The Immaculate Conception teaches us that Mary was conceived without sin and never sinned. God had set her aside. We know this because of the angel Gabriel’s greeting to Mary in the gospel of Luke: “Hail! Full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
I’ve heard it explained that Mary was conceived without sin in order to provide a “holy vessel” for Jesus. The Immaculate Conception, in that case, is a metaphor for her womb, and only focuses on a single snapshot in her life, her pregnancy. After all, her body itself needed no special type of grace. She was already built by God’s grace simply by being a woman.
Focusing only on Mary’s womb ignores why Mary’s Immaculate Conception was so crucial for all that came next: her responsibility to actually mother Jesus and get him to the cross and eventual resurrection.
After Jesus’ birth, Mary is responsible for the day-to-day upbringing for the one person who could save all of humanity.
Just imagine what type of person Jesus might have become if Mary was prone to self-serving sinfulness. Instead, his mother needed the grace of God to care for him when he was a child, a teenager, a man. She had to have courage when Jesus disappeared for three days (Luke 2), to have faith when she asked him to turn the water into wine (John 2), to instill the values necessary so that he would proclaim justice and care for the needy (Sermon on the Mount Matthew 5-7).
At his death, Mary needed to be “full of grace” for humanity’s salvation. She couldn’t stand at the foot of the cross, knowing her son was the Lord, and scream out to come down, as any mother would want to do. The Immaculate Conception instead filled Mary with a faith that only a pure grace could achieve.
In other words, as both fully human and divine, Jesus lived through many of the same early stages of life as anyone else. He would need a special type of parent.
When my daughter was born, I felt an awe-striking kind of love, and compared the feeling, without hesitation, to heaven. I imagine other parents have felt the same. And yet, even though we view our children with so much heavenly love, we’re still human, and we’ve all come up short at times.
Mary, on the other hand, was “full of grace” – not just as a child bearer, but as a mother.
The Immaculate Conception filled her with so much grace that she could raise Jesus, her heavenly love, to a point that no parents of any child– biological, fostered, or adopted-- could scarcely imagine: so that he would be sacrificed so that all humanity could be saved. One that we as parents of any child, biologically, fostered, or adopted, would never want to dream about because the love we have for our children is like a little glimpse of heaven.