Question: I’ve heard people call Jesus’ conception by the Holy Spirit being “immaculately conceived.” Is that what the Immaculate Conception is?
Answer: While these two events are often confused, they are not the same thing. We celebrated the conception of Jesus on March 25th, the feast of the Annunciation. While that was surely miraculous, it isn’t what we refer to as the “immaculate conception.” The Immaculate Conception is Mary’s conception, and we typically celebrate it on December 8th. If the 8th happens to be a Sunday, the Church moves the feast to December 9th. It is a holy day of obligation. Why does the Church consider it so important to celebrate?
Mary’s conception is immaculate because she was conceived without original sin. The angel Gabriel acknowledges this when he hails Mary as “full of grace” (Luke 1:28). Scripture scholars identify several theological ideas that confirm this. In the Old Testament, the sacred, pristine Ark of the Covenant held the presence of God. The presence of God is now held within a new “arc” — the womb of Mary. Genesis 3 also prophesies of a woman who would oppose the devil and whose child would crush the devil’s head. Christ is the “New Adam.” This passage sets up Mary, then, as the “New Eve.” Jesus and Mary are the beginnings of a new creation, one we all can participate in through the grace of our baptism. After all, God’s love is more “original” than our sin!