Answering Questions About the Immaculate Conception

The Immaculate Conception.

For non-Catholics, this dogma of the Church may be one of the most misunderstood doctrines there is.

Here are some common questions Catholics get, and how to respond to them:

Question:Why does Mary have to be holy at the moment of her conception instead of being purified shortly before God chooses her to be his mother?

Response:God chooses and elects those who are to cooperate in his plan of redemption from before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4), anticipating his plan. The Old Testament constantly shows how God chose his prophets and leaders at birth or while in their mothers’ wombs. This applies to individual prophets, to the people of Jacob, and to the city of Jerusalem, all types of Mary. But God goes beyond just calling them; he consecrates and sanctifies them in the womb. The same is true with the New Testament Holy of Holies, the womb that would carry the Redeemer, Immanuel, God with us.

Question:If Mary was free from sin, did she have temptations or have to suffer?

Response:The devil tempted sinless Jesus (Matt. 4:1-11): “Because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted” (Heb. 2:18), and “we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (4:15). The same may apply to Mary since, as his mother, she was fully human in every respect.

Another of Jesus’ temptations is his agony in the garden, which likely has a parallel in Mary’s heart as the cross draws near (Luke 2:35). In addition, when Mary and Joseph lose track of Jesus in Jerusalem (Luke 2:41-52), she suffers dearly: “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” Mary doesn’t understand Jesus and perhaps is tempted to lose faith, but she ponders his words and remains faithful.

Question:There’s kind of a domino effect here: if Jesus needed an immaculate mother, then Mary too would need an immaculate mother, who also needed an immaculate mother, and so on. How do we avoid someone, such as Adam and Eve, not tainting Mary’s line?

Response:Jesus could have become man without being born at all, but raised directly from the earth: “God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham” (Matt. 3:9). But the most appropriate way for God to show himself to be fully man without tainting his divinity with sin is by being born of a sinless virgin.

Mary didn’t need a sinless mother, because she was not God; she did not possess the divinity that would necessitate a sinless mother. It is Jesus Christ, the Word incarnate, whose divinity requires sinlessness. It is God who sanctifies Mary, not the other way around: “For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred . . . the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred?” (Matt. 23:17,19). It is not Mary herself, nor her parents, grandparents, etc., who make her sinless, but God.

We hope you enjoyed this question-and-answer excerpt from Fr. John Waiss's brand-new book
Bible Mary: The Mother of Jesus in the Word of God

Dec 8th 2023 Fr. John Waiss

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