Why Catholics Believe in the Immaculate Conception
It was Mary’s closeness to Christ that made her receive God’s “fullness of grace” to be sinless. Without God’s grace, it would have been impossible for Mary to be sinless, and she too would be like the rest of humanity. However, because of her decision to say, “yes” in giving birth to Christ, she was given a special privilege by having no sin touch her. Catholics believe that God wanted a perfectly pure woman to carry His Son, the God of the universe, for nothing else short of perfection would do.
The Immaculate Conception of Mary continues to be a major disagreement point by other Christian denominations towards the Catholic faith. Many people say that the Immaculate Conception somehow takes away from Christ’s glory and message. Some will say that this belief in Mary is not found in the Bible, or that it blatantly contradicts the Bible’s words. There are also thousands of people who mistakenly believe what the Catholic Church teaches about the Immaculate Conception, which unfortunately has lead to many misguided opinions. What evidence do Catholics have to defend their belief in Mary’s Immaculate Conception?
Evidence from the Scriptures:
“And the angel came in unto her, and said, hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.” – Luke 1:28
It is the term “full of grace” that is emphasized by the Church when dealing with Mary’s Immaculate Conception. The title “full of grace” comes from the Greek word kecharitomene, which describes a “perfection” and “abundance” of grace. In other words, Mary was proclaimed by the angel to be with a perfection of grace, which was a very powerful statement. How can Mary be completely and perfectly with God’s grace, yet still have sin left in her? Christians eventually came to recognize that it was extremely possible for Mary to be without sin, especially if she was completely filled with God’s grace. Luke 1:28 happens to be the only place in the Bible where anyone is addressed with the important title of “full of grace.”
“the Holy Ghost shall come upon you, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow you: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of you shall be called the Son of God.” – Luke 1:35
Luke 1:35 shows Mary as the Ark of the New Covenant. According to the Old Testament, the Ark of the Covenant was the pure and holy vessel that held the Ten Commandments (the Old Covenant). The Ark was so holy in fact, that if anyone where to touch it they could actually fall down and die! It was housed in the Holy of Holies, which was a perfectly clean place where the Jewish high priests could enter only once a year according to their law (See Lev. 16:2-4). So how are Mary and the Ark related? The same language that describes God’s “dwelling” place for the Old Ark is used again for Mary’s overshadowing by the Holy Spirit. Put another way, the Old Ark held God’s Ten Commandments and could not be touched by human hands because of its holiness. Mary, the New Ark, holds the New Covenant in her womb, which is Jesus Christ. How much holier is Christ than the Ten Commandments? It only makes sense that for Mary to hold God in her womb, she too would be completely pure and without any sin.
“I will put enmity between you and the woman, between your seed (offspring) and hers; He (she) will crush your head while you strike at his (her) heel.” – Genesis 3:15
What does the book of Genesis have to do with Mary’s Immaculate Conception? Genesis 3:15 is the first passage in the Bible that refers to Jesus defeating Satan on the cross. It is also the first verse that shows us how Mary would become the New Eve. The seed of the woman, who would crush the serpent’s head, is Jesus. The woman at enmity, or hostility with the serpent, is Mary. It was God who put this hostility between Mary and Satan (the serpent), and it is believed to be in the same likeness as Christ’s hostility for the seed of the serpent. What exactly does all this mean? For Mary to be like Christ in His hostility for Satan forever, it is very possible to say that this passage implies Mary’s lack of sin. What better way is there to be in total hostility with Satan than to be in God’s constant grace? As the New Eve, Mary undid the “no” of the Old Testament Eve by saying, “yes” to carry Jesus.
Pope Pius IX officially defined the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception in the year 1854. He did so with the understanding that this belief would help the Catholic faithful grow spiritually towards Christ. The belief that Mary was without sin was not “invented” as numerous people mistakenly think. Many are still under the false impression that the Immaculate Conception was not believed until the year 1854 when it was defined. What they fail to realize is that the belief itself has extremely strong roots in Church writings going well back into the 4th century.
“Every personal sin must be excluded from the Blessed Virgin Mary for the sake of the honor of God.” – St. Augustine, 390 AD.
“Mary, a virgin not only undefiled but a virgin whom grace has made inviolate, free from every stain.” – St. Ambrose of Milan, 340-370 AD.
“You, and your Mother are alone in this. You are wholly beautiful in every respect. There is in you, Lord, no stain, nor any spot in your Mother.” – St. Ephraem, 350 AD.
In fact, there are literally dozens of cases where early Church fathers have mentioned Mary as being without sin, using such words as “All-Holy One,” “All-Sinless One,” and “Immaculate.” It proves that the idea of Mary’s sinlessness was not uncommon in the first few centuries of the Church. As time passed, the Eastern Church began to show its strong love for the Immaculate Conception with its own feast day beginning in the 8th to 9th century. By the 12th century, the Western Church was celebrating the feast of the Immaculate Conception all over Europe, and by the end of the 15th century, it was universally recognized and defended as true Christian doctrine.
