By Father Brian Morris
Every year on December 8 we celebrate the feast of the Immaculate Conception. That day we, as Catholics, celebrate the fact that Mary was conceived without Original Sin. This is not the day that we celebrate the conception of Jesus, as many often confuse it for. That event we celebrate on March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation, which happens to be nine months before Christmas. I’ve always had a special devotion to this holy day because the first elementary school I attended in Fayetteville, New York, was named Immaculate Conception School.
Digging down a bit deeper, the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception was promulgated by Pope Pius IX in 1854. It means that Mary was preserved from Original Sin by the graces won by Christ on the Cross on Good Friday almost 50 years after her conception. Talk about time travel! That simply means that the graces that Christ won on the Cross are not limited to linear time as we see it. God exists outside of time, in “the eternal nunc” or “eternal now” as St. Thomas Aquinas would say. So He can use the graces won by Christ on the Cross at one point in time and apply them to points in the past or future, as we know that He does.
Also, a mere four years after Pius IX proclaimed the doctrine, in 1858, Our Lady appeared in a small grotto in Lourdes, France to St. Bernadette. It was only once our Lady told Bernadette “I am the Immaculate Conception” that she was able to convince her parish priest that the women she was seeing was in fact the Blessed Virgin Mary.
We not only say that Mary was conceived without Original Sin, we also that she never sinned in her life. But we are all cleansed of Original Sin in our baptisms, some of us at a very early age. Yet, we still sin after that. Thus, one might ask: Why is it that if we have been truly cleansed of Original Sin we still commit personal sin yet Mary did not?
The reason that we still sin is called concupiscence. Concupiscence is defined by the “Catechism of the Catholic Church” as “the movement of the sensitive appetite contrary to the operation of the human reason” (CCC 2515). Put simply, it is the desire to do something that our reason tells us is wrong. It is the disordering of our bodily or sub-rational desires above our rational desires. And when we give in to that disordered-ness, we sin.
St. Paul describes it in Romans 7:19 “I do not do the good I want, but I do the evil I do not want” and Jesus refers to it in the Gospels of Matthew (26:41) and Mark (14:38) when He says “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
Concupiscence is a consequence of Original Sin. You could say it’s like a scar that remains even after we’ve been healed of it. Whereas, since Mary never suffered from it, she does not have the scar.
Another way I have heard it described, Mary was saved from falling into the hole that is Original Sin, while we were saved by being pulled out. Hence, the consequences of falling into the hole, still exist for us.
One might then ask if Mary was ever tempted. Scripture does not record any instance of this, but it would not be a problem if she was. The difference would be that any temptation she felt would have come from outside of her. Since she does not have concupiscence, she would not be tempted in the way we are, by our own physical desires. Her reason would have perfect control over them. Instead, she may have been tempted by outside forces, like Satan.
We know that Jesus experienced temptations from Satan, and he was without Original Sin or concupiscence. Also, Adam and Eve experienced temptation from Satan despite being originally without sin or concupiscence (pun intended).
But where Adam and Eve failed, Christ and the Blessed Mother succeeded. They did not give in to the temptations of Satan and are hence called the new Adam and the new Eve.
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