December 8, 2011
The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception
I'm not a theologian but I do want to offer a few thoughts on this beautiful feast day and I'm going to try to write for those who may not have a deep understanding of the Catholic faith.
First, it's a solemnity which is like a high holy day. A holy day would be something like the Feast of St. Nicholas which we celebrated on Tuesday. It's special, it commemorates something, but it does not have the importance that a solemnity would. A high holy day - a solemnity - is extra special, commemorating something that is intricately tied to our salvation.
The Immaculate Conception refers to when Jesus' mom, Mary, was conceived in the womb of her mother, St. Anne. (You may have confused it with the Annunciation - when Mary said Yes and conceived Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit.) Things between Anne and her husband, Joachim, were ordinary but the salvific grace of God spared Mary the stain of original sin.
So Mary was saved by Jesus' act of dying on the cross, just preemptively. (God being outside of time, remember.)
We believe this NOT because it makes Mary so super awesome but because of what it means about Jesus Christ Himself.
Along with calling Mary the Immaculata, we Catholics also call her the New Ark of the Covenant. The Ark of the Covenant of the Old Testament was beautifully crafted and completely pure, all according to the instructions of God. It was so pure and precious that no one could touch it except a high priest of God, hence the poles to carry it. That's why when the Nazi's got ahold of it their faces melted off. Okay, that didn't happen, but one man did touch it and was struck dead.
But the Ark wasn't special because it was an ark. Just like Mary's not special because she's Mary. It was special (she was special) because of what (Who) was inside.
The Ark carried in it Manna from Heaven, the Ten Commandments, and the priestly staff of Aaron.
Mary, the New Ark of the Covenant, carried within herself the Bread of Life, the Word of God, and the Great High Priest - Jesus.
We Christians understand that Jesus is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies and promises. Things that were hinted at in the Old Testament (like the manna that sustained the Jews) are revealed in the New Testament (read John 6 to hear Christ say that HE is the Bread of Life come down from Heaven and that we must eat His flesh and drink His blood to have life within us).
So when we say Mary is the Immaculata what we're really saying is that Jesus Christ is so super awesome that He deserves the best.