INTRODUCTION

The Immaculate Conception of Mary is a key event in Salvation and the Redemptive process. This event, as is well documented by Catholic scholars, was foretold in key texts in Scripture; Genesis 3:15, the enmity between the serpent and the woman and her offspring, Luke 1:28, wherein Gabriel proclaims Mary as “full of Grace”. These powerful passages indicate the nature of Mary and her Holy Son. Furthermore, the chaste and upright nature of Mary was foretold from the beginning of humanity.

These two passages act as monolithic pillars upon which the Church can rest her teachings on the Immaculate Conception. Yet, in addition to these teachings are other Biblical traditions which form a “Theology of Preparation”.1 God prepared for Mary, as she was vital in the plan of Salvation which was completed by the Cross and through the Resurrection. The concept of “preparation” forms a theology which finds its culmination in Mary and the Immaculate Conception.

PREPARATION FOR MARY

Mary was to give the human form to the Incarnation, the Word of God becoming flesh. The Introduction, or Prologue, to John’s Gospel is clear in that in Jesus is the converging of the pre-existent Word of God, Logos, and the fleshly realm. The Mother of the Son of God was to be of a special nature and would hold a special place in Salvation History. Therefore, God set about preparing for Mary and foreshadowing her role in the centuries before her lifetime.

Preparing the Body

Article 488 of the Catechism states that God would “prepare a body” for His Son;

“He wanted the free cooperation of a creature. For this, from all eternity God chose for the mother of his Son a daughter of Israel, a young Jewish woman of Nazareth in Galilee, ‘a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary”.

Mary, as Gabriel said, was already filled with grace. However, chastity was part of the disposition for which God had prepared. The ideal of an immaculate and pristine body is rooted in the traditions of the Old Testament.

Judges 13

In the birth account of the Judge of Israel, Samson, we see strict dietary restrictions placed on the mother, who is not named in the text. She is to take no wine or strong drink, probably beer, and eat nothing unclean. Historically, this seems to be an early version of the Nazirite Vow that is recorded in Numbers 6.

However, in a theological, or prophetic, context we see a foreshadowing of Mary. YHWH is preparing for his “Holy One”, Samson. 2 While not austere, the restrictions placed on Samson’s mother seem to be designed to prepare her body to give birth to the miraculously powerful son who will begin the deliverance of Israel from Philistine oppression. God is preparing a clean host for the child which He has promised. Interestingly, the text gives no indication that the restrictions are to carry through to the boy who is to be born.3 The focus is on the mother. The text emphasizes the physical disposition of Samson’s mother in preparation for the birth. While not immaculate, chastity is not at issue with Manoah and his wife, she is to provide the proper physical environment in which the baby can grow and be readied for his unique mission.

Isaiah 7:14

The famous “Immanuel” prophecy speaks to the issue of chastity and virginity. Matthew cited this text in his birth account (1:23). The Hebrew uses the termalmah to describe the virgin. This term denotes a young girl of marriageable age who is chaste. 4 This was to be a sign to the House of David. The sign is for Judah that YHWH is with them
in the midst of turmoil. The sign also speaks to the fulfillment of the promise made to the House of David (2 Samuel 7). Herein we see the promise of the eternal kingship.

This was to a sign of tremendous magnitude. It would follow, therefore, that the virgin would not be a common maid, but a girl of surpassing chastity. She was to be part of the Salvation History established by God. This was to be a sign that would transcend the centuries of oppression and subjection. Her chastity was the validation and affirmation that the sign was truly from God.

The prophecy is rather stark, in comparison with other prophecies in Isaiah and other books. It relies on the power of the words rather than eloquence. The transitions are abrupt and force the focus on the virgin. It is stated at the outset that this sign will be from God. However, the descriptions now focus on the virgin. It is the virgin who be with child, bear a son, and name him. The emphasis is on the disposition and actions of the virgin in preparation for this child, the sign to the House of David.

