The Immaculate Conception: Mary’s role in our salvation story
Thursday 8th December 2022Today we celebrate The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary – a joyful feast that recognises the unique role Our Lady plays in the story of salvation.
The Church teaches that “The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Saviour of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.”
This wonderful feast is a day of hope – marking that moment Our Lady was conceived free from sin and the beginning of God’s great plan of redemption for all humanity.
To find out more about the solemnity and Mary’s unique role in history, we caught up with Canon Michael Cooke, Vicar General and Parish Priest at Our Lady of Hope Parish in Salford. Click here to watch the video or read the transcript below:
“Over the years, I’ve often heard people misunderstand this feast, thinking that the Immaculate Conception is about the moment when Mary conceived Jesus at The Annunciation.
“But this feast, the Immaculate Conception, is actually about the moment when Mary herself was conceived by her parents, Joachim and Anne.
“God had a plan for Mary – as He has for each of us – and so, from the moment she came into existence, God was preparing her to cooperate with that plan.
“He was also rewarding her in advance by allowing her to share already in the benefits and graces of what Jesus would ultimately bring about through His death and resurrection.
“One of the ways that the Church describes Mary is as the New Eve. The readings for the Mass of The Immaculate Conception help us to understand this. The Gospel is the story of The Annunciation, and that helps to remind us of the important role that Mary played through her cooperation with God in bringing about the birth of Jesus Christ: the New Adam.
“Adam and Eve feature in the first reading from the Book of Genesis, where we hear about how Adam disobeyed God by eating fruit from the tree that God had asked him not to eat from. In that disobedience, Adam – the father of all humankind – effectively taints the whole human race, bringing about original sin. In that same story from Genesis, Adam is quick to point out to God that “it was the woman that you put with me, she gave me the fruit and I ate it.” So Eve, described there as the mother of all who live, is also to blame for the breakdown in the relationship between the human family and God.
“Jesus came into our world to restore that relationship. He is the New Adam, the one who leads the human race in responding more positively to God and to living in God’s ways. So, Mary, in enabling Christ’s birth, becomes the New Eve, in contrast to the Eve we read of in Genesis.
“We might say that Mary is the mother of all who live, not in terms of our human life, but in truly living the life that God wants for His people.
“Another way the Church describes Mary is as the New Ark of the Covenant. The original Ark of the Covenant, containing the tablets of stone on which the Ten Commandments were recorded, was carried amongst the people of Israel on their journey to the Promised Land, as a reminder of God’s presence amongst them and the covenant that God had made with them.
“Eventually, through King David and King Solomon, the Ark was placed in the Holy of Holies, in the temple in Jerusalem – the more permanent focus of God’s presence amongst His people.
“Mary, carrying Jesus within her, becomes the New Ark of the Covenant. Or perhaps I should say the Ark of the New Covenant, since Christ was coming into the world through her to establish that New Covenant. She was bearing not something that simply represented God, but God Himself. The Word made flesh.
“This is acknowledged, when immediately after the Annunciation, Mary goes to visit her cousin Elizabeth. We are told that John the Baptist leapt in Elizabeth’s womb as Jesus – present in Mary’s womb – approached him. And Elizabeth greets her cousin as the “Mother of my Lord”, and as “blessed” for believing that the promise made her by the Lord would be fulfilled.
“This brings us back to Mary’s Immaculate Conception because of her future role of bringing Christ into the world.
“God gave her the unique gift of being conceived without original sin. Mary, from the first moment of her existence benefited from the salvation that her future son would bring. We do not share that same unique gift given to Mary, but we do share the promise of salvation brought about through Christ.
“As we strive to live in response of that promise, we are called to dedicate ourselves to following the Lord as closely as we can. Mary, the New Eve, the New Ark of the Covenant, is always ready to support and encourage us on our journey.
“As we celebrate the Immaculate Conception, let us turn to her in prayer, using the words we find on the Miraculous Medal: O Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee.”