Mary's Immaculate Conception, and her role in salvation history

Many people, even Catholics, wrongly believe the Immaculate Conception to be the event by which Mary came to be pregnant because the Holy Spirit came upon her and Jesus was conceived – so that God was Jesus’ Father and not a man. That event is the Virgin birth. In fact the Immaculate Conception is not when Jesus was conceived, but when Mary was conceived.

She had normal parents – a man and a woman – but although every man and woman is born with Original Sin, because of a special grace relating to the merits of her future child Jesus, Mary was born without experiencing Original Sin – she was born untainted by sin and the devil has no power over her.
This Conception of Mary without sin is a unique grace for a human conceived since the Fall and is because otherwise, ‘sin’ or a person tarnished by sin, would have ‘carried and given flesh to’ Jesus/ God Incarnate in the womb, which could not be. And therefore, because of Jesus’ power, not hers, his mother Mary was uniquely created without Original Sin – as Adam and Eve had been.

Biblical References to Mary’s Immaculate Conception

References to Mary in the New Testament are not numerous, although there are many references in the Old Testament which are recognised to be ‘types’ of Mary, in the way that the Old Testament so often prefigures its more perfect completion in the New Testament. Examples include: Moses the deliverer and Jesus the Redeemer; Abraham willing to sacrifice Isaac and the Father allowing the sacrifice of Jesus; Circumcision as covenant sign and baptism as covenant sign; ritual animal sacrifice for sin and Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Such ‘typology’ is well recognised throughout the Bible and the New Testament version of the ‘type’ is always a more perfect event than the Old Testament representation, which foreshadowed it.

Colossians 2:17  'These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.'

1. The New Ark of the Covenant

A type in the Old Testament which applies readily to Mary is that of the Ark of the Covenant - a beautiful container, designed according to God’s Word and which was used to carry the Word of God within itself. Mary is the new Ark of the Covenant – determined by Jesus, the Word of God, and who carried within herself the second person of the Trinity, the Word of God made flesh. God’s presence accompanied the Ark everywhere and as her ‘Spouse’ the Holy Spirit of God will continue to accompany Mary everywhere.

There are striking parallels when we consider Old Testament references to the Ark and New Testament references to Mary:
Perhaps most important to notice, is that God wanted the Old Testament Ark to be “perfect in every detail”, made of the finest materials available – and off limits to everyone. God was so protective of the Ark that nobody was allowed to touch it, since it was of such great importance.

2 Samuel 6:6,7  'And when they came to the threshing-floor of Nacon, Uzzah put forth his hand to the ark of God, and took hold of it; for the oxen stumbled.  And the anger of Jehovah was kindled against Uzzah; and God smote him there for his error; and there he died by the ark of God.'

We may imagine Mary to be even more precious to God, since she is not a box but created in His image and likeness, yet necessarily ‘perfect in every way’ even amongst human kind. The Ark was kept in the most holy place, the holy of holies and was ‘sanctified by His glory’.
Each of us are also a potential Ark carrying God’s presence, since we are a temple of the Holy Spirit as Christians, but how much more will Mary be the ‘perfect in every way’ Temple of the Holy Spirit – her Spouse – the new Ark of the Covenant
1 Corinthians 3:16,17 'Do you not know that you are God's temple and that God's Spirit dwells in  holy, and you are that temple.'

2. Creation
The perfectly created Universe is another of such ‘types’ which relate to Mary.
Genesis 1:2 'the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.'

It was from the perfectly formed ‘matter’ of the Earth that God formed the mortal body of Adam and He added His ‘breath of life’.
Genesis 2:7 ' then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.'

Obviously Mary conceived without sin compares with this perfectly created matter used to form a human body for her son Jesus

Romans 5:14  'Yet death exercised dominion from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sins were not like the transgression of Adam, who is a type of the one who was to come.'
1 Corinthians 15:22 ' for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ.'

Jesus is the second Adam, who undid our separation from God caused by the Fall, His humanity was formed from the body of this immaculate mother Mary.

Luke 1:28  'And the angel being come in, said unto her: Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.'

3. The Second Eve
There is another type which Mary is recognised with, in Eve. We know from Genesis 2 that Adam and Eve were created by God in a state of perfection. Eve was created completely free of sin – immaculate in every way.

Genesis 1:27, 31  'And God created man to his own image: to the image of God he created him: male and female he created them. … And God saw all the things that he had made, and they were very good. And the evening and morning were the sixth day.'

Mary is often seen as the second Eve, since because her Son was to be God Incarnate, she too was created without Original Sin like Eve though she remained sinless.

Since Mary is considered to be the Woman in Genesis 3:15, it is because of the sinlessness of Mary that there is such enmity between her and Satan, because he knows that God promised that she is to crush his head.
Genesis 3:15 ' I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.' (DRB)

Many consider that Eve is the woman referred too in Genesis 3:15, but it could not be her since Eve was not an enemy of Satan but his accomplice in sin. Mary on the other hand would be instrumental in God putting right what Eve had destroyed.
The children of Eve would be every person born on Earth, whereas the children of Mary, would be the Mystical Body of Christ who keep the commandments and testimony of Jesus, Revelation 12:17.

