During the month of December, the Catholic Church celebrates two major Marian Feast Days, both of
which hold rich pro-life themes. This first of a two-part segment explores the Solemnity of the
Immaculate Conception, celebrated just last week on December 8. The Immaculate Conception honors
the miraculous event by which the Blessed Virgin Mary was conceived in her mother’s womb without
the stain of Original Sin. This fundamentally pro-life feast reveals a deep truth about the nature of
personhood which Catholics and non-Catholics alike can draw on; that each human being possesses it
fully even before our birth.

To understand the pro-life theme of this feast, it is important to distinguish the Immaculate Conception from other Marian feasts with which it is commonly confused. For instance, the Nativity of Mary on
September 8 celebrates the Virgin’s actual birth (notably, 9 months after the Immaculate Conception),
and on August 15 we celebrate her Assumption into heaven at the end of her earthly life. It might seem
surprising that the Church cares so much about the Immaculate Conception, given that it already
devotes specific feasts to Mary for the day she was born and the day she was taken to heaven. Not only
is the Immaculate Conception celebrated as its own feast, but along with the Assumption it is one of
only three Marian Feasts that are named Holy Days of Obligation (days on which Catholics are obligated
to attend Mass.) Yet, the implication of this emphasis is clear; Mary’s life on earth did not begin with her
birth. Rather, the person who would become the mother of God was already that person, from the
moment of her conception in her mother’s womb.

The doctrine of Mary’s Immaculate Conception derives from specific verses from scripture in both the
Old and New Testaments: Genesis 3:15, Luke 1:28 and Luke 1:42. Together, these passages paint a
picture of her role in salvation history: she is the new Eve, destined mother of the Redeemer who would
conquer sin and death. The Church has always understood this to mean that the Grace and virtue God
bestowed on her, which made it possible to carry out this unique vocation, are an inextricable part of
Mary’s identity.

What does this mean for us today? Of course, no one else on earth is preserved from all sin. But despite
this distinction, Mary was just like us in terms of her humanity. She was a daughter, a woman, a wife
and a mother; these roles too were an essential part who Mary is, just as much as the special gifts God
gave her. Knowing this reveals a simple truth about the human condition that all of us share. It is
impossible to separate our humanity from our personhood. Mary was no less “full of grace” at the end
of her life than when it began. In the same way, no human being can become any more “a person” at
any stage of life than they were the instant they came to exist.

The Immaculate Conception demonstrates that no matter what unique plan God created us with, it was
already put in action from the first moment of our conception. In the words of Fr. Peter West of Priests
for Life, let us “ask Mary to intercede for us to put an end to the tragedies of abortion, euthanasia and
other attacks on human life that we might lead other nations to respect the dignity and value of each
and every human life from conception to natural death.”