Overall, from these two major texts in the Old Testament we see the beginnings of the importance of the proper physical disposition of Mary. The immaculate nature of Mary, her chastity, fulfills these traditions. These traditions of Samson and Isaiah are both integral in establishing the eternal Kingship. In both of these traditions the physical disposition of the mother is emphasized. Mary was to give birth to the Davidic King, the Messiah, who was to complete the work of Samson and fulfill the words of Isaiah. Therefore, by extension, Mary’s physical nature must be understood to have surpassed, or completed, the nature of the women who went before her and led the way to her. To speak of her physically immaculate nature is to speak of her fulfilling the traditions which foreshadowed her.

Preparing the Mission of Mary

Article 489 of the “Catechism” argues that “throughout the Old Covenant the missions of many holy women prepared for that of Mary.” In recent decades, Biblical scholars have shed new light on the role of women in the Old Testament. B. Witherspoon argues that “within the OT . . . the women who
emerge as actors testify to the essential and active role of women in the formation and transmission of Israel’s faith.” He goes on, similarly to article
498, to say that “Israelite faith was . . . cherished, defended, and exemplified by women”.5

The Israel of the OT was a patriarchal society. Yet, despite this perspective the powerful role of women is still evident. The woman in the Old Testament displayed a quiet strength that was foundational and essential to the household. R. de Vaux states;

“All the hard work at home certainly fell to her; she looked after the flocks, worked in the fields, cooked the food, did the spinning, and so on. All this apparent drudgery, however, far from lowering her status, earned her consideration. Sometimes, in exceptional circumstances, a woman could even take part in public affairs, Israel honored Deborah and Jael as heroines (Judges 4-5), Athaliah reigned over Judah for several years (2 Kings 11); Huldah the Prophetess was consulted by the king’s ministers (2 Kings 22:14); and the books of Judith and Esther tell how the nation was saved by a woman.” 6

The Israelite, or Jewish, woman- wife or mother- was given a social status and dignity that was superior to other countries in the Ancient Near East. The women of the Bible rise to prominence because of their intelligence or devotion.

J.L. McKenzie points out that the passage of “The Fall” and the curse placed upon the woman indicates that the inferior position women had in relation to men does not represent the original order of creation. He states, “the inferiority of woman is thus presented as a deterioration from the primitive and unspoiled condition of man[kind].”7

Mary culminates these aspects of women in the Bible. She exemplified her faith in the quiet strength that was expected and that characterized her entire life. By virtue of her unassuming life and devotion she was worthy of dignity and social status. However, as indicated in Gabriel’s announcement, her grace was that of the original and, in McKenzie’s words, and unspoiled condition of humanity. The Greek word for “grace” derives from charis. The term contains the connotations of “to be highly favored”. All of the strong and devout women, known or unknown to history, pointed to Mary. Only Mary embodied the purity, only approximated by the women of old, that would make her worthy to be the mother of the Son of God. Mary’s mission, her calling to this role of motherhood grew from the pure, immaculate, nature that she possessed and manifested in her life.

Therefore, this shows that the Divine preparation of the body and the theological preparation of the mission converge in Mary. One form of preparation complements the other and each disposes Mary to the other. This “Theology of preparation” contains both physical and spiritual aspects, because the Incarnation was the merging of the Spiritual with the human spheres. The need for an immaculate nature resonates throughout this theological concept. It is only with an immaculate, surpassingly pure, nature could this merge, the Incarnation, occur.

THE SACRIFICE ON THE CROSS

Mary’s Immaculate Conception was needed if the Cross of Jesus was to be seen as a true sacrifice for our Salvation. John’s Gospel builds a powerful foundation for this connection between the Cross and the Immaculate Conception of Mary. John has the Baptist proclaim that Jesus is the “Lamb of God” (1:29). One must note the construction of the term; it is a possessive. This means that Jesus is the Lamb- the sacrifice. 8 The image of the lamb is a powerful symbol in Salvation History.

