Whenever we reflect on Psalm 51:5 that says, in our mothers’ womb we were conceived in sin and born in iniquity, and in Romans 3:23 St Paul gave a universal affirmation to it when he said, “all have sin and fallen short of the glory of God,” then we can say that humanly speaking, it becomes illogical or irrational for one to say that the Blessed Virgin Mary was conceived without sin and that she did not fall short of the glory of God. In that case, it implies that Mary does not need salvation. Thus, if we rely on this erroneous view, it becomes difficult for the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary to be accepted by the Church; this had lead to a great debate among scripture scholars and theologians that lasted for many centuries. The debate was what caused the delay in the acceptance of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, not until Pope Pius IX in his Apostolic Constitution, “Ineffabilis Deus” declared it a dogma in 1854.

In the Catholic Church, there are four Marian Dogmas, namely, the Divine Motherhood, the Perpetual Virginity, the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption of Mary into Heaven. Today, the Holy Mother Church invites us to celebrate the solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. The doctrine states that, “The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.” (Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, 1854: DS 2803. Also see CCC 491). This miraculous conception was confirmed in the Angelic salutation: “Hail, Full of Grace” (Lk. 1:28). According to Duns Scotus, Mary profited more from the work of Her Son, Jesus Christ through Her preventive immunity from original sin. Hence, Mary was saved from the time of Her conception. This, according to Fr. Paul Abhulimen, is “the retroactive application of the redemption of Her divine Son from the time of Her conception. It is retroactive because before God there is neither time nor a succession of event.” Thus, Mary was chosen before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before God in love, as stated in the second reading of today (Eph. 1:4), while in today’s first reading (precisely Gen. 3:15), God declared: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed…” Beloved in Christ, for total enmity to exist between Mary and Satan, She needed to be free from the satanic seed, the seed of sin that entered the world through Adam and Eve.

However, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary as we have seen, is in The Sacred Tradition of the Church, although not explicit in the Bible but implicit. There are two main traces of the Immaculate Conception of Mary in the Bible: The first is the Angel Gabriel’s visit to the Virgin Mary in today’s gospel reading. The Angel said to Mary, “Full of grace!” in Greek, it is “KECHARITŌMENĒ” (Lk. 1:28). The word “KECHARITŌMENĒ” is made up of three parts: Ke-charitō-menē. “KE” is a perfect tense or a previous event that is still happening. “CHARITO” means unmerited favour or gift. “MENE” means a female receiver. Therefore, Mary was full of grace all Her life not just from the moment the Angel greeted Her but from Her conception till the end of her earthly sojourn.

More so, the second trace is that, Mary is the “Ark of the New Covenant” because She carried Jesus in Her womb. As we all know, the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament was made of wood to carry the two stone tablets containing the Commandments God gave Moses (Ex. 25:16). So we could say that the Ark contained the word of God and Mary contained Jesus the Word of God in Her womb. So, for that reason Mary is given the title, Ark of the Covenant. Furthermore, in the Old Testament those who were called on to move the Ark of the Covenant could not be in the state of sin because the Ark was considered so holy since it carried God’s word (1Chron 15:14). No wonder in 1Chron 13:7-10, God killed a man named Uzzah because he touched the Ark with the intention of rescuing the Ark from falling to the ground when David was dancing before it. In like manner, Mary, who is the new Ark of the Covenant, could not be touched by sin, because light and darkness cannot work together.

Beloved in Christ, our celebration today challenges us in four ways:

(1) To be chaste both in body and in soul. It is true that our society is heavily loaded with moral decadence such as: ritual killings, kidnapping, embezzlement of funds, sexual immorality and other vices that corrupt the human body and soul and even men of God who ought to be custodians of moral values have been consumed by it in one way or the other. As priests and priests to be, chastity of life ought to be our way of life, thus a necessity. Celibacy without chastity is a contradiction. It is like a religion without sacrifice, and as such, we must not wait for experience to teach us lessons before we are to remain faithful to the celibate life.

(2) Like the new Eve, we are invited to triumph over temptation to sin. We should not glory in sin.

(3) Like Mary in her “Fiat” we are invited to be obedient to God in totality, and;

(4) We are invited to seek the maternal intercession of Mary. With the words of Pope Francis we say, “let Mary help (us) fall in love with Jesus.”

Finally, beloved in Christ, what interest God more is how we live our lives. That is to say, it may not be our fault that our parents gave birth to us in the state of sin, but it will definitely be our fault if we refuse to cooperate with the grace of God and later die in sin.

LET US PRAY: O Mary, Mother of our Lord, may we say yes to Your Son’s will; and stay faithful with one accord. Through you, God’s calling, we shall fulfill. Amen.