature of His birth.
For Jesus to be fully human he had to be born, to occupy a womb. How would a woman survive carrying Jesus in a sinful state? One of the reasons we believe there is a need for redemption is to reconcile us with God, precisely because we cannot live in His presence in the state we are now. God cannot be present with evil, He will destroy that which contains it.
We only have to look back to the Old Testament to see this; the early Israelites could not put a foot on the base of the mountain where God’s presence was to reside without purging themselves of sin or they would die. The prophets on being in the presence of God at some distance all expressed the same fear, they would die and had to have some intervention by God to ensure this wouldn’t happen.
In order for God’s plan of redemption to be carried out it was necessary for Jesus to be fully human and therefore Mary to feed and nourish Jesus in the womb physically with no barrier between them.
She needed to be pure to be able to teach Him.
When people query the need for suffering in the world we speak of God’s plan for humanity to be good, but that necessarily means the capacity to choose evil as well as good. In order for people to be truly good we must will it, hence evil.
So humanities journey here on Earth is one of developing the wisdom of what goodness is.
Jesus also, to be human, had to develop His understanding. We constantly have a nurture, nature debate; are we who we are because we are born that way, or are we who we are because of our environment. There is certainly evidence for both. However if we return to the argument about the existence of evil and suffering we once again see that to be human is to learn, so an element of nurturing is necessary. Our sinful, human parents discipline and correct us as well as God and this was the case for Jesus too.
In order for God’s plan of redemption to be carried out it was necessary for Jesus to be fully human and it was necessary for Mary to be truly open to the will of God, so sin could not be in her to create a barrier between her and God.
I was asked by someone once why Mary was treated differently from the rest of humankind, why didn’t God do that for everyone?
When it’s necessary God treats some humans in a Unique way
Well firstly let me point out that God doesn’t treat everyone the same. There is Biblical evidence of God treating people differently. In Hebrews 11:5 Paul talks of Enoch’s faith leading to him being taken up to heaven. He was certainly different to the rest of mankind (and evidence for the assumption too, for if God did this for Enoch wouldn’t Jesus do this for His mother?).
We know too that others drew on Christ’s redemptive act prior to the Act itself. During the Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8) Jesus was seen talking with Moses and Elijah. On Earth Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land because of his sin, yet there he was conversing with Jesus. He could not have been there unless he was able to draw on the Grace of Jesus’ redemptive work.
As children of God we are individuals and a community; a reflection of the Trinity
So why not all mankind? The Church describes itself as the Pilgrim Church, referring to the fact we learn knowledge both communal and individually. To make one woman purely open to the will of God through her sinless state does not alter this need, but she is also able to learn and experience through the sinful humanity of others.
I said that Catherine’s status was both a blessing and not, the same is true for Mary. The pain she endured due to her immaculate nature and the mission of her Son must have been intense. Her sinless state meant she felt more as she watched His pain as there was no selfishness in her, she loved purely and completely and so suffered in the same way.
This means that Mary, who always new that the mission of Jesus would end in the cross, also loved humanity. She did so to the extent that seeing the minor suffering of the bride and groom who were embarrassed by their lack of funds for wine at the wedding of Cana she acquiesced to Jesus’ implication when He said to her : “Woman what is that to me?”
In other words if I act now my mission will start. Mary’s “Do as He tells you” was modest, self-sacrificing and her own version of Jesus’ “Thy will be done”.
By this act Mary undoes the devastation caused by Eve’s disobedience to Adam with her obedience to her Son and therefore God’s.
Ave Maria, gracia plena.
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