The Passover

According to McKenzie, “the lamb is most frequently mentioned in the OT as a sacrificial victim in ritual passages of Ex-Nm-Lv” The “singular title [Lamb of God] probably arises from a combination of the application to Jesus of Servant of YHWH (Isaiah 53:7). . . and of the Passover lamb.” 9 The lamb was, and is, to be unblemished, as is the case with most sacrifices. Passover was the great saving act of the Old Testament. It was the first step in the formation of the people of Israel. J. Miles argues that the Johannine Gospel synthesizes scriptural references. The title “lamb of God” is a passage “written deliberately” to link Jesus to the Passover lamb and the lamblike “Suffering Servant”. Miles also contends that Jesus’ crucifixion “at Passover, is described in a way that repeatedly draws attention to the season and underlines his identity as a new Passover victim.”10

John’s Gospel brings this point into bold relief by indicating that Jesus was not crucified on Passover itself, but on “preparation day” for the Passover celebration (19:14). B. Boksar argues that “John, in thus portraying Jesus crucified at the time the paschal lambs were being sacrificed at the Temple, depicts Jesus as a Passover offering. This synchronization explains how Jesus died for humanity and, it is claimed, gives his death a more enduring
redemptive quality than the regular Passover sacrifice.”11 Therefore the Cross is the new Passover, the great saving act of Christianity, which will herald a new Israel.

Jesus, like the original Passover lamb, had to be unblemished. If the victim was flawed, the sacrifice was corrupted and the saving act would be emptied of meaning. Mary was to give birth to the perfect Passover victim, one that was wholly innocent and pure. Therefore, to preserve the integrity of the sacrifice of the Cross, Mary needed to be pure or immaculate as well. It was Mary’s immaculate nature that was integral to the Salvation and Redemption that was brought forth by the Cross.

REIGN OF SIN

In Romans 5:12-21, we read that sin and death has entered into the world through one man; Adam. This text is foundational to the concept of “Original sin”. However, as argued by M. Brauch, there is a relational aspect to Paul’s words. It reflects the relationship between Creator and creature. A relationship, though inherited, “can only be established or destroyed or affirmed or denied”.12

According to Biblical theology, sin breaks man’s relationship with God and separates man from God. Death is the result of Sin; therefore it takes on the separating power of Sin. Herein is the power of Death; that which needed to be broken by the Cross.

By virtue of Adam’s sin, all are in bondage and separated from God. Yet, we are all responsible for our participation in that bondage and separation, “because all sinned” according to Paul. The idea of all being subject to one man’s sin is the Biblical teaching of “corporate personality” or “solidarity”.  This concept “recognized the intimate interdependence of individuals and the effect that such solidarity could have. . . “ 13 Brauch explains the condition;

“Adam, the typical, representative first human being yields to temptation to determine his own existence and his own destiny (that is, he sins). The result of that self-determination is death. Death is the condition of separateness, since the creature apart from the Creator does not have life. . . Separation from the source of life results in decay and disintegration.”14

At the same time, Romans 5:12-21 depicts a human commonality. While we share the burden of sin, or separation, we are responsible and are to be held accountable “for the way we relate to that common humanity. . . Each individual participates in the Adamic humanity and becomes accountable for that participation. Death marches across the pages of human history because humans in their own individuality have sinned” 15

This “march” halts with the advent of Jesus Christ. Paul uses an “antithetical parallelism between the death wrought by Adam and the life brought by Christ”. Christ is the new Adam, whose grace and beneficence supplants the disobedience of Adam. 16 Christ had to overcome the universal separateness of humanity if he was to break the
power of Sin and death. Mary was his link to the human world; if she shared in the common humanity, so too would Jesus. She had to be of an immaculate nature to avoid passing on the universal separateness, or sinful nature, of humanity. Regarding the concept of individual responsibility, both Mary and Jesus re-established and affirmed the relationship with God, which was broken by Sin.

