Old Roman Catholic Church Latin Rite

The Immaculate Conception
Pope Pius IX

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 In answer to the petitions of the whole Church, Pope Pius IX decided solemnly to proclaim by his supreme and infallible pronouncement the victory of the Virgin Mother of God in her Conception over the dreadful enemy of the human race -- a doctrine wonderfully set forth in Holy Scripture, in the venerable tradition of the continuing consensus of the Church, as also in the common agreement of all bishops and faithful, and in the outstanding acts and constitutions of the Holy See. And therefore, on December 8th, 1854, in the Vatican Basilica, in the presence of a vast assembly of the Fathers of the Roman Church, including cardinals and bishops from the most distant countries, and with the applause of the whole world, he solemnly declared and defined: The doctrine which holds that the most blessed Virgin Mary, at the first instant of her conception, by a singular privilege granted her by God, was preserved from any stain of original sin, is a doctrine taught and revealed by God, and is therefore to be believed with firmness and constancy by all the faithful.

It’s important to understand what the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception is and what it is not. Some people think the term refers to Christ’s conception in Mary’s womb without the intervention of a human father; but that is the Virgin Birth. Others think the Immaculate Conception means Mary was conceived "by the power of the Holy Spirit," in the way Jesus was, but that, too, is incorrect. The Immaculate Conception means that Mary, whose conception was brought about the normal way, was conceived without original sin or its stain—that’s what "immaculate" means: without stain. The essence of original sin consists in the deprivation of sanctifying grace, and its stain is a corrupt nature. Mary was preserved from these defects by God’s grace; from the first instant of her existence she was in the state of sanctifying grace and was free from the corrupt nature original sin brings.

When discussing the Immaculate Conception, an implicit reference may be found in the angel’s greeting to Mary. The angel Gabriel said, "Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you" (Luke 1:28). The phrase "full of grace" is a translation of the Greek word kecharitomene. It therefore expresses a characteristic quality of Mary.

The traditional translation, "full of grace," is better than the one found in many recent versions of the New Testament, which give something along the lines of "highly favored daughter." Mary was indeed a highly favored daughter of God, but the Greek implies more than that (and it never mentions the word for "daughter"). The grace given to Mary is at once permanent and of a unique kind. Kecharitomene is a perfect passive participle of charitoo, meaning "to fill or endow with grace." Since this term is in the perfect tense, it indicates that Mary was graced in the past but with continuing effects in the present. So, the grace Mary enjoyed was not a result of the angel’s visit. In fact, Catholics hold, it extended over the whole of her life, from conception onward. She was in a state of sanctifying grace from the first moment of her existence.