On December 8 we celebrate the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Critics of this teaching point to the fact that it is not a Biblical term. This is true. However, it might be best called “Biblically-based”, as the entire sacrifice of the Cross is based on this concept. Essentially, from the early Church forward, Jesus is recognized as sinless. To avoid inheriting the sinful human condition, formerly called “Original sin”, God, through a singular act of grace, preserved Mary from the stain of sinfulness when she was conceived in the womb of St. Anne. If her sin was not blocked, she would have passed down her flawed human condition to her son, Jesus. If that were to happen, the Cross would have been reparations for his own sinful nature. By Mary being immaculate, Jesus did not inherit a sinful and flawed human nature and the Cross would be a sacrifice for us.
Although they may not have used the precise term “Immaculate Conception,” the early Church honored the Blessed Virgin Mary as sinless since Her conception. As early as 80 AD we see the start of this concept; “So the Virgin became a mother with great mercies. And she labored and bore the Son, but without pain, because it did not occur without purpose. And she did not seek a midwife, because he caused her to give life” (Odes of Solomon 19). Justin Martyr, an early Christian writer, proposed; “[Jesus] became man by the Virgin so that the course which was taken by disobedience in the beginning through the agency of the serpent might be also the very course by which it would be put down. Eve, a virgin and undefiled, conceived the word of the serpent and bore disobedience and death. But the Virgin Mary received faith and joy when the angel Gabriel announced to her the glad tidings that the Spirit of the Lord would come upon her and the power of the Most High would overshadow her, for which reason the Holy One being born of her is the Son of God. And she replied ‘Be it done unto me according to your word’ [Luke 1:38]” (Dialogue with Trypho the Jew 100 [A.D. 155]).
In 235. A.D. Hippolytus, a most respected priest and theologian of Rome wrote: “He was the ark formed of incorruptible wood. For by this is signified that His tabernacle was exempt from putridity and corruption.” Mary is prefigured by the ‘incorruptible’ wood which is an allusion to Her conception without sin and Her having never committed any personal sin. And Origen wrote in 244 A.D.: “This Virgin Mother of the Only-begotten of God, is called Mary, worthy of God, immaculate of the immaculate, one of the one.” St. Ephrem (306-373 A.D.), a Syrian Deacon and Doctor of the Church, wrote: “Thou and Thy mother are the only ones who are totally beautiful in every way. For in Thee, O Lord, there is no stain, and in Thy mother no stain.” Perhaps the strongest statement comes from St. Augustine; “Having excepted the holy Virgin Mary, concerning whom, on account of the honor of the Lord, I wish to have absolutely no question when treating of sins—for how do we know what abundance of grace for the total overcoming of sin was conferred upon her, who merited to conceive and bear him in whom there was no sin?—so, I say, with the exception of the Virgin, if we could have gathered together all those holy men and women, when they were living here, and had asked them whether they were without sin, what do we suppose would have been their answer?” (Nature and Grace 36:42 [A.D. 415]).
In 1693 Pope Innocent XII raised this feast day to the rank of “Double of the Second Class” with an octave for the Universal Church. December 8th became a Holy Day of Obligation in 1708 under Pope Clement XI. Pope Pius IX, in 1854, made it a “dogmatic proclamation”. This proclamation was deemed infallible and was fully described in the First Vatican Council.