Feast Day in the USA – December 12th
OUR Lady of Guadalupe – Guadalupe, Mexico (1531)
Patroness of the Americas
The opening of the New World brought with it both fortune-seekers and religious preachers desiring to convert the native populations to the Christian faith. One of the converts was a poor Aztec Indian named Juan Diego. On one of his trips to the chapel, Juan was walking through the Tepayac hill country in central Mexico. Near Tepayac Hill he encountered a beautiful woman surrounded by a ball of light as bright as the sun. Speaking in his native tongue, the beautiful lady identified herself:
“My dear little son, I love you. I desire you to know who I am. I am the ever-virgin Mary, Mother of the true God who gives life and maintains its existence. He created all things. He is in all places. He is Lord of Heaven and Earth. I desire a church in this place where your people may experience my compassion. All those who sincerely ask my help in their work and in their sorrows will know my Mother’s Heart in this place. Here I will see their tears; I will console them and they will be at peace. So run now to Tenochtitlan and tell the Bishop all that you have seen and heard.”
Juan, age 57, and who had never been to Tenochtitlan, nonetheless immediately responded to Mary’s request. He went to the palace of the Bishop-elect Fray Juan de Zumarraga and requested to meet immediately with the bishop. The bishop’s servants, who were suspicious of the rural peasant, kept him waiting for hours. The bishop-elect told Juan that he would consider the request of the Lady and told him he could visit him again if he so desired. Juan was disappointed by the bishop’s response and felt himself unworthy to persuade someone as important as a bishop. He returned to the hill where he had first met Mary and found her there waiting for him. Imploring her to send someone else, she responded:
My little son, there are many I could send. But you are the one I have chosen.” She then told him to return the next day to the bishop and repeat the request. On Sunday, after again waiting for hours, Juan met with the bishop who, on re-hearing his story, asked him to ask the Lady to provide a sign as a proof of who she was. Juan dutifully returned to the hill and told Mary, who was again waiting for him there, of the bishop’s request. Mary responded:
“My little son, am I not your Mother? Do not fear. The Bishop shall have his sign. Come back to this place tomorrow. Only peace, my little son.” Unfortunately, Juan was not able to return to the hill the next day. His uncle had become mortally ill and Juan stayed with him to care for him. After two days, with his uncle near death, Juan left his side to find a priest. Juan had to pass Tepayac Hill to get to the priest. As he was passing, he found Mary waiting for him. She spoke:
“Do not be distressed, my littlest son. Am I not here with you who am your Mother? Are you not under my shadow and protection? Your uncle will not die at this time. There is no reason for you to engage a priest, for his health is restored at this moment. He is quite well. Go to the top of the hill and cut the flowers that are growing there. Bring them then to me.” While it was freezing on the hillside, Juan obeyed Mary’s instructions and went to the top of the hill where he found a full bloom of Castilian roses. Removing his tilma, a poncho-like cape made of cactus fiber, he cut the roses and carried them back to Mary. She rearranged the roses and told him:
“My little son, this is the sign I am sending to the Bishop. Tell him that with this sign I request his greatest efforts to complete the church I desire in this place. Show these flowers to no one else but the Bishop. You are my trusted ambassador. This time the Bishop will believe all you tell him.” At the palace, Juan once again came before the bishop and several of his advisors. He told the bishop his story and opened the tilma letting the flowers fall out. But it wasn’t the beautiful roses that caused the bishop and his advisors to fall to their knees; for there, on the tilma, was a picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary precisely as Juan had described her. The next day, after showing the Tilma at the Cathedral, Juan took the bishop to the spot where he first met Mary. He then returned to his village where he met his uncle who was completely cured. His uncle told him he had met a young woman, surrounded by a soft light, who told him that she had just sent his nephew to Tenochtitlan with a picture of herself. She told his uncle:
“Call me and call my image Santa Maria de Guadalupe”.
A brief history of the holiday
The first time the birth of Jesus Christ was attributed to the date December 25 was in the 4th century, according to early Roman history. Early celebrations of Christmas are thought to have derived from Roman and other European festivals that marked the end of the harvest, and the winter solstice.
Some customs from those celebrations that have endured include decorating homes with greenery, giving gifts, singing songs, and eating special foods.
The holiday developed further with the legend of St. Nicholas. Although much of his history is unconfirmed, the man who became St. Nicholas lived in the 4th century and is believed to have been a bishop in Asia Minor.
Many miracles attributed to him are dubious at best. Nevertheless, some countries named him their patron saint. He also is considered the patron saint of, among others, children (for protecting them), sailors (whom he reputedly saved at sea), and the poor (to whom he generously gave gifts).
