What we believe about Mary can make a huge difference in what we believe about Jesus and about our own salvation. That’s why certain truths about Mary’s life have been defined as dogmas. A dogma is a teaching that the Church has defined as a truth that is essential for our faith. One of these Marian dogmas is the Immaculate Conception, defined by Bl. Pius IX in 1854. Simply put, we must believe that: “The most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception ... was preserved free from all stain of original sin.” (Ineffabilis Deus)
Why should Mary’s sinlessness be considered so important? What difference does it make to the rest of our faith?
Some might say that Mary needed to be sinless so that she could give birth to a sinless child, Jesus. But this doesn’t quite add up. After all, if Mary had to be sinless in order for Jesus to be sinless, then St. Anne, Mary’s mother, would have to be sinless too. And St. Anne’s mother would have to be sinless as well, and so on.
Rather, I would propose that we understand Mary’s sinlessness in the light of God’s overall plan of salvation. Let’s take a step back and ask ourselves: how is it that we are saved? God became a human being, he took on our human nature in the person of Jesus. He became like us, so that we could become like him. He shared in our human nature, so that we could share in his divine nature. In short, we are saved by being made members of the Body of Christ.
But Mary is in a totally unique situation. The Incarnation, God becoming flesh, is essential for our salvation, but Mary is essential for the Incarnation. We are saved by being joined to the Body of Christ, but Mary is the one from whom Christ received a body in the first place.
We are like branches that are grafted into the Tree that is Christ. Mary is the soil in which Christ is planted. So while we are redeemed by our being joined to Christ, Mary must have already been saved in order to give birth to Christ.
Mary is no doubt saved by God, but she is saved in a singular way that corresponds to her totally unique role in God’s plan of salvation. While we are cleansed from sin in baptism by being united to Jesus Christ, Mary must be preserved from sin so that she might bring Christ into the world. So while we are members of the Body and Christ is our Head, Mary is the Mother of the whole Christ: Head and Body. She is the Mother of God, and our Mother.
So on the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, we celebrate the great gift of our salvation, given to us by God the Father, in Jesus Christ, through the Blessed Virgin Mary. Let us honor her as our Immaculate Queen who, by God’s grace, has made our salvation possible.