Act 22: 7,8 'I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" I answered, "Who are you, Lord?" Then he said to me, "I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting."'

Revelation 12:17 'Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus.'

Mary’s children are all those who keep the commandments of her Son (Revelation 12:17), since she was also given to the Church to be its mother at the Cross by Jesus.

John 19:27  'Then he said to the disciple, 'Here is your mother.' And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. '
4. She Will Crush Your Head – Genesis 3:15
Mary is truly the Woman who crushes the Serpent’s Head – see the appendix. Certainly Jesus won the victory against sin and undid the works of the Devil, but it suits God that mankind, which has suffered the cruel fury of Satan, be the final cause of Satan’s demise.
However different bible versions differ in their translation. This is considered in some detail in the appendix.

5. Hail Full of Grace
Luke 1:28 “Hail full of grace, the Lord is with you.” (DRB)
The salutation of the angel Gabriel indicates a unique abundance of grace, a supernatural state of soul, which finds its explanation in the Immaculate Conception of Mary. The term ‘full of grace’, while not explicitly proving the doctrine, does imply her Immaculate Conception and freedom from sin.

The Protestant Scholar Max Thurian observed that the similarity between the prophecy of Zephaniah (3:14) and the angel's announcement to Mary, turns the past participle passage, 'filled with grace,' into a" kind of title”:
'Hail thou . . . daughter
Hail thou, full of grace!’
Mary, the daughter of Zion, receives from the angel a new kind of name which characterizes both her vocation and her purpose.
Mary is the one 'Filled-with-grace,' and she may well rejoice at the joy proclaimed by the prophets to her who should become the Mother of the Messiah, that Daughter of Zion, the symbol of the people who wait for their God, which the Virgin has become by pure grace.

6. Other References to Mary
There are several other Old Testament references which are taken to refer to Mary, such as: from the texts Proverbs 8 and Ecclesiasticus 24 – which exalt the Wisdom of God and which in the Catholic liturgy are applied to Mary, the most beautiful work of God’s Wisdom. Also in the Song of Songs, the love song in which God is taken to be the Bridegroom and the Bride may be Mary, the Church or the individual believer “4:7 Thou art fair, O my love, and there is not a spot in thee”.

A Sign of the Times - God is Raising Up Mary for the End Times Battle of Her Children with Satan.
Because of her sinlessness and special protection from God, Mary is Satan’s main enemy – she who God promised will crush his head. To ask Mary to pray to God for us and also use the power God has given her in these times, is entirely in keeping with God’s Plan and appropriate for us as her children. Mary as the mother of the Church and the New Ark of the Covenant is a champion for us against Satan, empowered by God.

Revelation 12:17  'Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus.'

To become the mother of the Saviour then, Mary was enriched by God with gifts appropriate to such a role, including her ‘Immaculate Conception’. Although officially defined as a dogma of the Catholic Church in 1854, this understanding had long been held throughout history, but after Heaven’s miraculous intervention (see below), it was formerly defined by the Pope as one of only two occasions in history when the Pope has made an infallible statement (ex cathedra).

Heaven gave a Sign

The heavenly intervention was a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary to Sr. Catherine Laboure, a holy nun – in a chapel at the Rue de Bac in Paris in 1830 when during several apparitions the Blessed Mother outlined the design of a medal which was to be made.

The image on the medal was of Our Lady standing on a globe with her foot crushing the head of a serpent (cf. the Woman of BVM Medals transparentGenesis 3:15) and there were rays of light coming from gems on her fingers. An inscription around the image read: “O Mary conceived without sin pray for us who have recourse to thee.” On the reverse were images representing Mary (the ‘M’ beneath the Cross and the two hearts of Jesus and Mary  – one run through with a sword Luke.2:35) surrounded by twelve stars – cf. the Woman of Revelation.    

The medal then confirms Mary as ‘the Woman’ in both Genesis 3:15 and Revelation 12. In the years following, this medal (original called the medal of the Immaculate Conception) came to be called the ‘Miraculous Medal’, because of the repeated miraculous way that God answered the prayers of those millions who honoured this medal. 10 Million medals were sold in the first five years alone.  

St Catherine

St. Catherine Laboure’s body remains incorrupt to this day. The incorrupt body of Saint Catherine Laboure in Paris – She died in 1876

In response to such signs from Heaven, and also the longstanding awareness and theological debate within the Church of Mary’s Immaculate Conception without Original Sin, the Pope made this an official dogma of the Church in 1854.


And Yet Another Heavenly Sign…!
Heaven confirmed this action by the Pope 4 years later, when in 1858, there was also a series of miraculous apparitions of the Blessed Mother at Lourdes, FSt Bernadetterance to a young girl: Bernadette Soubirous, during which the Lady of the apparition, to answer a question asked on behalf of the parish priest to identify herself, answered; “I am the Immaculate Conception.” Lourdes became a centre of miraculous healing and pilgrimage.  St. Bernadette became a nun and her body remains incorrupt at her convent to this day.

