Maria, Holy Maria, Mother of God. Public Domain. Courtesy Pixabay.com
As Catholics, we dedicate Saturdays to our Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary. With that in mind, I wanted to briefly discuss one of the Marian dogmas which is integral to our understanding of Mary, and that often serves as a stumbling block for non Catholic Christians: the Immaculate Conception.
As a Protestant, I did not give much thought to the Virgin Mary, or to any role she might have played in salvation history. An important figure, no doubt, but not one to be venerated or honored as “ever virgin,” the Queen of Heaven, or especially not as the “immaculate one.” The Mary I knew was very ordinary, though favored by God, and she merely served as a vessel for our Lord. To claim Mary was sinless, in my mind, would have been a nonstarter; I simply would have rejected such a claim out of hand. Never in a million years would I have dreamt that one day I would fondly look to Mary as my own spiritual mother.
Briefly, I would like to give some textual evidence from the Bible that helped me come to understand and eventually accept this often misunderstood Church teaching. This in no way is an exhaustive list of evidence, but hopefully it will shed some light on why the Church claims that the Virgin Mary, from the time of her own conception in her mother’s womb, remained free from sin.
One comparison that the early church fathers often made was to compare the Virgin Mary to The Ark of the Covenant. Just as the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament housed the presence of God, Mary housed God himself. The Fathers of the Church did not arrive at this comparison by chance, but examined the scriptures and found unmistakable similarities. The following are a few of these comparisons taken from the New and Old testaments…
2 Samuel 6:9; 12-14: “
David became frightened of the LORD
that day, and he said, ‘How can the ark of the LORD
come to me?’…When it was reported to King David that the LORD had blessed the household of Obed-edom and all that he possessed because of the ark of God, David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom into the City of David with joy.
As soon as the bearers of the ark of the LORD
had advanced six steps, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling.
Then David came dancing before the LORD
with abandon, girt with a linen ephod.”
Luke 1:41-44: “When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the holy Spirit,
cried out in a loud voice and said, “Most blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.
And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?
For at the moment the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy.”
Two things are worthy of mention here: The language that both David and Elizabeth use regarding what has come to pass, and the reaction of both in the presence of the Lord. Elizabeth and David both are astonished and their utterances almost track one to one. “
‘How can the ark of the LORD
come to me?'” (2 Sam 6) and “How does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1). Both are bearers of the divine presence. Also, do not miss the fact that both David and John the Baptist do their own forms of dance before the Lord. There can be no question that Luke, the gospel writer, had this comparison in mind and was thereby trying to make an important point: Mary is the new Ark of the Covenant.*
So what? Ok, she may have been the new ark, but that doesn’t prove that Mary was herself sinless, right? To answer that question we must look back at the attributes of the Ark of the Covenant. According to Exodus 37, the ark was meticulously constructed with the finest materials including solid gold, and that it was an ornate structure with representations of cherubim and the like. This was no ordinary box into which the Lord’s presence was to condesend. So holy was the Ark, in fact, that no one could touch it. 2 Samuel 6:7 gives the account of Uzziah who, for attempting to steady the Ark, was struck dead when he touched it. Sinful hands could not touch the Ark unscathed. Likewise, it is fitting that the Virgin Mary, the “theotokos” or God bearer, would be without sin so as to hold God himself within her very being.
As an aside, it is important to bear in mind when discussing the Immaculate Conception that Mary in no way was the source of her own sinlessness; she too was in need of a savior (Luke 1:47). This, however, does not contradict the Church’s teaching. Mary, unlike the rest of us, was saved by a prevenient grace which prevented her from sinning in the first place. Mary, though highly exalted, is a creature of God who needed salvation. Sorry, no “quadrinity” here.
As we celebrate each Saturday, dedicated to Our Blessed Mother, may we never be afraid to embrace the Church’s teachings and to take them to a world in desperate need of the truth.
Peace be with you!
*For more Biblical insight into Mary as the new Ark, see Revelation chapters 11 and 12.
All textual citations were taken from the New American Bible translation.