On Dec. 8, the Church celebrates the feast of the Immaculate Conception (it’s a Holy Day of Obligation, so make sure you get to Mass)!
There are three common misconceptions about this feast day in particular that we’d like to bust wide open.
Myth #1: This is about Jesus’ conception
Nope. The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception celebrates Mary’s Immaculate Conception – the fact that from her conception in the womb of her mother, St. Anne, Mary was spared from original sin and received the gift of salvation in Christ. Mary was given this extraordinary privilege because of her unique role in salvation history as the Mother of God.
According to paragraph 490 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “…in order for Mary to be able to give the free assent of her faith to the announcement of her vocation, it was necessary that she be wholly borne by God’s grace.”
Jesus’ own conception occurred during the Annunciation, which is the moment of the Incarnation, when Jesus took on human flesh.
Myth #2: No one believed in the Immaculate Conception of Mary until 1854
While 1854 is when Pope Pius IX declared the Immaculate Conception as a dogma of the Church, this was not the first time it was believed by many of the faithful.
“We declare, pronounce and define that the doctrine which asserts that the Blessed Virgin Mary, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God, and in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, was preserved free from every stain of original sin is a doctrine revealed by God and, for this reason, must be firmly and constantly believed by all the faithful”, Pope Paul IX said in his Papal Bull Ineffabilis.
In a catechesis given in 1996, Pope John Paul II noted that while this was the first time that the Immaculate Conception was articulated as the official belief of the Church, it was a long-held belief for hundreds of years.
“Down the centuries, the conviction that Mary was preserved from every stain of sin from her conception, so that she is to be called all holy, gradually gained ground in the liturgy and theology,” Pope John Paul II said.
The Eastern Fathers of the Church “call the Mother of God ‘the All-Holy’ (Panagia), and celebrate her as ‘free from any stain of sin, as though fashioned by the Holy Spirit and formed as a new creature.’ By the grace of God Mary remained free of every personal sin her whole life long.” CCC p. 493
Myth #3: The Immaculate Conception has no Scriptural basis
There are numerous places in Scripture that support the idea that Mary was conceived without sin.
For example, in Luke’s account of the Annunciation (Luke 1:28-30), there is an indication of this truth:
“And [the angel Gabriel] came to [Mary] and said, ‘Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you!’ But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and considered in her mind what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.’”
Tim Staples of Catholic Answers explained in a 2007 article that many biblical scholars, as well as Pope John Paul II, believe that Mary was actually granted a new name or title in this passage.
“In Greek, the greeting was kaire, kekaritomene, or ‘Hail, full of grace.’ Generally speaking, when one greeted another with kaire, a name or title would be found in the immediate context. ‘Hail, king of the Jews’ in John 19:3 and “Claudias Lysias, to his Excellency the governor Felix, greeting” (Acts 23:26) are two biblical examples of this,” Staples notes. “The fact that the angel replaces Mary’s name in the greeting with ‘full of grace’ was anything but common.”
In this context as well as throughout the bible, “names reveal something permanent about the one named,” Staples said.
Furthermore, the title “full of grace” means that there would have been no room for sin in Mary’s soul, that she was “exceptionally, completely holy” and “fully without sin,” as Dave Armstrong noted in his 2017 article in the National Catholic Register.
There are numerous other examples in Scripture, in both the Old and New Testaments, of biblical support for the Immaculate Conception which Staples explains here.