Gospel reflection: It must have been this way

Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Stained glass in the Church of Tervuren, Belgium, depicting Mary and the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Photo: Jorisvo/iStock
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Many of the Marian doctrines and feasts — so troublesome to those who hold that Scripture is the sole source of what can be known about Jesus and Mary — have roots in the earliest centuries of the Christian faith. These Christians seem to have had a certain intuition about Mary that had its roots in their reading of Scripture and their trust in God’s constancy throughout the ages. For example, since the first woman was created sinless in a pristine garden, surely must Mary, the “new Eve,” have been immaculately conceived in her mother’s pristine womb.

This intuition about the purity of Mary first appeared in a hymn written in the eighth century, in which she was called “alone holy without stain.” Apparently by the Middle Ages there was a grassroots faith that the Mother of God would have been kept free from all exposure to sin. Through the centuries this doctrine of her immaculate conception — not to be confused with the virginal conception of Jesus in her womb — gradually won such wide acceptance that Pius IX proclaimed it a dogma on Dec. 8, 1854.

Note the care with which the Church assigned these dates. Since Mary’s birth had long been celebrated on Sept. 8, her conception must have been a perfect nine months previous, Dec. 8. Again, it was an intuition that, where Mary was concerned, even the enigmatic timing of childbirth would be perfectly in tune with a perfect Creator.

  — Kathy McGovern


Readings:

Genesis 3:9–15, 20

Psalm 98:1, 2–3AB, 3CD–4

Ephesians 1:3–6, 11–12

Luke 1:26–38

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