The feast of the Immaculate Conception, celebrated by the Catholic Church on December 8 each year, can sometimes cause confusion about the question of Mary’s redemption.
The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, proclaimed in 1854 by Pope Pius IX, states that Mary was free from all stain of original sin from the moment of her conception. Thus, Mary’s Immaculate Conception. In other words, she was in a state of grace from the very beginning and free from sinful inclinations.
Early Church Fathers wrote that Mary’s conception and birth were foreshadowed in the Book of Genesis, drawing a parallel between Eve and Mary.
Eve was instrumental in the fall of man when, in the Garden of Eden, she succumbed to Satan’s tempting. She ate of the forbidden fruit and then convinced Adam to do the same. The result was the consequence of original sin and the closure of the gates of heaven.
Mary was instrumental in man’s salvation by becoming the Mother of Jesus, thus opening the door to his humanity. In a nutshell, Mary undid what Eve had done, providing the means — Christ — by which man could again pass through heaven’s gate. That’s why Mary is often referred to as the New Eve and Christ as the New Adam.
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
They will strike at your head,
while you strike at their heel. (Gen 3:15)
A second Scripture passage points, not only to Mary’s instrumentality, but also to her sinlessness.
In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin’s name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. (Lk 1:26-30)
Mary was favored by God. Some Bible translations use the phrase “full of grace.” That meant she was in the state of grace and completely free of all sin. This, along with the fact that the woman was in enmity with Satan, affirms that Mary must have been conceived immaculate.
If that’s the case, did Mary even need redemption?
The answer is, Yes.
Mary still was a human being like the rest of us. But, she was given preventative redemption, meaning that the grace she was given at her conception was in anticipation of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross.
To put it simply, Mary was prepared in a special way to become the Mother of God. For that purpose, she was immaculately conceived.
Why is this important to you and me?
It’s important because it gives us the perfect role model for following Christ. Mary is what we should strive to become. St. Ambrose said it like this:
“Mary’s life should be for you a pictorial image of virginity. Her life is like a mirror reflecting the face of chastity and the form of virtue. Therein you may find a model for your own life . . . showing what to improve, what to imitate, what to hold fast to” -St. Ambrose of Milan – Doctor of the Church, The Virgins, 2:2:6, 377 AD
In his mind’s eye, God has an image of what we would be had we never been touched by original sin. That’s what we’re called to discover and continuously strive toward as disciples of our Lord. Looking to Mary provides us with a detailed outline of what that new self or personal ideal should be.
Mary was granted preventative redemption so that she could worthily conceive and bear the Son of God. She conceived and bore Jesus so that the gates of heaven would be re-opened and so that we could spend Eternity there.
When Mary appeared to St. Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, France in 1858, she instructed her to live a very holy life and to seek heaven above all things. Then she told her, “I am the Immaculate Conception.”
Yes, Mary needed to be redeemed for her own sake, her Son’s sake, and for our sake.