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Sinless Mother Mary

One of my favorite feasts and dogmas is that of the Immaculate Conception, a teaching of the Church which has had a long and sometimes controversial history. There are even some contemporary critics of this dogma of faith who would argue that it overly separates Mary from the rest of us. Certainly, it is true that sinfulness is a reality ever present in our lives. We find it so difficult to be good. It is ironic that a few of the feminist theologians who image Mary as a strong and liberated woman, would then criticize this teaching and argue that Mary has been used as a device of oppression on the part of a male dominated hierarchy. It seems to me that quite the opposite may be true. The witness of Mary as the queen of the saints would emphasize that the greatest person to ever walk the earth next to the Lord, is this woman Mary. Genesis 3:9-15, 20 recalls the first Eve who with her husband turns away from God in disobedience. Psalm 98:1,2-3,3-4 might remind us that if Eve is the mother of all the living, Mary in her faithfulness is the mother of all who are reborn in her Son. She stands as a model of holiness for men and women alike. Her preservation from sin does not create an impassible chasm between her and us. Sin by definition adds nothing to us or to her. If anything, it is a lack of something which should be there — the grace and presence of Christ. Just as she carried the Lord, now we must avoid sin so as to be filled with his presence and life. Sin is that which divides and alienates. To wish this upon Mary would mean wanting separation from her and the Lord.

Like us, she is totally a creature. The saving grace which washes over us in baptism reaches from the Cross backward to the moment Mary is conceived in the womb. The Messiah whom himself is sinless would enter our world through the sinless portal of Mary.

Rarely do preachers mention how the mystery of the Immaculate Conception celebrates the beauty and holiness of marital love. Nevertheless, this is true when we look at the actual history of God’s intervention. Although Mary would conceive Christ through the overshadowing power of the Holy Spirit (see Luke 1:26-38); Mary’s conception as sinless elevates the significance of marital and sexual love as shared between Joachim and Ann. Couples raising families in this age would do well to recall that their children in baptism become as Mary, and even though they struggle to remain holy; they may be perfected as saints. As Mary is, we may become.

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.

2 Responses

  1. I happen to live in the County of Wiltshire where the capital City is Salisbury (this is in England, of course), and Salisbury Cathedral which was built well over 500 years ago was dedicated to The Immaculate Conception, so apart from the fact that there is no ‘Lady Chapel’ as the main altar serves as such, there was so much passed on by oral tradition. As proof and acceptance of the sinlessness of Mary (not through her own power but through God) this Church was conceived and built with this tradition in mind for the glory of God.
    Of course the Protestants stole it from us after the dissolution of the monasteries, but it still remains dedicated to her and that oral tradition was powerful enough then based on the Angelic Salutation of “Hail, full of grace”
    Also the oral tradition of the dogma of the Assumption has come down to us, again without any real ‘proof’ from the scriptures, which, after all, were simply written down oral tradition from times before, but there is a better ‘proof’ of that, in a bizarre way really, and it is this: Throughout Church history there has been an industry in the collection and supply of relics, especially first class relics, and bones and ‘bits and bobs’ have found their way into ornate gold presentation cases, and, although the relic itself can not be sold, these reliquiries with bones intact can make extrordinarily large sums of money.The theory is sound based on Biblical references to Elisha’s bones and Elijah’s handkercheif, and even St Peter’s shadow.

    Personally I find the whole business a bit distasteful, but I also see the sale of a Van Gogh for anything other than a few hundred dollars an anathema, anyway back to the main plot,

    If Mary, the Mother of God, The Immaculate Conception, did suffer earthly death and was buried, just imagine the ‘worth’ of those bones! They like the Van Gogh would bring out the greed in even the most pious Church members, but they have never been found. And that’s because they don’t exist.
    Mary was assumed into Heaven, body and soul, in a similar way to Jesus’ Assention I suppose, and somehow, well beyond my understanding, is part of the Beautific Adoration of God in that Paradise.
    Paul

  2. I do not understand the scriptural and theological basis for stating that Mary was sinless. As I read scripture I understand that only Christ was perfect and sinless, and therefore, the only perfect sacrifice. Can you explain please?

    FATHER JOE:

    Augustine and others believed that original sin was handed down in the human family through sexual generation. Parents pass on their fallen nature to their children. An analogy can be made with how a disease is sometimes transmitted. I know a child who was born addicted to heroin because his mother was a user. The poor baby went through withdraw symptoms and suffered terribly. Augustine borrowed this notion from how Jews saw the sin-guilt of parents revisited upon their children.

    Some of the early Church fathers argued for Mary’s sinlessness because she would be the vessel through which Jesus, the ultimate sinless one, would come into the world. The Church teaches that Mary was preserved from sin at the very first moment of her existence in the womb of St. Ann. Her parents, Joachim and Ann, would normally have passed on their fallen nature, like all such parents. However, there is a divine intervention at Mary’s conception. Jesus is the sinless one, not because of any intervention, but because he is God. The divinity cannot be in rebellion against himself. Sin and Christ’s divine personhood are in utter contradiction. Mary’s sinlessness is not so much for her own sake but to preserve the high dignity of Jesus as the Son of God. As the ancient sources would argue, it was not “fitting” that Jesus should be touched by sin in the womb.

    Many in the Church struggled with understanding this teaching. Indeed, the great doctor of the Church, Thomas Aquinas, could not figure how it could be so. After all, it was Catholic doctrine that Jesus is the Savior and that none are saved apart from Christ. Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life. He alone is the great Mediator between earth and heaven. As God, he is the only one who has the power to forgive sin. We are washed clean by faith and baptism. But how could Mary bypass that to which all other men are summoned to undergo?

    John Duns Scotus would be instrumental in explaining the “how” of this teaching, later defined as THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION (Mary). It was a given that only Christ’s saving death could remove the stain of sin. As a creature and human being, Mary like us all, needed redemption. However, in her case, just as the effects of Christ’s Cross touch us (forward in time) through faith and baptism; the merits of his oblation on the Cross were given to her in advance (backward in time) because of her providential role as the mother of Jesus. She is conceived without the stain of original sin. We believe she cooperated with God’s grace and never committed personal sin.

    Look at Luke 1:47 where Mary calls God her Savior (present tense). She does not say that God “will be” her Savior (future tense). God’s power and forgiveness cannot be restricted by time and place. Mary does NOT save herself. God saves her.

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