What is the Immaculate Conception?
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary is observed each year on December 8. This holy day of obligation is an important day in the liturgical calendar, and it celebrates a centuries-old doctrine that was officially defined by the Church in 1854. Even though it is so important, there is still often misunderstanding about this holy day. Some people, for instance, think that the Immaculate Conception celebrates the conception of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. In fact, the Immaculate Conception celebrates a different conception entirely: that of the Virgin Mary.
Mary is part of a plan that God set up for generations to prepare for the birth of His only begotten Son. God chose Mary before she was born to bear Jesus, with the important caveat that she retained her free will—she could have said no. Because God chose Mary, He gave her a special grace unique to humans: she was born without original sin (Jesus, being fully God and fully man, also did not have original sin). The conception of Mary without original sin is what we celebrate in the Immaculate Conception.
We know that, through baptism, the blemish of original sin is washed away. The difference in Mary is that she never had original sin in the first place. Jesus is still her savior, since she was still saved from original sin—she was simply saved preemptively, rather than after the fact.
Why is it so important that Jesus’s mother be without blemish? The answer goes all the way back to the Old Testament. During the time of Exodus, God instructed Moses to build a chest that would be His dwelling place on earth. This chest, known as the Ark of the Covenant, held the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments, manna, and the priestly rod of Aaron. The ark was made of the purest materials to hold these important items, and the Israelites carried it wherever they went.
With the New Covenant of the New Testament, we have God present among us in a new way, in Jesus: the Word of God incarnate, the Bread of Life, and our great High Priest. He is the law, the bread, and the rod made flesh. Mary, in bearing Christ to the world, became the Ark of the New Covenant, and so she, too, could only be made of the purest materials.
The pure virgin without sin conceived and bore a son, Jesus. Let us celebrate today the spiritual purity of the Ark of the New Covenant. Mary Immaculate, pray for us.