Three Things About the Immaculate Conception that Might Surprise You!
By Sr. Mary Ann Zimmer, ND
I know the amount of time per year you spend pondering the Immaculate Conception is probably less than a nanosecond but, please, humor me!
1. The Immaculate Conception is not about Jesus’ conception but Mary’s. I always found that a great number of my students assumed that “Immaculate Conception” was about Jesus’ conception–thinking that it is called “immaculate” because no sex was involved! No and no. Over the years of my teaching in high school and college, I thought it important to push back against this error just in the interest of correcting a basic misconception. More importantly, I wanted to push back against the idea that the scriptural account of Mary’s virginity was a rejection of the positive gift of human sexuality. Again, no. The announcement of Jesus’ conception speaks of Mary’s virginity to demonstrate that her child was to be a pure gift of God’s unassisted power. For the same reason, I refuse to sing the verse of a contemporary hymn that calls Mary “. . . Virgin mother undefiled.” What does that make other mothers?
2. Did you know that ordinary people were the driving force behind the conviction that Mary was conceived without original sin? This conviction did not originate with theologians or bishops but was an early pious assumption about what God would want to do for the mother of Jesus. The theologians had to argue it out later and articulate how and why such a privilege is possible and fitting.
3. Finally, this exception does not make Mary some kind of superwoman—separating her from the rest of us. It does not make Mary more than human. If there is anything church teaching has insisted on from the beginning of its reflection on Mary, it is that she was fully human. Why is this so vital? Because the theological argument for the full humanity of Christ is his conception and birth of a human mother. The ancient councils arguing about his nature concluded that he couldn’t be passed off as human only in appearance or only in body and not in mind or soul. He is fully like us because he began as we all do with human motherhood.
You might say that Mary is unique in the sense that the salvation offered to all was “pre-ordered” for her while the rest of us had to wait until the regular release date. The salvation that was given to her is what has been obtained for and shared by all.