 Saint Bernadette Soubirous’s incorrupt body at Nevers – she died in 1879 

Such supernatural signs are taken to be a confirmation by Heaven of that person’s holiness and also their message. Such evidence may often be considered when formally declaring someone a Saint of the Church – See:

The Role of Mary in God’s Plan:

God arranged a test for our first parents and we know that Satan was allowed to tempt them – and the Fall occurred.
As a result of the failure of this test, Adam and Eve lost the gift of sanctifying grace living within them, by which they shared in the life of God, and experienced suffering and death. They were cast out from Paradise and because the sin of Adam represented a test for the whole of mankind, the effects of the Fall have affected the rest of mankind.

God knew through eternity that mankind would fail the test in the garden, and by allowing it as He did, He ensured that Satan would be the scapegoat for the Fall of man, because he had tempted Adam and Eve, therefore allowing mankind to achieve forgiveness and redemption.
And so God already had in place a plan for our redemption and eternal happiness with Him in Heaven. He would come Himself in the person of Jesus, who would become a man, being born of a Virgin who would be his mother. Mary alone amongst mankind (because of the merits of the son she was to carry), was preserved immune from original sin.
This means that Satan has never had any power over Mary and it seems to be a matter of God’s Justice that after centuries of Satan persecuting mankind with suffering and sorrow, that it should be mankind – in the person of Mary, who Revelation clearly speaks of as being at enmity with Satan the Red Dragon, who will be the cause of his defeat – using power given to her by God.
As much as David could be a champion for the Israelites and Goliath a champion for the Philistines, Mary is a champion for mankind in the final battle against Satan. Indeed the Dragon goes to make war on the rest of the Church precisely because they are her children. Both Genesis and Revelation really describe a great enmity between these two, Satan and Mary – who is Satan’s mighty foe.

Revelation 12:17 ' Then the dragon was angry with the woman, and went off to make war on the rest of her children, those who keep the commandments of God and hold the testimony of Jesus.'

This takes nothing away from Jesus who conquered Satan on the Cross and who has already won the victory for us – but we still need to apply that victory and to defeat Satan by the blood of the lamb, the word of our testimony and our submission and humility before the kingship of God (did not cling to life):

Revelation 12:11  'But they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they did not cling to life even in the face of death.'

Let us note what the Pope Pius IX said about Mary’s role against Satan in Scripture:

This doctrine was defined as a dogma of the faith by Pope Pius IX in the Apostolic Constitution “Ineffabilis Deus” in 1854:

“We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful."

This doctrine is implicitly revealed in the Book of Genesis where there is implied the promise of a Redeemer for fallen mankind, a member of the human race born of a woman. Prophecies of the Old Testament make it clear that this Redeemer would be God Himself (Isaiah 35:4), and that He would be born of a virgin. (Isaiah 7:14) Shortly after the fall of our first parents, having been deceived by the devil, God said to the Evil One:
"I will put enmity between you and the woman,
between your seed and hers;
She will crush your head while you strike at her heel."
(Genesis 3:15)
After referring to the above from Genesis, the Holy Father elaborated on this text as follows:

"The Fathers and writers of the Church, well versed in the heavenly scriptures . . . These ecclesiastical writers in quoting the words by which at the beginning of the world God announced his merciful remedies prepared for the regeneration of mankind -- words by which he crushed the audacity of the deceitful serpent and wondrously raised up the hope of our race, saying, "I will put enmities between you and the woman, between your seed and her seed" taught that by this divine prophecy the merciful Redeemer of mankind, Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, was clearly foretold; that His most Blessed Mother, the Virgin Mary, was prophetically indicated; and, at the same time, the very enmity of Both against the evil one was significantly expressed. Hence, just as Christ, the Mediator between God and man, assumed human nature, erased the handwriting of the decree that stood against us, and fastened it triumphantly to the Cross, so the most holy Virgin, united with Him in a most intimate and indissoluble bond, was, with Him and through Him, eternally at enmity with the evil serpent, and most completely triumphed over him, and thus crushed his head with her immaculate foot.”

Pope Pius IX also contrasts Eve and Mary as follows:

"Eve listened to the serpent with lamentable consequences; she fell from original innocence and became his slave. The most blessed Virgin, on the contrary, ever increased her original gift, and not only never lent an ear to the serpent, but by divinely given power, utterly destroyed the force and dominion of the evil one."

Respect not Conversion
It is not our intention to convert Protestants to believe or agree with Catholic teaching, but to demonstrate and reassure any Protestant reader of the intellectual integrity of the Catholic Church’s interpretation of Holy Scripture, and particularly on these pages, the Catholic understanding of the role of the Virgin Mary – “the handmaid of the Lord “ in God’s plans for mankind.
We hope that to demonstrate that each of the respective Catholic beliefs about the Virgin Mary is rooted in the Bible and Christ-centred is a valid biblical interpretation for the Catholic Church to make, which our Protestant brothers and sisters should be able to respect. Read the appendix

Read the appendix.

Back to Top of Page