Catholic Classroom: Immaculate Conception of Mary
Question: Was Mary born with original sin?
Catholics hold the belief that the Blessed Virgin Mary was born without original sin. This belief is referred to as the Immaculate Conception. The concept of the Immaculate Conception goes back to the early Church Fathers, but it was not officially defined by the Church until 1854.
It does not explicitly say anywhere in Scripture that Mary was born without original sin. However, the term “original sin” also does not appear in Scripture. Theologians developed this term to help explain the sinful nature of humans following the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Human beings inherited this “original sin” after the Fall.
Catholics believe that Mary is an exception to this, however. In the Old Testament, God demands a pure, spotless tabernacle to hold His Presence. This was the Holy of Holies in the Ark of the Covenant. Likewise, He requires a pure, spotless human tabernacle to hold His Presence in the Incarnation. Through His saving grace, He created Mary as spotless—that is, without sin—from the moment of her conception. God prepared her to be the perfect vessel to bring Jesus into the world.
We can see evidence in Scripture that implies Mary’s sinless nature. When the angel Gabriel greets Mary, he says, “Hail, full of Grace!” (Luke 1:28). In Greek, the word Gabriel uses is kecharitomene, which translates to “fully graced.” Gabriel uses the perfect passive participle, so the conjugation of the word suggests that the graced nature of Mary is a present reality and an action that has already been completed—that she was before and is now fully graced. To be fully graced is to be free from sin.
A common argument against the Immaculate Conception is that it detracts from Jesus by suggesting that Mary did not need a savior. However, we can see that Mary did indeed need a savior. Her saving was simply anticipatory and preventive. By God’s grace, she was born without sin instead of having her sin removed as in baptism. Theologians have described this using the example of a person falling into a hole. A person can fall into a hole and be rescued, the same way that baptism rescues us from original sin. However, if someone is prevented from falling into the hole in the first place through special intervention, they are preserved from any ill effects of the fall. This is the state in which Mary was conceived. God created her as the perfect means to give birth to the Messiah.
Do you have a question about the Catholic Faith you would like to see featured on the Catholic Classroom blog? Ask your question in the comments!