By the Rev Msgr Harry Entwistle
Saturday 8th December, 2018
Today we are celebrating the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and like many of the Marian doctrines that are not explicitly described in Scripture, controversy surrounding them is often caused by misunderstanding or deliberate misinterpretation.
The Immaculate Conception of Mary is NOT a virginal conception. There is no suggestion that Mary is anything other than a human being like the rest of us who was conceived and born of human parents through normal biological means.
However, it must be realised that the phenomenon of ‘conception’ is much greater than a purely biological event.
The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary is a philosophical and theological matter as well as being a biological one and has implications for us all.
Mary was conceived in 3 different contexts. She was conceived firstly in the mind of God. In speaking of wisdom, the Book of Proverbs (8:22) says, “The depths are not as yet, and I was already conceived.” Christians equate Jesus with wisdom, the Word of God, so while Mary did not exist as a person before her conception in her biological parents, she had her place in the beginning of God’s plan for our salvation through Jesus. Without Mary, the Word of God could not become flesh.
Secondly, no human person exists in a vacuum. We are born into a community, into a stream of history and culture. Mary became a unique person in her Jewish spiritual identity and culture.
Thirdly, she was conceived in the family unit of Joachim and Anne, her parents. She was conceived in joy into a loving relationship, and in that family she became a balanced, integrated person.
The point I wish to make is that our conception, including that of Mary is personal and spiritual as well as biological.
We believe that God created humans in his own image and his creation was good. However, this original relationship was marred, but not destroyed by sin. Sin, creates distortions in human life, but our capacity to be in a right relationship with God survived.
It is tragic that because of the way we tend to interpret the story of Adam and Eve, we describe original sin as a stain, a flaw, or worse still, as total depravity. But the story says God banished Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, so original sin is separation or alienation from God, and our sins are consequences of that alienation.
So when we say that Our Lady was Immaculately conceived, we are saying that she did not lack being in a right relationship with God. She was not separated or alienated from him. We rejoice in that today, and we see her unity with God quite clearly in her response to the Archangel Gabriel when she told him, “Be it unto me according to your word.”
Our Lady is the mother of us all for she walks with us throughout our lives, opening our hearts to faith by urging us to trust her Son. She shows us that it is possible for humans to be in a right relationship with God, the relationship Jesus restored to us through his sacrificial death, the benefits of which we receive when we receive his body and blood at Mass.
Let us rejoice that our spiritual mother is fully human as we are and thank God for her obedience is allowing God to use her to restore our relationship with him.
Monsignor Entwistle is the first Ordinary of the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross. Educated at St Chad's Theological College, he was ordained a priest in the Church of England Diocese of Blackburn in 1964. After reception into the Roman Catholic Church, he was ordained to the priesthood in St Mary's Cathedral, Perth on 15 June 2012.