If Mary were not immaculate, Jesus would have shared in the separate nature of humanity by virtue of being born to Mary. If this were the case, the Cross would have been emptied of its Salvific and Redemptive power. Jesus would have died, technically, an innocent death as the legal charge against him was false. But, the Cross would have been in repayment for his own share in the universal, or collective, sin of humanity. In other words, without Mary’s
immaculate nature, Jesus would still have been an exemplary man. However, he would have been just an exemplary man who died for his personal beliefs and shortfalls. Therefore, the immaculate nature of Mary was the key to Jesus restoring the order which Adam destroyed.

CONCLUSION

The Immaculate Conception of Mary was the culmination of physical and traditional preparation, a key to the sacrifice of the Cross, and a vital part of the redemptive process wherein Jesus overcomes the Fall of Adam. Through one man sin and death entered the world. Therefore, only through a man can the effects of sin and death be broken. Mary was the lynchpin in Jesus, through the Incarnation, re-establishing and affirming man’s relationship with God through the
New Covenant. Mary had to surpass the separate nature of creation to give birth to the Savior and Redeemer. This was accomplished in the Immaculate
Conception.

The Immaculate Conception was the key, albeit human, element in the power of the Cross. The Cross was a singular act of grace, wherein Jesus was allowed by The Father to take our sins and punishment onto Himself. Jesus was innocent and sinless; otherwise this redeeming act could not have taken place. Mary, and the Immaculate Conception, was the indispensable factor in the sacrifice of the new paschal lamb on the Cross. The Immaculate Conception was foundational
to the great saving act of Christianity.

GENERAL BIBLIOGRAPHY

Brauch, M. Hard Sayings of Paul. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1989.


Brown, Fitzmyer, Murphy, eds. The Jerome Biblical Commentary. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice- Hall, 1968.

Catechism of the Catholic Church.
NY: Doubleday, 1994.

Freedman, D. N. Anchor Bible Dictionary 6 vols . NY: Doubleday, 1992.

McKenzie, J.L. Dictionary of the Bible. Chicago: Bruce, 1966.

Vaux, R. de, Ancient Israel: Social Institutions. NY: McGraw-Hill, 1965.

1

We will expand on the teachings found in Articles 488-489 in the “Catechism of the Catholic Church”.

2

We use this term because, significantly, it is used of Samson in the LXX. This is the only occurrence of this term in the Old Testament. Moreover, it
is a term used of Jesus.

3

Some scholars have attempted to argue that the restrictions of mother carried through to Samson. There is no textual evidence to support this argument,
but the idea of Samson breaking all of the restrictions placed on him makes for many fiery sermons.

4

Some scholars have proposed arguments that there are no specific connotations of chastity attached to this term. The semantic field of this term,
though limited, and the occurrences combine to indicate that this was not a common word for “maid” who was of age to be married.

5

B. Witherspoon, “Women (OT)” Anchor Bible Dictionary (NY: Doubleday, 1992 ), 6:956.

6

R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel; Social Institutions (NY: McGraw-Hill, 1965) 39.

7

J.L. McKenzie, Dictionary of the Bible (Chicago: Bruce, 1966) 936.

8

This is often misunderstood in popular theology. Jesus is not being sacrificed TO God, but being sacrificed BY God. God is not being depicted as the
removed Warrior-God who will only be satisfied with the blood of His only son. God is being depicted as a loving father who, by a singular act of
Grace, is giving His Son over to an innocent death for the Salvation of His people.

9

McKenzie, Dictionary”, 491.

10

J. Miles. “Lamb”, Anchor Bible Dictionary (NY: Doubleday, 1992) 4:132.

11

B. Boksar, “ Unleavened Bread and Passover, Feast of”, Anchor Bible Dictionary (NY: Doubleday, 1992) 6:763.

12

M. Brauch, Hard Sayings of Paul (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1989), 29.

13

Ibid., 29

14

Ibid., 30

15

Brauch, 31-32.

16

J. Fitzmyer, “The Letter to the Romans”, The Jerome Biblical Commentary (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1968), 306. There is much more which
could, and should, be said about this monumental passage, but a full analysis would take far afield from our topic.