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I find it interesting that it is possible to know a certain fact for years, without drawing an obvious conclusion from it. Everyone here must know that on the sixth day of creation “God created man to his own image (and likeness): to the image of God he created him: male and female he created them.” More precisely, ‘the Lord God took one of Adam’s ribs.... and built the rib which he took from Adam into a woman.’ I am sure I have read those passages a hundred times, but it was only this past Tuesday that one of the people in our Catholic Studies Group pointed it out to us that this particular relationship between Adam and Eve is quite similar to the relationship between the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ. Eve was not just related to Adam, but all of her physical existence came from him and from no other human being—in a very similar manner, all of the physical existence of our Lord came from the Blessed Mother and from no other human being. Just as Adam could say of Eve, Mary could say of Jesus: “This now is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.”
In establishing the human race, and in establishing the race of the redeemed, God worked a miracle, for according to what we think we know about things in a scientific manner, the creation of Eve, and particularly the conception of Jesus, could not have taken place—but yet they did.
It is also interesting to note that Adam and Eve were created in the state of “original justice,” or “original innocence”—they possessed the gifts of God which would allow them to be happy with him in eternity. Had they not sinned, Adam and Eve, the progenitors of the human race, could have given birth to line of saints, just through natural generation. In order to build the race of the redeemed, Mary and Jesus were likewise conceived in the grace of original innocence—Jesus, of course, because He is God, incapable of sin—and Mary, because as Mother of God, in order to be His ‘worthy habitation was, by His foreseen death, preserved from all stain of sin.’ Often we refer to Jesus as the “new Adam” and Mary as the “new Eve.”
Over the centuries there had been some discussion as to the precise time and manner of Mary’s preservation from original sin. Writing toward the end of the fourth century, Saint Jerome, the famous translator of the Bible, suggested that Mary was “enriched by gifts so great as to make her full of grace” and that “the curse upon mankind through Eve was wholly removed by the blessing given to Mary ... ‘blessed art thou amongst women.’” Saint Germain of Auxerre, writing at about the same time, seems to have held the doctrine we know as the Immaculate Conception, referring to Mary as the “most pleasing spiritual paradise of God, planted to the East this day by the right hand of the most merciful and almighty God”—a conception in grace, specially moderated by God Himself.
The discussion took place into the thirteenth century. The Dominicans generally held the idea that Mary was purified from all sin, while the Franciscans maintained that she was simply conceived without any form of sin. Some of the difference between them seems to have been in the imprecise notion of conception held by medieval science, that some time had to be allowed for “germination of the seed” before a living soul was infused. The Dominicans urged that one be redeemed without some sin to be redeemed from, and that there had to be some interval of time in which redemption took place. The Franciscans, particularly in the person of Duns Scotus (d. 1308), seems to have answered the objections by saying that Mary’s purification took place in the order of nature rather than in the order of time, and that her redemption was precisely in being preserved from sin.
The Bishops at the Council of Basle in 1439 declared the Immaculate Conception to be “a doctrine which was pious, consonant with Catholic worship, Catholic faith, right reason, and Holy Scripture.” Mass was offered in honor of the Immaculate Conception in various Franciscan and Roman churches. In 1476 a Mass, Office, and an indulgence for the feast were extended to the Universal Church by Pope Sixtus IV, who later charged non-believers of the doctrine with “mortal sin and heresy” in 1483.
And, of course, we know that the doctrine was solemnly defined in 1854 by Pope Pius IX:
So, as Catholics there can no longer be any question about the time and manner of Mary’s conception.
It is worth pondering, though, that Mary had free will, and could have sinned of her own volition. We know that (unlike immaculate Adam and immaculate Eve) she did not sin. That ought to be a source of great encouragement to us—to know that life in conformity with the will of God is possible for His human creatures if they are willing to cooperate with His graces.
Our Lord Jesus Christ is the new Adam, our Blessed Lady the new Eve. They are the progenitors of the race of the redeemed, to which we belong—they are likewise the progenitors of the race of the saved, to which we must aspire.
Mary, conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee!
 Ecclesiasticus xxiv: 14.
 Genesis i: 26, 27
 Cf. Genesis ii: 21, 22.
 I am indebted to Pamela Lee for this insight.
 Genesis ii: 23.
 Cf. Collect of the Immaculate Conception, 8 December.
 Matins of the Immaculate Conception, Lesson iv, Saint Jerome “on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”
 Matins of the Immaculate Conception, Lesson vii, Saint Germain “on the Presentation of the Mother of God.”
 Sixtus IV, Cum præexcelsa, 28 February 1476 (Dz. 734)l Grave nimis, 4 September 1483 (Dz. 735).
 Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus, 8 December 1854 (Dz. 1641).