In his honor, the Feast of St. Nicholas was marked on December 6 and gifts given the night before. The tradition was well established in many European countries by the 12th century. Eventually, because St. Nicholas’ Day and Christmas Day are so close together, their traditions generally were combined.
St. Nicholas took on different personas in different countries. For example, The Netherlands have Sinter Klaas; Father Christmas gives gifts in Great Britain; Père Noël does the same in France; and in Germany St. Nicholas has had many names including Klaasbuur, Burklaas, Rauklas, Bullerklaas, and Sunnercla, although Father Christmas is becoming more popular. In the United States, the Dutch settlers’ Sinter Klaas evolved into Santa Claus.
Birth of Jesus – Bible Story
This is a summary on the Biblical account of the birth of Jesus. You can read more in-depth Bible verses from the Scripture below to understand the meaning behind this world-changing event in the Bible. Almost 2,000 years ago a young woman from the town of Nazareth named Mary was visited by an angel named Gabriel. Gabriel told the Jewish woman that she would have a son named Jesus and that he would be the Son of God. At this time, Mary was engaged to her soon-to-be husband Joseph. When told Joseph he was hurt and confused because he did not believe Mary. The angel Gabriel visited Joseph and told him that Mary would be pregnant from the Lord and that she would have a son named Jesus who would save the people from their sins.
Mary and Joseph had to travel to Bethlehem because of an order from the Roman emperor that a census, or record, of all people be taken in their hometown. After traveling pregnant on a donkey for several days, Mary and Joseph arrived in Bethlehem and were told that there were no places to stay. The inns were full. Seeing that Mary was due at any moment, an owner of an inn told Joseph that they could stay in his stable.
Mary and Joseph settled down on the hay in a stable with animals sleeping. Mary went into labor and Jesus was born in the stable. The only place for the sleeping baby to rest was most likely in the animal’s trough, known as the manger.
During this time, an angel appeared to shepherds who were watching their flocks in the fields near Bethlehem. The angel told them the good news of the birth of the Savior and Messiah, Jesus Christ. The shepherds immediately went to find baby Jesus, which the angels told them they would find sleeping in the manger.
After some time, three wise men, also known as magi, saw the brilliant star in that sky that rested over where Jesus was born. The three wise men traveled from a far eastern country to find the new king. During the wise mens trip, Herod the king of Judah, met with the wise men and told them to come back and let him know where the baby king was so that he could go worship him as well. The wise men continued to Bethlehem and found Jesus right where the star pointed .They knelt and worshipped the Savior and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. They then traveled back home a different way knowing that King Herod was not intending to worship Jesus but that he planned to kill the baby.
Today we celebrate the birth of Jesus and the coming of our Savior at Christmas time.
Feast of St. John, Apostle and Evangelist
St. John, the Evangelist, who is styled in the Gospel, “the beloved disciple”, was a Galilean, son of Zebedee and Salome, and brother to St. James the Greater, both of whom were fishermen. The two were called by Jesus to be disciples as they were mending their nets by the Sea of Galilee.
Jesus showed St. John particular instances of kindness and affection above all the rest. He had the happiness to be present with Peter and James at the Transfiguration of Christ, and was permitted to witness His agony in the Garden. He was allowed to rest on Our Savior’s bosom at the Last Supper, and to him Jesus confided the care of His holy Mother as He hung dying on the Cross.
St. John was the only one of the Apostles who did not forsake the Savior in the hour of His Passion and Death.
It seems that St. John remained for a long time in Jerusalem, but that his later years were spent at Ephesus, whence he founded many churches in Asia Minor. St. John wrote his Gospel after the other Evangelists, about sixty-three years after the Ascension of Christ; also three Epistles, and the wonderful and mysterious Book of the Apocalypse or Revelation. He was brought to Rome and, according to tradition, was cast into a caldron of boiling oil by order of Emperor Domitian. Like the Three Children in the fiery furnace of Babylon, he was miraculously preserved unhurt.
He was later exiled to the Island of Patmos, where he wrote the Apocalypse, but afterwards returned to Ephesus.
In his extreme old age he continued to visit the churches of Asia. St. Jerome relates that when age and weakness grew upon him so that he was no longer able to preach to the people, he would be carried to the assembly of the faithful by his disciples, with great difficulty; and every time said to his flock only these words: “My dear children, love one another.”
St. John died in peace at Ephesus in the third year of Trajan (as seems to be gathered from Eusebius’ history of the Saint); that is, the hundredth of the Christian era, or the sixty-sixth from the crucifixion of Christ, St. John then being about ninety-four years old, according to St. Epiphanus.
Sources: Encarta 96 Encyclopedia, World Book, Encyclopedia Brittanica
Excerpted from Heavenly Friends, St. Paul Editions
Edited by: Evan Macklin