Let’s get something straight about the Blessed Virgin’s Immaculate Conception, which we celebrate on December 8 (also the beginning of the Year of Mercy). First, this phrase does not refer to how Our Lady conceived Our Lord through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. It refers to how Mary herself was conceived, which was both unremarkable, in that she was conceived in the normal way that all of us were, and the most remarkable of all, because through a one-time-in-history intervention God prevented Original Sin, from which all humanity suffers, from passing to her.
In Latin, macula means “stain, blemish”. Our Lady is not just tidy. She is entirely lacking any “stain”, that is, sin. Mary alone was never, from conception onward, touched by or committed the two types of sin, “original” (passed from our First Parents to the entire race – with one exception) and “actual” (venial or mortal). God preserved Mary from all sin in view of the merits of His Divine Son, who, through her, would take our fallen humanity into an indestructible bond with His Divinity and be born into this world.
Therefore, we Catholics shower Our Lady with honours. She is Our Lord’s Mother and, since the Church is the Lord’s Mystical Body, she is the mother of us all, the Body’s members.
Speaking of Christ’s Body, Holy Church, here is something to reflect upon from St Augustine, who died the year before the Council of Ephesus (431) which defined much of our Marian doctrine. Augustine tends to reflect on Mary as being at the heart of the Church, rather than above it.
“Mary is holy, Mary is blessed, but the Church is something better than the Virgin Mary. Why? Because Mary is part of the Church, a holy member, a quite exceptional member, the supremely wonderful member, but still a member of the whole body. That being so, it follows that the body is something greater than the member. The Lord is the head, and the whole Christ is head and body. How shall I put it? We have a divine head, we have God as our head” (s 72A, 7).
We rightfully love to honour Mary, the Mother of God. She loves us when we honour her Son, whose daughter and perfect disciple she is. She conceived Him in her heart before she conceived Him beneath her heart. Thanks to the Immaculate Conception.