Catholicism Explained - The Immaculate Conception

To paraphrase Aragorn: Someday I will put up a Catholicism Explained post early in the day...but it is not this day. 

(Note: because of my extreme procrastination, I feel that this post is exceptionally poorly-written. I may have to come back and rewrite it at a later date. So bear with me, and be sure to tell me exactly where I fell short in the comments, okay?) :)

We're three-quarters of the way through our discussion of Marian dogmas! So far, this series has covered the following topics:

Today we're going to talk about the Immaculate Conception.

The Immaculate Conception

by-grace-of-god:  Mary, most pure, lead us to your Son.:

When Catholics talk about the Immaculate Conception, they're referring to the belief that Mary was preserved from Original Sin from the moment of her conception. Because He knew the role she would play in salvation history, God gave her the supreme grace of being preserved from sin from the very first second of her existence. 

The Catechism explains it the best:

"To become the mother of the Savior, Mary 'was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role.' The angel Gabriel at the moment of the annunciation salutes her as 'full of grace.' In fact, in order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God's grace.

"Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, 'full of grace' through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854:

"'The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of Almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.'

"The 'splendor of an entirely unique holiness' by which Mary is 'enriched from the first instant of her conception' comes wholly from Christ; she is 'redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son.' The Father blessed Mary more than any other created person 'in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places' and chose her 'in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless before him in love." (CCC 490-492)


The Annunciation by Bartolomé Murillo:

As with Mary's perpetual virginity and her assumption into Heaven, Mary's Immaculate Conception is not explicitly put forth in Scripture. There's no part of the Bible that talks about Mary's sinlessness in great detail. Rather, this is a dogma which is drawn mainly from Oral Tradition and the consistent teaching of the Church through the ages.

+The Scripture verse which gives the single best evidence for the Immaculate Conception is probably Luke 1:28, in which Gabriel greets Mary, "Hail, full of grace!" Catholics have always understood this term "full of grace" as meaning "empty of sin." Mary was the only person besides Jesus who was free of sin.

Church Fathers

As with all dogmas, belief in Mary's Immaculate Conception can be traced back to the beginning of Church history. For an extensive discussion of this history, see this article. For a shorter and more readable argument, read this one.


So, why do Catholics believe in the Immaculate Conception?

Why would God give this special grace to Mary?

Well, basically it's because Mary is the Mother of God. Everything comes back to that. Because Mary had such an awesome vocation ("awesome" in the old sense of the word, awe-inspiring), God gives her awesome graces. 

God gives us the grace we need to carry out our calling, right? He always equips us with the exact things we need to get the job done. He'll never thrust upon us something we can't handle.

Being the Mother of God is something so big our human brains can't really fathom what it means. To carry the incarnate God in one's womb - to feed Him and clothe Him, shelter Him and nurture Him - to be the one He goes to when He's sad or afraid - that's a big deal. A really big deal.

It wasn't a job for just any woman. It was a job for a special woman. 

So God made one who would be perfect for the purpose.

In His infinite wisdom, He chose her from before she was born. At the moment of her conception, because she was destined to be God's mother, she was preserved from Original Sin. 

Mary didn't deserve this grace, just like we don't deserve anything God gives us. Like all graces, the Immaculate Conception was a free gift, totally unmerited. 

But like all gifts, it had to be accepted. Mary wasn't just a robot who did God's will because she had been programmed to obey; she freely chose to obey, at every moment of her life. It was a lot easier for her than it is for us, since she didn't have to deal with the effects of Original Sin on her soul; but she still did everything by her own choice. 

Mary, then, is the only mere human who was perfect - the only human who carried out perfectly God's plan for her life, the only human who turned out as God intended for all humans to be. In the beginning, God created man free of sin. He wanted us all to be immaculately conceived.

Adam and Eve ruined that plan when they sinned. 

A sinless pair were responsible for the Fall; it would take another sinless pair to be responsible for the Redemption. Jesus has long been acclaimed as the New Adam - the sinless man who undid Adam's terrible decision at the dawn of time.

And Mary is the New Eve - the sinless woman who undid Eve's act of disobedience with an act of obedience.

So that's another reason the Immaculate Conception is so important - it adds to the rich symbolism and parallel structure of the story that is Salvation History.

Yawn! It's 10:28 p.m. and I'm sleepy, dear people. Forgive my grousing - I know being tired is a terrible excuse for a terrible post. :) But hopefully even these ragged shreds of thought can spark some discussion! What are your thoughts on the Immaculate Conception? And what points in this article need the most improvement? (There will be an imaginary prize for the person who finds the greatest number of weak spots and poorly-executed points!) :)


  1. This is great, Lucy. I can't wait to see what you have for the last part of Marian discussion! ;D

    1. Glad you like it, Isi! :) I hope next week's post will be better.

  2. Alright, I’m way beyond fashionably late with this comment. But I said I would reply, so here I am.
    Nice introduction, with a little Lord of the Rings reference! You also do a good job with defining the Immaculate Conception, since that was where I was confused at first.

    One interesting note that I found on Luke 1:28: The words ‘full of grace’ come from St. Jerome’s 4th century Latin translation, when he wrote the Latin words ‘ave gratia plena’ in place of the Greek word 'kexaritomena'. In the original Greek version the words ‘full of grace’, 'plaras karitos', only appear two times. Once when mentioning Jesus in John 1: 14, and again when mentioning….Stephen, in Acts 6:8.

    That is a good descriptive significance section, which is always an important section to have. May I take a moment to bring up my own 'significance section'? Just to say a view thoughts of the non-Catholic view.

    'Kexaritomena' means highly favoured. God favoured Jacob, Romans 9:13. Jacob, the liar with a terribly dysfunctional family. Jesus chose Levi as his disciple. Levi, the tax collector. Now, I really do think that God was with Mary, helping her with her role. But I think the best strength is not something from one’s own purity, but rather God working through a person. This is significant because it means train wrecks, like me, don’t have to wait until we reach perfection to be worth something to God. I love the restoration that happens when God meets a broken person where they are at, they let him work, and from there amazing things happen.

    To wrap it up: my perception of immaculate conception is not being born perfect, but being born again.

    Thank you for your patience, Lucy!

    1. Wow, Blue, you really do your homework! I must say that paragraph on Greek and Latin stumped me. According to my research, "highly favored" means about the same thing as "full of grace." Even if the translation is more accurately "highly favored one" or something similar, the idea behind it is the same: Mary was given a very special gift. Here's an article discussing the translations and theology of Luke 1:28:

      I agree that God uses imperfect people to do great things. We don't have to be perfect to become holy. I think the key is that Mary didn't reach perfection on her own; she was given perfection as a remarkable, amazing, mind-blowing gift, and she accepted it. God gave her a gift greater than any he gave anyone else because she had a job bigger than anyone else's. (Always excepting Jesus, who was God, of course.) :) So we can take comfort knowing that God will always give us exactly what we need to do His will.


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