A few days ago, I was struck with a realization about the Blessed Virgin Mary. As is often the case, she stands in a unique position that clarifies ideas; she is as the moon reflecting the light of the sun. In this case, she is proof positive–as if we needed it–that Catholics do not, contrary to much misinformation, believe that persons are saved by meriting salvation through good works.
Essentially, the dogma of the Immaculate Conception states that the Blessed Virgin Mary received from God the graces of Jesus’s salvific work from the very moment of her conception. She did not exist for even one infinitesimally small fraction of a second before being redeemed–that’s right, “redeemed.” She was literally conceived without the stain of original sin by a unique grace of God. It is simply not possible–it is a formal impossibility–that Mary could have performed any meritorious action prior to her conception, for she did not yet exist. Once again, a Marian doctrine serves to safeguard and bolster other doctrine, in this case, the teaching that nobody merits any grace from God, especially salvific grace, apart from God’s grace. (I can merit grace from God, but that only happens by cooperating with grace which he first offered, thereby making God the first cause of my meritorious action.)
That is enough to make me glory in God’s wisdom manifested in Catholic teaching, but we have time to go one step further.
I begin with a question: Why was Jesus’s human nature free from original sin?
Jesus was conceived by Mary. Original sin is transmitted by generation–that is all we know about its transmission. Jesus was/is truly the offspring of Mary, having received his human nature and half of his genetic material from her, as well as gestating in her womb. Accordingly, if Mary bore the stain of original sin, then Jesus would have needed not only to be conceived of the Holy Spirit but would further have needed a unique grace of God to be kept free from the stain of sin present in Mary. So, if Mary was not the recipient of the unique grace of God to be kept free from the stain of original sin, then Jesus was.
There is no escape from an immaculate conception; either Jesus or Mary was uniquely graced as being preserved from inheriting the stain of original sin. That is merely the product of reason. As to which one was so graced, I trust the folks who have incessantly preserved the teaching of the Immaculate Conception.